US denies violence on rise after soldier shot in Afghanistan
Kabul Sunday, 4 April 2004 Canberra Times
ONE US soldier was shot by a sniper while on patrol in Afghanistan and a militant was killed after a hand-grenade attack on a convoy in the same area near the Pakistani border, a US military official said yesterday.
The Airborne trooper was not seriously wounded in the first incident and there were no injuries to the US-led coalition from the grenade assault, Lieutenant-Colonel Bryan Hilferty said.
The attacks on Wednesday were in south-eastern Khost province, which borders Pakistan's tribal areas. The porous frontier is believed to be the refuge of senior al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders.
The 13,500-strong US-led coalition in Afghanistan has stepped up its hunt for Osama bin Laden and other militants with Operation Mountain Storm, which began on March 7 in tandem with increased military activity on the Pakistani side.
In the first attack, a soldier with the 1st Battalion of the elite 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment was hit by a sniper at about noon on Wednesday, south of troubled Khost city.
"The US soldier ... was shot from a distance. It appeared to have been one person. We chased him, but did not detain him," Colonel Hilferty said.
The second incident was also south of Khost and near the Pakistani border.
"Also Wednesday, anti-coalition militia threw grenades at a coalition convoy. The attackers threw several grenades at the convoy.
"We fired back, killed one, chased and detained two."
The attacks on the US soldiers came after an apparent suicide bomb attempt against a US military convoy on Monday. Soldiers shot dead the man who apparently detonated an explosive in his car and then aimed a pistol at troops in the eastern city of Jalalabad.
On Wednesday US soldiers shot dead a suspected Taliban fighter as he threw a hand-grenade at a convoy patrolling southern Kandahar city, a former Taliban stronghold. Colonel Hilferty said he did not think the attacks added up to an increase in anti-coalition activity.
"I don't think it's an increase. Some days there's none, some days there's two or three [attacks] so I haven't seen this as a big increase," he said.
"We're conducting an average of 50 patrols a day, primarily along the border area and that leads to increased contact with the enemy forces."
UK is blamed for bumper Afghan opium crop
The Guardian, UK 04/03/2004 By Suzanne Goldenberg - Britain has bungled its command of an international campaign to rid Afghanistan of opium poppy, and its failure has contributed to an unprecedented increase in heroin production, a senior US official said yesterday.
In an unusually critical report, the state department's senior narcotics official, Robert Charles, told a congressional committee hearing that British efforts had been painfully slow at a time when Afghanistan was poised for a bumper heroin season.
Mr Charles claimed this would be disastrous for Afghanistan. Without a crackdown on opium poppy, the country would rapidly slide into the grip of drug lords and become increasingly lawless.
Last year, there was a bumper crop of Afghan drugs, and this year promises an even better season. Unseasonably warm temperatures in the southern provinces of Helmand and Nangarhar have brought forward the planting season. The early spring - and Britain's ineffectual policing - now threatened to expand the area of Afghan farmland under poppy cultivation by as much as 100% in 2004, Mr Charles said.
Despite the urgency, Britain had barely begun to destroy some 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres) of poppy that were slated for eradication this year in Nangarhar and Helmand, the committee was told. The two provinces are at the centre of poppy cultivation, and Britain's reluctance to crack down here could encourage farmers throughout Afghanistan to plant poppy.
"Unless direct, effective and measurable action is taken immediately, we may well be looking at well over 120,000 hectares this year," Mr Charles said. Such criticism of America's closest ally is rare in Washington - particularly on the issue of Afghanistan, where Mr Charles commended Britain's efforts in training local Afghan drug forces.
But, since taking charge of the campaign against the Afghan poppy, Britain has presided over a staggering rise in opium production. According to US intelligence, more hectares of Afghan farmland were devoted to poppy production in 2003 than ever before. The United Nations drug enforcement agency has charted a similar rise.
The US believes Britain needs to be more robust in its approach to Afghan poppy growers rather than trying to find the farmers other means of survival. Mr Charles also accused Britain of being overly concerned with winning the political support of local Afghan notables.
"We believe that if there is heroin poppy that needs to be eradicated we shouldn't be picking and choosing, we shouldn't be delaying, we shouldn't be making it conditional on finding an alternative income stream," he said. "Our priority here should not be a misplaced sympathy for someone who has to do a little more work."
Afghan Official Sees Attack Soon on Al Qaeda
By Saeed Ali Achakzai
SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan and U.S. forces will soon launch an attack on al Qaeda militants who fled into Afghanistan to escape an offensive in Pakistan's tribal lands,, an Afghan official said on Sunday.
Pakistani troops fought a 12-day battle last month against about 500 al Qaeda fighters and their Pakistani tribal allies on Pakistan's western border with Afghanistan. The Pakistani military said about 200 were captured or killed.
The governor of Afghanistan's Paktika province, Haji Gulab Mangal, said a large number of militants had escaped from the fighting in Pakistan's South Waziristan and taken refuge in Afghan mountains.
"Afghan forces have been told to be ready and soon an operation along with allied forces will be carried out against these elements," Mangal told Reuters by telephone.
Pakistan recently mounted its biggest campaign yet to pacify its lawless and largely autonomous tribal region on the Afghan border and clear the area of foreign fighters.
As Pakistani forces hunt on their side, U.S. forces have mounted an operation on the Afghan side of the border in what the Pentagon has called a "hammer and anvil" action to catch al Qaeda leaders, possibly Osama bin Laden.
About 2,000 U.S. Marine reinforcements have been arriving in Afghanistan to intensify the hunt while Pakistan has been moving fresh troops up to its side of the border.
Mangal said the militants were in Saroza district. Uzbeks, Chechens, Tajiks and Afghans were among them, he said.
Pakistani forces would have to watch the border closely in case the militants tried to cross back into Pakistan, he said.
A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul said operations were going on in the south, southeast and east but he declined to comment on future operations.
U.S.-led forces had not seen large numbers coming across the frontier from Waziristan, but cross-border movement continued as it had in the past, he said.
Twenty militants have been killed and 41 captured in Afghanistan since U.S. and Afghan troops launched Operation Mountain Storm to clear Afghan border areas on March 7, an Afghan defense official said.
In Pakistan, more than 120 people were killed in the 12-day offensive in South Waziristan and troops have been moving into the rugged North Waziristan area in recent days.
A convoy of Pakistani troops moving into North Waziristan came under fire on Saturday but no one was hurt in the one-hour gun battle that followed.
Residents in the area, about 20 km (12 miles) from the district capital Miran Shah, said Pakistani tribesmen had fired on the convoy.
Government representatives have been urging tribal elders to push foreign fighters out of their lands and hand over tribal militants who give the foreigners refuge.
The conservative ethnic Pashtun tribes who live on both sides of the border have given refuge to foreign Muslim fighters since volunteers turned up from around the world to battle Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The Pakistani military used aircraft at the weekend to drop leaflets urging villagers not to shelter foreigners. Those who surrender will not be handed over to another country, Pakistan says.
Pakistani military officials have declined to comment on any new offensive but President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terror, has vowed to clear foreign militants out.
Musharraf has blamed al Qaeda for two attempts to kill him in December and said the people responsible for those and other attacks across Pakistan had links to the tribal areas.
Actors attacked on Afghan stage
Agence France-Presse From correspondents in Kabul April 4, 2004
ACTORS have been beaten by university students in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar for playing music and allowing men and women to perform on stage together.
National Theatre director Gul Makay Shah today said the attack brought back memories of the repressive Taliban regime.
The team of 20 actors, which included four women, had gone to Nangarhar to perform shows to celebrate the Afghan new year, which began on March 21, and raise awareness about the country's upcoming democratic elections.
"We went to districts and villages, performed at schools and other places where we were warmly welcomed by people, respected, and they asked us to come back again and again," Makay Shah said.
But the experience at the university was like the days of the Taliban, when women were barred from public life and stage performances and music were considered taboo, she said.
Initially the election awareness show, held in an auditorium packed with students, was well received.
"Everyone was clapping and whistling in appreciation of the show, but unfortunately it didn't last long," said Makay Shah, who witnessed the debacle from the front row.
When performers started to sound a drum, students wearing traditional shalwar kameez and turbans appeared from the backstage area and began to beat the musicians and break the equipment.
"They started to beat the male performers and broke our sound system and other equipment that I had begged and got from non-governmental organisations and other organisations to keep the theatre alive," Makay Shah said.
"We (women) were slightly hurt while getting out of the crowd through a small door but our male colleagues were badly beaten."
The director said one man was taken to hospital with minor injuries.
"They even broke the windows of our vehicle but we managed to get out of the crowd alive and hide in one of my relative's houses far from the city. We drove to Kabul at 4am the next morning," she said.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan re-opened Bamiyan University in the country's centre today, more than five years after it was closed by the Taliban.
The university, which was converted into a communications centre, barracks and ammunition warehouse for the fundamentalist militia, will have places for about 350 students, according to a statement released by the US military.
Wana terrorists had nothing to do with Afghan Jihad: Ejaz Jang
LAHORE: Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Muhammad Ejazul Haq has said that Wana operation was carried out against terrorists as no country can allow anyone to use its territory for carrying out terrorist activities.
Talking to newsmen after attending a reception in his honour by Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadees and Majlis-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan here on Saturday, the minister said that the terrorists against whom operation was conducted in Wana had nothing to do with the Afghan Jihad. He said these terrorists are Chechen, Kazakh and Uzbek and had sided with the Soviet forces against Mujahideen during Afghan war.
He said President Musharraf had asked these people to surrender and had assured them that they would not be handed over to any other country. But these people did not surrender.
He said it was a totally wrong impression that the operation was carried out against Mujahideen. He said, "0.3 million of Afghanistan refugees in Pakistan are living near Wana area but not a single bullet was fired against them." Those people who had fought against the Soviet forces are living in peace and some of them are part of the present Afghan government, Ejazul Haq said.
Elections in Afghanistan
Kamal Matinuddin The News: Jang April 3, 2004
The UN-supervised Bonn Conference, on the future of Afghanistan, established a Transitional Afghan Authority, headed by Hamid Karzai. He was charged with the responsibility of framing a constitution and the holding of national elections by June 2004.
Karzai’s reason for not being able to fulfil the mandate given to him, within the specified period, was that he wanted to give the United Nations more time to register voters and organize the balloting. It is true that out of 10.5 million voters, only 1.5 million have so far been registered. But this is not the only reason for the postponement. The main obstacle, which the president is unwilling to admit, is the deteriorating law and order situation in Afghanistan. It is doubtful if the officials charged with preparing the voters lists would be able to work in relative safety in most parts of the country.
Stability in Afghanistan is very fragile. According to the Secretary General of the United Nations "credible national elections cannot be held in June unless security improves. Insecurity in the country continues to follow a well-known pattern and has shown no sign of improvement. Risk of suicide attacks against well-protected international military targets remains a concern," said, Kofi Annan.
NATO is required to maintain security during elections. With only a 6,000 NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) under its command not much can be achieved in the way of ensuring a peaceful election. There is a suggestion of creating a rapid reaction force to deal with a break down of law and order at election booths. UN Assistant Secretary General, Hedi Annabi, told the United Nations Security Council recently, that Afghanistan will not be able to hold national elections in June, as the protection of election workers and voters will be a major problem. The US-trained Afghan National Army is still far short of its required strength. It is also bedevilled with desertions.
Although the UN ambassador to Afghanistan, Rawan Farhadi, maintains that the number of Taliban and Al Qaeda militants have fallen below 1,000, the attacks and killings of US and Afghan forces are on the rise. There were three attacks on US troops in just one week. In all 600 persons have been killed since August 2001. The turbulent southeastern region is still unsettled and peaceful elections in these provinces are unlikely even in September. US Special Forces, Green Berets, Navy Seals and CIA operators are still trying to locate Osama Bin Laden, Mulla Omar and Hikmetyar along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The hammer and anvil policy is likely to be followed for many more months in this troubled part of Afghanistan, making holding of elections a difficult exercise.
The remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda will continue to pose a serious problem. They are determined to wreck the elections. A spokesman of the Taliban, in a message on Al Jazeera TV, threatened to launch strikes against US forces if they attacked the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants. Although the UN special representative in Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, maintains that there is unprecedented enthusiasm among ordinary Afghans for the first post-Taliban elections, the situation on the ground speaks of a different story. Operation Enduring Freedom is costing the US taxpayer over a billion dollars a month but even then it has not been able to bring about peace in this war torn country. Changing of a regime by a stronger military power is not so difficult. The difficult part is to put an alternative government in its place, which is acceptable to the majority of the people of the country.
There are around a dozen warlords in Afghanistan who maintain their own militias. In all, there are around 100,000 private militiamen in Afghanistan under the control of the various warlords. These warlords maintain heavily armed personal militias numbering around 15, 000 each, some armed with tanks and guns. They generate their own funds by imposing local taxes. Many of them are involved in smuggling and drug trafficking. They only pay nominal loyalty to the central administration, refusing to obey the instructions from Kabul and unwilling to surrender their weapons. They are at time ruthless and brutal and have no qualms in eliminating their opponents if needed. To expect free, fair and impartial elections, with so many armed warlords around, is being unrealistic. Even if elections are held, it is these warlords who will come back to form the new government.
The militias have to be disarmed, if elections are to be held in a peaceful atmosphere. The Karzai administration has indeed announced that his government will work to disarm the unruly warlords ahead of the elections. According to the President, 40,000 militiamen are to be disarmed before the elections. The Ministry of Defence intends to impound all heavy weapons held by the militia commanders. Afghan defence minister, Rahim Wardak, is still hopeful that he can disarm the warlords by June. This is a tall order.
The plan was to demobilize 100,000 militiamen in three years. By the time of the elections, it was planned to disarm 30,000 of them, but only 5,400 have been demobilized so far. Out of these only 3,400 have been registered to begin a new life. Japan has already committed $43 million. Tokyo is now going to provide another $24 million for disarmament but even that is not enough, as the demobilized militiamen have to be provided alternative occupation, which will need resources.
Another major problem is the frequent internecine fights between these warlords. In February 2002, intended pilgrims lynched minister of aviation, Abdur Rahman at the Kabul airport. Vice President Haji Abdul Qadeer was assassinated in July that year. A major conflict occurred, only a few weeks ago, when the aviation minister Mirwais Sadiq, who was the son of Governor Ismail, was assassinated in Herat. Around 100 persons were killed in that incident alone, though the government down played the number of casualties. The fighting was the worst since Karzai was installed in power. Ismail was also targeted allegedly by troops loyal to the Karzai-appointed Corps commander, General Naibzada.
Ismail has been at odds with the Karzai administration for failing to hand over tens of millions of dollars, which he collected from customs’ duties imposed on the goods coming from Iran. Ismail was both the governor and corps commander in Herat. In order to diminish his authority, the command of the Herat Corps was taken away from him but his popularity has not been reduced. He remains a legend in Herat for resisting against the Soviets, for escaping from the Taliban prison and then returning to Herat as the warlord.
Abdur Rashid Dostum and Ustad Ata are engaged in frequent conflicts in the north. Padshah Khan Jadun in Gardez pays little attention to orders from the Centre. Hazrat Ali is his own master in Nangarhar. The elections will not have popular support, as the government is not permitting political activity.
Mines in Afghanistan still pose a serious problem. Although there are 5,000 de-miners at work in Afghanistan there are still millions of mines strewn all over Afghanistan, which have been left behind by the Soviet forces. Voters moving to polling booths from distant villages will have to face the hazard of a stepping on these un-marked mines.
President Bush would like to see elections held in Afghanistan and a pro-US government installed in that country, which he believes will add a feather to his cap even if OBL and Omar are not caught by November. That will only be possible, if the US-led multinational force along with the ISAF, and the Afghan Army can maintain relative calm in the country.
Afghanistan needs peace, stability and economic development. Instability in Afghanistan could revert the country to civil war and internal strife and another power struggle. It is, therefore, imperative that the elections are held and a representative government be formed in Afghanistan, which will reflect the demographic character of Afghanistan more realistically than at present. The writer is a retired Lt. Gen. and the author of the book The Taliban Phenomenon
Uzbekistan has sought extradition of nationals detained in Wana
FO- Daily Times
ISLAMABAD: The government of Uzbekistan has asked for the extradition of Uzbek nationals detained during the Wana operation, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan during the regular Saturday briefing.
He said the Pakistani government has not made a decision in reference to the request.
Mr Khan said recent statements made by top Indian officials about the need to peacefully resolve all outstanding issues between India and Pakistan were welcomed by Pakistan. The statements by Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani had positive and constructive tones, he said. The Pakistani government viewed these statements as more indicative of the state of current and future relations between the two countries than the BJP report “Vision 2004,” he added. He said the report would not disturb the dialogue process between the two countries.
Mr Khan said technical negotiations on the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus service would be held in Islamabad on April 8 and 9. He added that there was no truth to reports that leaders of both countries would lead a bus service between the Pakistani and Indian parts of Kashmir in the near future. Mr Khan said that as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Pakistan was engaged in consultations with the permanent members on the language of a draft resolution on nuclear non-proliferation.
Resumption of sports ties was one type of confidence building measure, he said, but denied that Pakistan’s losses in the cricket series were deliberate or part of these measures. Pakistan is also not taking any actions to boost the chances that US President George Bush’s will win the upcoming elections, he said.
He said a recent petition by a member of the US Congress to dissuade the government from recognising Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally was America’s internal problems. He added that this designation would help build long-term links between the two countries and offers both benefits. He said cooperation between the two countries covered the economic, commercial and military spheres.
Blast Ends Madrid Suspect Hunt; 4 Dead
By MAR ROMAN, Associated Press Writer
MADRID, Spain - At least three suspects in the Madrid railway bombings blew themselves up Saturday as police prepared to storm their apartment. One special forces agent was killed in the explosion and 15 police officers were wounded. The blast in Leganes, a southern suburb of Madrid, blew out part of the exterior walls on the first and second floors of the brick apartment building.
Police had approached the building at around 7 p.m. to make arrests as part of an escalating manhunt for those responsible for the March 11 bombings that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800.
The suspects spotted the police from a window and shot at them, chanting loudly in Arabic, the Interior Ministry said. No police officers were hurt by the gunfire. Over the next two hours, police evacuated as many people as they could from the building and surrounding area and prepared for an assault on the apartment.
"The special police agents prepared to storm the building and when they started to execute the plan, the terrorists set off a powerful explosion, blowing themselves up," Interior Minister Angel Acebes said.
"There are three that could have blown themselves up, but the possibility of more is not ruled out," he said. The news agency Europa Press said forensic experts were searching the building's swimming pool for remains of a possible fourth suspect, but the report could immediately be confirmed.
Police believe some of the suspects may have carried out the March 11 train bombings, Acebes said. After the blast, floodlights lit up the wreckage in the exposed rooms of the building. Pieces of concrete littered the floors and wires dangled from the ceilings.
Leganes is a city of 175,000 people about 10 miles southwest of central Madrid. The investigation into the March 11 attacks have focused on the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, which has links to al-Qaida.
Judge Juan del Olmo, the investigating magistrate, has issued international arrest warrants for five Moroccans and a Tunisian, identified as Sarhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet and described as the leader of the bombers.
Another 15 suspects are already in custody. Six have been charged with mass murder and nine with collaborating with or belonging to a terrorist organization. Eleven of the 15 charged are Moroccan.
Earlier Saturday, Acebes said a bomb found under the tracks of a high-speed train line on Friday was made of the same brand of explosive, Goma 2 Eco, that was used in the Madrid train attacks.
However, he said it was still too early to name any suspects. Goma 2, often used for demolition and in mining, is relatively easy to get in Spain. "It's the same type of explosive and it's the same brand," Acebes said of the 26-pound bomb. The bomb was planted about 40 miles south of Madrid, and its discovery stopped six bullet trains using the Madrid-Seville line.
Drugs, warlords and insecurity overshadow Afghanistan's path to democracy
Sat Apr 3, 9:13 PM ET
KABUL, April 4 (AFP) - Serious threats from the drugs trade, warlords and insecurity overshadow the pledge of billions of dollars last week for Afghanistan's reconstruction, analysts warn.
Donors meeting in Berlin last week pledged 8.2 billion dollars over three years for the war-torn country, prompting President Hamid Karzai to say he was leaving Germany "a very satisfied man".
But money and goodwill might not be enough to give Afghanistan the peace it needs to concentrate on rebuilding, said analyst Andrew Wilder, director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit.
"The question mark is security," Wilder said. "There doesn't seem to be the willingness to commit on the security front, to address warlordism and drugs ... the real issues that are undermining the state-building process."
Large parts of Afghanistan are controlled by regional warlords who command private armies. A disarmament process is under way but has not yet reached full steam, with only a small number of a proposed 100,000 soldiers demobilised and re-integrated into civilian life.
Unless these twin evils are removed or minimised, elections planned for September will only see warlords and their proxies installed into power, Wilder said.
The Berlin conference -- the country's first major aid-pledging meeting since shortly after the fall of the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001 after a US-led campaign -- displayed a "lack of political strategy for Afghanistan", he said.
"It's not just a money issue. Is there the commitment to address the real fundamental political issues in Afghanistan which relate to the warlord culture and the drug culture?" Wilder asked.
US officials also warned Friday that links between the drug trade and terrorism posed a major threat to Afghanistan's reconstruction.
The US Central Command "views narco-trafficking as a significant obstacle to the political and economic reconstruction of Afghanistan," Rear Admiral Bruce Clingan told a Senate armed forces subcommittee in Washington.
"The revenue generated from poppy cultivation provides resources for extremists and the smuggling infrastructure that supports narcotics trafficking facilitates terrorist transportation and logistics," Clingan said.
The United Nations has said Afghanistan is the world's biggest producer of poppy-derived opium used to make heroin, bringing the country 2.3 billion dollars in revenue last year, nearly half of its gross domestic product.
Clingan said the groups benefiting from drug money include the Taliban, Al-Qaeda operatives and other extremist elements.
It was decided to increase the number of civilian-military provincial reconstruction teams (PRT) in Afghanistan by eight to 21, the US head of coalition forces Lieutenant General David Barno said in Berlin Friday.
The PRTs are mixed groups of lightly-armed military and development personnel which have been helping deliver aid in provinces outside Kabul.
But Wilder said: "A PRT here and a PRT there is not really going to address (the issues facing the country)".
Barbara Stapleton, of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, said: "Overshadowing everything is the security situation."
She added that until there was more progress on the disarmament, demobilisation and re-integration of the tens of thousands of militiamen around the country, including the de-commissioning of many military units, it would be impossible to stage free and fair elections.
In a paper released ahead of the donor meeting, the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that delegates in Berlin would need to hold frank discussions on security failings and the establishment of an international security presence beyond the capital, Kabul.
Yet NATO made no mention at the meeting of deploying more troops.
"The international community's failure thus far to extend a strong security umbrella beyond Kabul is perpetuating, indeed deepening, the political and economic power of regional commanders," the ICG noted.
"There is a real risk that elections under present conditions will merely confirm an undemocratic and unstable status quo," the report said, adding that the disarmament process needed to be reinvigorated, something the conference agreed to do.
Senior ICG analyst in Kabul, Vikram Parekh, said not enough commitment had been shown in Berlin to put additional troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
"I don't think there was enough specifics in the commitments that came out of Berlin," he said.
NATO fetes seven new members but Russia not in party mood
Fri Apr 2, 8:38 AM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - NATO celebrated the entry of seven ex-communist countries into its ranks, but the festive mood was punctured by Russia's anger over the military alliance's newfound presence on its borders.
In the courtyard of NATO's Brussels headquarters, the flags of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia were raised and their national anthems played by a military band.
Their foreign ministers looked proudly on from a podium, joined by representatives from the existing members -- including US Secretary of State Colin Powell -- and about 200 onlookers in a colourful array of uniforms.
The seven entrants formally joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation on Monday when they deposited their accession documents in Washington, opening a new chapter for an alliance long defined by its Cold War role.
"Together with the enlargement of the European Union, today is the clearest demonstration that in Europe, geography no longer equals destiny," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told the foreign ministers.
Five of the new NATO members are among 10 countries joining the EU on May 1, in another symbolic erosion of Europe's old Cold War frontiers. The other two, Bulgaria and Romania, hope to join the EU in 2007.
The Brussels ceremony was followed by the first ministerial meeting of the enlarged alliance, with a NATO-Russia Council joined by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov due later.
The arrival of the new member states comes at a critical juncture for NATO, which was created in 1949 to defend western Europe from the Soviet Union but is now remoulding itself to confront new global challenges.
While congratulating itself over its biggest expansion yet, NATO was also forced to defend a botched raid by its troops hunting for Bosnian Serb war crimes fugitive Radovan Karadzic that left a priest and his son in a coma.
De Hoop Scheffer said Karadzic and other fugitives such as former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic "cannot hide, they cannot run forever".
In the wake of the March 11 attacks in Madrid, the NATO ministers were also to discuss sharing more intelligence on extremists, diplomats said.
Already active in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, the alliance is also in talks about taking a formal peacekeeping role under the US-led occupation of Iraq.
Individually, 18 of the 26 NATO nations already have troops in Iraq, including six of the seven new entrants.
Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said it was high time for transatlantic divisions over the war in Iraq, which last year plunged NATO into its worst-ever crisis, to be put aside.
"All of us, the countries that have suffered under communist dictatorship, have not only a strategic necessity to stabilise Iraq for the sake of the broader region, but also a moral obligation to assist this nation," he added.
The talks with Lavrov were to be a reminder of a dark spot blotting the festive atmosphere of NATO's historic expansion.
With Belgian F-16s starting patrols of the Baltic trio's airspace this week, Russia went as far as to warn of a possible "military response".
But Latvian Foreign Minister Rihards Piks was defiant.
"The reality of Latvia's history in the last century showed us that the existence of nations is threatened when tyranny prevails," he said at NATO headquarters.
And Powell, in an interview with newspapers from the seven new NATO states, said Russia should stop grumbling.
"I don't sense that the Russians will find it necessary to counter this move with anything that would be either provocative or destabilising or dangerous," he said.
Afghan farmers turn to saffron as replacement for their opium crops
By Hamida Ghafour in Herat 04/04/2004 Telegraph.co.uk
The Romans used it to scent their baths and Francis Bacon wrote that "it makes the English sprightly". Now, saffron - the most expensive spice in the world - could become an antidote to Afghanistan's opium production, and Britain's drug problem.
About 400 farmers in the western province of Herat have begun to grow the spice - which retails for about £4 a gram in the UK - as a substitute crop for poppies, the opium sap of which produces heroin. When the saffron is harvested in the autumn, the farmers can expect to reap about $200 (£108) a kilogram (2.2lb). While less than the $300 they would make from a kilogram of illegally grown poppies, it is 100 times more than they would make from wheat, corn or oranges.
Abdul Samed, a former poppy farmer, is looking forward to harvesting his saffron, grown on an acre of land. "Saffron is slowly improving our lives and it is not difficult work," he said.
"Our country is getting better every day. I know farmers here who are growing poppy, but I am trying to encourage them to grow saffron. If I make a profit I will share it with other neighbours so that they see how good it can be."
The aim of the local project, which was inspired by the country's agriculture ministry, is to dent an opium industry that produces more than 90 per cent of the heroin sold on Britain's streets.
Britain leads the international campaign to rid Afghanistan of its poppy crop and last week the US state department published an unusually critical report into their lenient policing. Robert Charles, the state department's senior narcotics official, told a congressional committee hearing that the British efforts had been "painfully slow".
This year, the poppy farmers are looking forward to a record crop after spring came early and brought forward the planting season. The Taliban clamped down on the trade but since the regime was toppled in 2001, farmers have grown poppies with renewed vigour.
The saffron project is one of the schemes being considered by a three-strong team of British advisers sent to Afghanistan to help find solutions to the drug problem. Britain has invested £70 million over three years in counter-narcotics projects, trying to block both the flow of heroin and the profits skimmed off to fund terrorist activities.
Last week Mike O'Brien, the Foreign Office minister, said the future success of Afghanistan depended on stamping out the opium trade. "Afghanistan will return to peace and prosperity only if the drugs trade is eliminated," he said at the Berlin Conference on Afghanistan. "Defeating this cancer will be a long slog but we, the Afghan government and the international community are determined to see this through."
So far, the problem has worsened. In 2003, an opium crop was harvested from 61,000 hectares of land, double the acreage of the previous year.
The agriculture department in Herat decided to take matters into its own hands. Last year, representatives travelled to Iran to buy saffron bulbs and handed them out to poppy farmers.
Saffron's peppery, honeyed fragrance has flavoured foods for more than 4,000 years. The spice is mainly grown in Greece, Spain, Turkey, Iran and Morocco. It is extracted from the stigma of the saffron crocus, reddish-gold filaments an inch long that are plucked by hand from the centre of dried crocus blossoms. Another farmer, Mullah Akbar, has embraced the idea of growing saffron with enthusiasm - partly, he admitted, because the powerful warlord of Herat, Ismael Khan, had warned farmers not to grow poppies any more or risk arrest.
An American official in Afghanistan said that President Hamid Karzai's government should use teams of officers to monitor and eradicate crops, making clear to farmers that they would be prosecuted if they carried on growing poppies.
He said that heroin production was funding terrorist organisations such as Hizb-e-Islami, which was led by the Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. "It is a narco-military terrorist organisation," he said. "It owns a network that ships opium gum to Pakistan and Central Asia. In fact, it is a drug cartel which has insurgency goals against the Karzai government."
Hizb-e-Islami sends an estimated £65 million in cash a year to militant fighters in the breakaway Russian republic of Chechyna, and to Islamic fundamentalist groups in Uzbekistan. The group is believed to have accounted for up to 15 per cent of last year's opium crop.
Mr Akbar said that he was looking forward to using the money earned from this year's saffron crop to install electricity in his house. "We have lived for so long and have never seen electricity. If everyone here grew saffron our lives would be better."
Spread of Bin Laden Ideology Cited
Iraq Invasion Said To Alter Dynamics Of Local Militants
By Walter Pincus Washington Post Sunday, April 4, 2004; Page A13
The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has accelerated the spread of Osama bin Laden's anti-Americanism among once local Islamic militant movements, increasing danger to the United States as the al Qaeda network is becoming less able to mount attacks, according to senior intelligence officials at the CIA and State Department.
At the same time, the Sunni Triangle has become a training ground for foreign Islamic jihadists who are slipping into Iraq to join former Saddam Hussein loyalists to test themselves against U.S. and coalition forces, these officials say.
Islamic militant organizations in places such as North Africa and Southeast Asia, which were previously focused on changing their local country leadership, "have been caught by bin Laden's vision, and poisoned by it . . . they will now look at the U.S., Israel and the Saudis as targets," a senior intelligence official said last week. "That is one manifestation of how bin Laden's views are expanding well beyond Iraq," he said.
J. Cofer Black, the State Department coordinator for counterterrorism and a former head of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, gave the same message to a House International Relations subcommittee last Thursday, saying that bin Laden's "virulent anti-American rhetoric . . . has been picked up by a number of Islamic extremist movements which exist around the globe."
The result, according to the senior intelligence analyst, is that the U.S. war on terrorism after Iraq "may transition from defeating a group to fighting a movement." Black said the spread of bin Laden's ideology "greatly complicates our task in stamping out al Qaeda and poses a threat in its own right for the foreseeable future."
He described "scores" of extremist groups such as Jemaah Islamiah that have "gravitated to al Qaeda in recent years where before such linkages did not exist." In the past, al Qaeda had given other groups training and finances in bin Laden's hope they would see the world in the same anti-American, anti-Israeli, anti-Saudi terms he saw, the senior analyst said.
Since attacks in East Africa, on the USS Cole, and on the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon and New York on Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda has lost its sanctuary in Afghanistan. Its once top-down control of terrorist operations now is in the hands of less experienced people.
That makes it less clear what roles al Qaeda played in recent bombings in Bali, Istanbul, Riyadh, Tunisia, Casablanca and Madrid. Authorities said that local extremists carried out these attacks, although Black said a possible al Qaeda leadership connection to Madrid is still under investigation.
Black and the senior intelligence analyst said it would be a mistake to believe the United States faces a monolithic terrorist threat. "Before Iraq, al Qaeda had some success with like-minded organizations conducting operations," the analyst said.
"It would be fair to say that we are seeing greater cooperation between al Qaeda and smaller Islamic extremist groups as well as even more localized organizations," Black said.
Adding to the threat are the limited numbers of foreign Islamic fighters, some with experience in Chechnya, Kosovo and Kashmir, who are slipping over the Iraqi borders intent on joining the fight against the United States and its coalition partners. Jihadists are seeking to use Iraq as a training ground for future battles, according to Black and others.
"These jihadists view Iraq as a new training ground to build their extremist credentials and hone the skills of the terrorist," Black told the House subcommittee. Aggressive U.S. military actions against the foreign fighters have not permitted them to organize, recruit and raise money as they had in the past, the senior analyst said.
"We will contain and defeat them in Iraq," he said, "but they will create a new Rolodex of fellow jihadists and people with whom they can work in the [Persian] Gulf in the future."
Black said the U.S. military recognizes the threat the extremists pose, and is aimed at ensuring "that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups will be unable to use Iraq as a training ground or sanctuary."
As the United States and its allies have systematically captured and killed almost 70 percent of the al Qaeda leadership, bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, are on the run and unable to provide operational leadership. Bin Laden's effectiveness as a plotter of terrorist acts has been "greatly reduced," Black said.
Black told the House panel that bin Laden still maintains some contact with the remaining leadership but command and control is handled by younger and less experienced leaders. Bin Laden, Black said, "spends most of his time trying to figure out, you know, how they're going to come for me and is this going to be the day."
The CIA nonetheless still considers bin Laden "an important ideological figurehead," the senior intelligence analyst said. "His passing will be a signpost but not the end of the campaign. Others will be passing the torch and our next steps will be to discover the people who take over, and they won't definitely be the people around bin Laden now."
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