U.S. Brokers Halt to Afghan Infighting
Tue Aug 17,12:59 PM ET By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan warlord abandoned his gains in the country's latest burst of factional fighting Tuesday, after the United States brokered a cease-fire and sent warplanes circling overhead.
Amanullah, the commander of a militia that has been battering troops loyal to the governor of western Herat province since Friday, said he retreated from positions overlooking Herat city.
A spokesman for Gov. Ismail Khan, the region's dominant faction leader, said the Afghan government's new U.S.-trained army had inserted a buffer force north of a contested air base to keep the sides apart.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said there were "significant" casualties from the latest fighting, apparently on top of some 25 deaths already reported.
"We expect everyone to cooperate for the sake of Afghanistan and for their own future," Khalilzad told reporters after a round of telephone diplomacy to help secure the cease-fire.
Earlier Tuesday, Amanullah's ethnic Pashtun fighters pushed to within 20 miles of the provincial capital, raising the specter of urban warfare just as the country prepares for national elections.
Amanullah has sworn allegiance to the central government and praised President Hamid Karzai, also a Pashtun.
But Karzai condemned Amanullah's action, calling him a warlord, and the American ambassador warned him against any further advance.
"I've made it clear our expectations of people," Khalilzad said when asked if he had threatened the protagonists. "I would like to leave it at that. People understand."
Residents and officials in Herat said U.S. warplanes were patrolling the skies over the province.
Some commanders claimed that bombs had been dropped — on the opposing forces — but U.S. military officials in Kabul didn't respond to requests for comment.
Battles between forces loyal to Khan, the region's powerful Tajik leader, and several Pashtun rivals have raged in several districts of Herat province since Friday.
Karzai has dispatched hundreds of national army soldiers and their U.S. trainers to Shindand air base in the south of the province.
Presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin said the force was there to keep order and that the government was still investigating. But he suggested that the government was siding against Amanullah.
"He is a warlord. He doesn't belong to the defense ministry," Ludin said. "Whoever is responsible for this breakdown and breach of security will be brought to justice."
Bloody infighting between rival factions has broken out repeatedly across the country this year, including a burst which killed a Cabinet minister in Herat, undermining the claims of Afghan and American officials that the country is stabilizing.
The violence could deepen ethnic tension ahead of the Oct. 9 presidential vote, which Karzai hopes to win, and is an unwelcome distraction for the U.S. military as it continues to battle Taliban-led insurgents.
The United Nations fears that the failure to disarm thousands of militia fighters could see the elections marred by intimidation. Security concerns have delayed a vote for parliament until the spring.
US-led coalition denies air strikes against Afghan warlord
Wednesday August 18, 10:53 AM AFP
The US military denied reports that the coalition in Afghanistan had launched air strikes to quell fighting between rival warlords just weeks ahead of presidential elections.
An Afghan official had earlier reported coalition air strikes against the forces of Amanullah Khan, who have been battling militia loyal to the governor of Herat province, strongman Ismael Khan, for several days.
"We did not conduct any air strikes in the Herat area today," said US military spokesman Major Rick Peat, adding that coalition patrol and transport planes were in the area.
"We are providing air support to the Afghan security forces, at the request of the Afghan government," he said.
Clashes have been raging in districts around Herat city since early Saturday morning and demonstrators had taken to the streets to demand the central government take action against militia threatening the provincial capital.
Speaking earlier on Tuesday, Herat police chief Ziahuddin Muhmoodi said the fighting had reached Adraskan district some 85 kilometres (52 miles) south of the city when the strikes hit.
"Amanullah Khan's troops were bombed by coalition planes," he said.
Sources in the central government said the attack had been ordered by President Hamid Karzai who had vowed to back Ismael Khan and defend the city of Herat against attack from Amanullah's forces.
"The attack on Ismael Khan is being considered as an attack on the central government. The government will defend its governor at any cost," Karzai spokesman Hamid Elmi told AFP.
A source close to the defense ministry said Karzai ordered the attack after Amanullah failed to pull back from Adraskan.
"Amanullah was told if he made a single step further towards Herat the government would take serious action against him. Amanullah right now is being considered as a rebel commander," he said.
Amanullah's forces captured and briefly controlled Adraskan earlier Tuesday, but lost control of the district in the afternoon after bloody clashes. They retreated after a truce was brokered.
"Based on the request of the central government, we handed over the control of Adraskan to the national army," Amanullah told AFP.
He also denied that his troops had been bombed by US-led coalition planes.
Meanwhile, the United States-led military coalition also said troops from Kabul were ready to be used if fighting spiralled out of control.
"The Afghan government naturally has the lead in this matter and is trying to resolve the situation peacefully," US military spokesman Peat told AFP in an emailed statement.
"However, they have positioned forces in the area, and are reinforcing them, to use should peaceful means fail."
United States ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the US had stepped in to broker a truce between the warring sides after four days of fierce clashes.
"The agreement has been made, has been honoured but I have indicated to Amanullah that any advance towards Herat to threaten the city is unacceptable," Khalilzad said at a press conference.
Khalilzad said it was unclear if the factional fighting was related to elections but that an investigation had been launched.
Herat was tense Tuesday and Governor Khan was seen distributing weapons to civilians at police headquarters and intelligence headquarters. Uniformed and plain-clothes armed men were stationed at every major intersection on Herat's streets, an AFP correspondent said.
The latest offensive caps a string of factional clashes between rival warlords battling for control of the western provinces of Herat, Farah, Badghis and Ghor in recent months.
Khan has ruled the city with an iron fist bringing peace and prosperity to its streets since the fall of the Taliban, but cracking down hard on his opponents.
Afghan Rebel Commander Seizes Ground in Herat
Tue Aug 17, 6:43 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A renegade Afghan commander seized ground in fresh fighting in the western province of Herat on Tuesday, sources said, despite the deployment of troops from Kabul to support the besieged governor.
President Hamid Karzai sent hundreds of soldiers from the fledgling Afghan National Army (ANA) to secure areas including the disused airbase at Shindand, where commander Amanullah Khan's forces flushed out governor Ismail Khan's troops at the weekend.
More than 21 people, including two of the governor's top commanders, were killed in that fighting.
In fresh clashes, local and foreign sources said, Amanullah Khan's men forced the governor's fighters from Shindand district, and fighting continued in Adraskan region to the north of the base and just 25 miles south of Herat city.
There were few details, but the sources said that ANA troops accompanied by U.S. military advisers had played no part in the fresh fighting against Amanullah Khan.
Neither of the sides involved in the battles could be reached for comment.
Ismail Khan is a powerful factional leader and strong critic of Karzai, whose U.S.-backed government was installed after the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001.
Factional fighting like that in the west has been a hurdle to Karzai's efforts to unite and rebuild Afghanistan after some 23 years of war. He also faces a growing insurgency from remnants of the ousted Taliban and their Islamic militant allies.
The U.S. military, which leads 18,000 soldiers in Afghanistan hunting for Taliban and al Qaeda operatives, has said it was concerned about security in western Afghanistan and was ready to help the government quell factional fighting in the area.
The fighting in and around Shindand has been described as a part of a series of co-ordinated attacks by governor Khan's rivals aimed at ousting him from power, local officials say.
The fighting in Herat coincides with increased attacks in the south and east by Taliban fighters seeking to disrupt October's presidential election and parliamentary polls six months later.
Close to 1,000 people have been killed in attacks mostly linked to militants in the past year.
ICRC recovers bodies from recent fighting in western part of country
Source: ICRC 17 Aug 2004
Following three days of clashes in western Afghanistan, the ICRC sub-delegation in Herat was approached by those involved in the fighting, on behalf of families whose relatives had been killed, for help in retrieving their bodies from across the front line.
On 16 August, after receiving guarantees of safe passage from all sides, an ICRC team travelled to Adraskan, about one and a half hour's drive south of Herat, where they met with military commanders on both sides of the line for further discussions. Three bodies were subsequently handed over. The team arrived back in Herat in the early evening and took the bodies to the regional hospital for identification and return to the families.
The ICRC, an independent and impartial humanitarian organization, has a mandate under the 1949 Geneva Conventions to offer its services to all sides as a neutral intermediary in times of armed conflict and internal strife and to assist the families of those involved in the fighting by retrieving human remains, tracing missing persons and visiting detainees.
Afghan vote threatens Bush's credibility
Administration needs success to back claim of spreading democracy
CAROL HARRINGTON AND JARED FERRIE
The Toronto Star (Canada) August 17, 2004
KABUL—With evidence mounting of plans for widespread vote-rigging in Afghanistan's upcoming elections, U.S. experts say the controversy could emerge as a serious liability for U.S. President George W. Bush's re-election campaign.
After voter registration centres closed across Afghanistan on the weekend, election officials acknowledged the number of voting cards issued far exceeded the estimated number of eligible voters — and that the illegal practice of multiple registrations is widespread.
"An Afghan election marred by allegations of fraud would be bad for President Bush's overall claim of promoting democracy in the Muslim world," said Husain Haqqani, an Afghanistan expert at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "In the absence of good news from Iraq, the Bush administration needs Afghanistan as its success story."
For months, Bush has staked his claims on a successful democratic Afghanistan, saying it would serve as an example of how America can bring democracy, and free and fair elections to the developing world.
"The rise of democratic institutions in Afghanistan and Iraq is a great step toward a goal of lasting importance to the world," Bush said in a speech in Washington last March. "We have set out to encourage reform and democracy."
But with seven weeks to go before the Oct. 9 poll, the Star has found the practice of multiple registrations is rife.
Observers also claim the ground work necessary for a free and fair election — security, reconstruction and political stability — has not been established in Afghanistan and that the U.S. hurriedly pushed the country into elections to further its own agenda.
"The United States wants, before the November elections, to showcase a victory of the Bush administration by proving it is possible to bring democracy to an Islamic Third World country," said Assem Akram, an Afghan historian and author based in Washington. "And if American voters grant George Bush a new mandate, his administration will reproduce the same successful model in Iraq. That is why there is so much hurry."
With scarce funds and hasty plans for rebuilding Afghanistan, some critics aren't surprised the elections are starting to unravel in advance of polling day. Although it will take at least a week to report the final tally of registered voters, United Nations officials overseeing the elections admit that more than 10 million voting cards have been issued — surpassing the estimated 9.8 million eligible voters.
"Probably there is a lot of multiple registering," U.N. spokesperson Manoel de Almeida e Silva said yesterday.
"This is not perfect. There will be problems. In many countries, they have lots of problems during their first elections."
In a country where the average income is $2 a day, some Afghans who heard that political parties and presidential candidates would pay up to $150 for voting cards, gladly lined up at registration centres several times to get multiple voting cards.
In separate interviews, two Afghans told the Star it was easy to obtain more than one card. One man who registered six times, using his real name and photograph, said U.N. election workers asked him only once if he had previously registered. A woman said her nephew had been approached at school numerous times to sell his laminated voting card and that she knows a woman who obtained 40 cards while cloaked in a burqa.
The blatant violation of election rules has prompted two presidential candidates — Latif Pedram, leader of the Congress Mili Afghanistan Party and independent candidate, Ahmad Shah Amadzai — to call for an investigation.
Overall, the registration process has been rife with many problems: 12 election workers were killed; Afghans confused their voter ID cards for food rations and prescriptions; men forbade wives, sisters and daughters from getting voting cards; and many uneducated people simply don't understand what their first election is about. Originally scheduled for last June, the election has twice been postponed — first due to low registration turnout and later because of security concerns.
Jawed Ludin, a spokesperson for Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, said there could be thousands of people who have multiple cards, most whom he believes live in cities rather than rural areas. But, he stressed, most Afghans maintain only one card.
He insisted no one involved in Karzai's election campaign has bought voting cards. "The president is a candidate who would never do anything like that."
Mustafa Durani, country representative for the International Republican Institute in Kabul, believes more than 1 million Afghans have registered twice. But he shrugs it off.
"Illegal things happen," said Durani, whose Washington-based group is associated with the U.S. Republican Party.
He stressed that it does not matter if someone registers one or 30 times because they are only allowed one vote.
Kit Spence of the National Democratic Institute, said that after 25 years of brutal wars and oppression, it's no wonder that the country is struggling to hold a free and fair election.
"There's going to be fraud, there's going to be mismanagement, there's going to be people who just don't understand how the process works and they are going to screw up," said Spence, whose group has ties to the U.S. Democrats.
The Carnegie centre's Haqqani, however, warns that if the elections are fraught with illegal vote-rigging activities, the U.S. and Karzai are going to have a battle on their hands.
"Elections must be seen to be fraud-free or their legitimacy, and that of the elected leaders, remains questionable," he said.
"The real issue is: Will the Afghan people, by and large, find the election exercise honest and fair? And that, more than charges and responses to them, will determine whether the elections were a success or not."
Afghan president gains backing of militia commanders ahead of polls
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan, Aug 17 (AFP) - A lieutenant of powerful northern warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostam pledged Tuesday to back incumbent Hamid Karzai in the upcoming presidential vote and said 149 other military commanders would join him.
Juma Khan Hamdard, commander of a militia corp in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, said he would back Karzai in the October 9 elections despite the fact that Dostam is also a presidential hopeful.
"President Hamid Karzai has good relations with international countries, so we will give him our support," Hamdard told reporters.
"During the past three years he has been doing well -- people have been happy with his government," he added.
Hamdard said a grouping of 150 militia commanders, many of whom have previously been linked to the outlawed Hezb-i-Islami led by wanted warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, would back Karzai.
Most of the commanders hail from northern Afghanistan but some come from southern provinces considered strongholds of the ousted Taliban regime.
Large parts of Afghanistan are considered beyond the control of the central government, making local and provincial militia commanders figures of authority in these areas.
Karzai, an ethnic Pastun from southern Afghanistan, is facing 17 challengers in the country's first presidential elections and consolidating his support in the ethnically-diverse north is considered vital for him to win.
EU to send experts for Afghan polls
BRUSSELS, Aug 17 (AFP) - The European Union will send experts to support and monitor upcoming landmark presidential elections in Afghanistan, the European Commission said Tuesday.
The 25-strong EU Democracy and Support Mission was approved after the Commission pledged 24 million euros in support for the October 9 polls, making the EU the biggest international backer of the elections.
"The Mission will assess key aspects of the (ballots) and, upon completion of the process, will make recommendations for the future regarding the electoral and wider democratisation processes," the Commission said.
Commission funds combined with pledges from EU member states make Europe the largest single donor to the elections, covering half of voter registration expenses and over 40 percent of the cost of organizing the polls, it added.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has headed an interim government since 2001, in the wake of the five-year Taliban regime's collapse under a US-led military assault, is facing 17 other candidates in the October polls.
The EU Afghan mission will deploy experts in Kabul and to centres across Afghanistan for periods of up to three months.
Voter Registration Extended In Parts Of Afghanistan
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
UNITED NATIONS, 17 Aug (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations says registration for Afghanistan's presidential election has been extended in five southern provinces and parts of the southeast.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Afghans in these areas will be allowed to sign up to vote until Friday.
Voter registration had been due to end Sunday for the October 9 presidential election.
Eckhard said the decision to extend registration had been made by the Joint Electoral Management Body, which is made up of Afghans and international representatives. No reason for the decision was given.
Eckhard also said that by last Sunday's deadline, close to 10 million Afghans had registered for the election - just under 42 percent of them women.
Deadline for Afghan voter registration extended until Fri.
Kyodo (Japan) Tuesday August 17, 5:16 AM
Although voter registration officially closed Sunday, Afghan election authorities have decided to extend the registration process until Friday in parts of southeastern Afghanistan and all five southern provinces, the United Nations said Monday.
As of Saturday, the world body said, nearly 10 million Afghans have registered to vote, with women accounting for 41.8 percent of the total.
The Joint Electoral Management body has made the decision to allow greater voter participation in coming elections despite fears that the former ruling Taliban might sabotage the electoral process.
President Hamid Karzai, who is from Afghanistan's biggest Pashtun tribe, is widely expected to win the nation's first presidential election.
Afghanistan decided in July to hold presidential elections on Oct. 9 and delay national and local parliamentary elections until April next year.
U.N. officials said that technical preparations for the elections are continuing and that the first of many shipments of polling material, including ballot boxes and security seals, arrived in Kabul on Sunday.
Afghans in South Fearful of Taking Part in Election
Los Angeles Times 08/16/2004 By Hamida Ghafour
Amid efforts by U.S.-led forces to rid provinces of the Taliban, militants continue to threaten villagers to bar them from registering to vote
QALAT - At the 19th century fortress once occupied by the British army, Maj. Abdul Qadir narrowed his eyes and looked at the crumbling walls when asked whether Afghans supported the Americans.
In a country that has seen many foreign armies come and go, the commander of the 1st Battalion of the Afghan army took his time replying. Finally, he said: "The Afghans want the Americans here, not the Taliban. But they are waiting to see which force will stay longer."
Here in the heartland of the Taliban resistance, the U.S.-led coalition is in the middle of Operation Lightning Resolve, a quasi-humanitarian military operation aimed at ridding four southern provinces of militants and paving the way for democracy.
The Americans and Qadir's battalion are also helping the United Nations identify as many voters in Zabol province as possible before the Oct. 9 presidential election. The national deadline for voter registration was Aug. 1, but in Zabol it was extended until today because of poor security.
Bringing democracy to Zabol has proved difficult: Fewer than half of the 124,000 eligible people have received voter cards, and only 8% of those are female. By contrast, more than 90% of the estimated 10 million eligible voters have registered nationwide, and about 40% are women.
Qadir said people in Zabol were too scared to participate.
"When we go to a village, we persuade people to take part in elections, but when we leave the Taliban threatens them," he said. "The Americans need to stay. Otherwise, I don't know what would happen to us."
In Kabul, posters are slowly appearing on street corners and the political mudslinging between the 18 presidential candidates has begun. By contrast, there is no buzz on the streets of Qalat, the provincial capital of Zabol, about 220 miles southwest of Kabul.
At the U.N. voter registration office at the local girls school, Rajiabia, 46, an election worker, and her three colleagues were waiting to give identification cards to women. No one had come that morning.
"It's obvious we are afraid," said Rajiabia, who, like many Afghans, uses only one name. "On average we get 10 to 12 women a day, which is not bad. But we go from house to house to tell women to come. The mullahs don't like it, and a lot of women come in secret because they are too scared."
Zabol province is so isolated that when the U.S. Army's 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, arrived in the remote districts of Arghandab and Khak-i-Afghan last month to hunt down the Taliban, the residents thought the Soviets had invaded again.
They had never seen, or heard of, the U.S. forces because the areas were in the firm control of the Taliban, said Maj. Joseph Walsh, the executive officer of the battalion.
But after a mission involving air assaults with a B-1 bomber and a Black Hawk helicopter, security has improved to such an extent that 1,000 Afghans have registered in Arghandab.
"We have B-1 bombers flying 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in Zabol," Walsh said. "Sometimes it is a show of force, so if you have a 500-pound bomb possibly in your backyard, then you might be reluctant to cause trouble."
But Lightning Resolve has come at a cost. This month, eight U.S. soldiers were hurt in two attacks.
U.N. election workers also have been targeted. The latest deadly attack came Aug. 6 in neighboring Oruzgan province as 30 militants fired at an armed election convoy, killing two Afghan workers. A third man is still missing. In total, 12 election workers have been killed across the country and at least 33 have been injured.
Is the country ready for an election?
Capt. Todd Schmidt, a military liaison officer to the U.N. here, paused for a few seconds.
"Having been an American, and living in America my whole life, Americans are supremely optimistic," he said. "We always see hope. Part of what we are trying to do is sow those seeds of hope."
He also insisted that the security situation was improving.
"I think the entire world is aware of the perceptions here, but that is not always the reality," he said. "The perception is that targets are against us, but that is minimal."
But Rahman Wafa, an officer with the 1st Battalion of the Afghan army, said the Taliban was as strong as ever.
"In Khak-i-Afghan district, we went and distributed voter registration cards with our American brothers," he said. "The next day, some people said to us that the night we left the village, Talibs came and gathered all of the cards and took them away."
Running his forefinger across his throat, he added, "They also told the villagers that anyone who took cards again would have their throats slit."
Annan calls for urgent increase in international forces in Afghanistan
01:40 AM EDT Aug 18
UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Secretary General Kofi Annan has called for an urgent increase in international forces in Afghanistan to address the deteriorating security situation in the country.
In a report Tuesday to the UN Security Council, Annan welcomed NATO's recent decision to increase its troop strength to help improve security. He expressed hope that the new soldiers will arrive in time for the presidential election campaign that starts in early September and remain beyond April's scheduled parliamentary elections.
Security assistance is "an urgent requirement" to improve prospects for the success of the electoral process, to deter factional violence, to assist the deployment of Afghan security forces, and to help those forces control the illicit drug economy, he said.
"The security situation in Afghanistan is volatile, having seriously deteriorated in certain parts of the country," Annan warned.
"Attacks on national and international forces and on electoral, government and humanitarian workers and their premises in southern Afghanistan have intensified. At the same time, in a disturbing development, several of the most serious acts of violence since the start of the Bonn (peace) process took place in the north and west of the country, areas that had been considered low-risk," he said.
Those responsible range from al-Qaida and remnants of Afghanistan's former Taliban rules to factional forces and criminals, including some involved in drug trafficking, Annan said.
The U.S. military currently leads about 20,000 troops in Afghanistan. NATO decided at its summit in Istanbul on June 28-29 that it would expand the 6,500-strong international force in Afghanistan, increase the number of teams trying to rebuild the provinces and provide about 100 soldiers to support each one, and establish a quick reaction force and a battalion-size operational reserve.
Italian and Spanish soldiers are expected to swell the NATO force to as much as 10,000 around the Oct. 9 presidential election.
Pakistan calls on US, NATO to beef up Al-Qaeda hunt
Wednesday August 18, 10:55 AM AFP
The United States and other NATO members should adopt "more security measures" in the hunt for Al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, Al-Hayat newspaper quoted the Pakistani Interior Minister as saying.
Asked about the whereabouts of terror chief Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, Faisal Saleh Hayat on Tuesday said: "Our estimations, as the Pakistani government and security services, are that they are all holed up in specific areas ... in the Pakistani border area or inside Afghanistan.
"Because Afghanistan is still on the way to building its own security, there are still districts outside state authority where it is very easy for any suspect to hide in Afghanistan," he told the Arabic daily.
"This is why we will continue our efforts and we call on America and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to exert more efforts and adopt more security measures to surround these elements," he added.
The minister also claimed that Al-Qaeda had been seriously weakened by the arrest of suspected key operatives in the terror network.
He particularly cited the capture in July of Tanzanian Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a suspect in the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, which he said yielded a huge trove of information on Al-Qaeda.
"And there were other very important arrests in terms of getting information. As a result, we have succeeded in penetrating the Al-Qaeda network in Pakistan and abroad," he said.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was reported as saying on Tuesday that top Al-Qaeda operatives have fled sanctuaries near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan to cities and other countries after army raids.
Pakistan raids on tribal sanctuaries sent Al-Qaeda scattering: Musharraf
Wednesday August 18, 1:21 AM AFP
Top Al-Qaeda operatives have fled sanctuaries near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan to cities and other countries after army raids, President Pervez Musharraf was reported as saying.
Some of them were among the 30 or so suspects rounded up by Pakistani security agencies since mid-July, including a communications expert and a Tanzanian suspect in the 1998 East Africa US embassy bombings.
"Authentic information has revealed these terrorist masterminds were re-locating from the mountainous and tribal regions in the north to other cities and even other countries," General Musharraf told state-run Pakistan Television PTV overnight.
"They are desperate. They are trying to move away. They are perhaps trying to relocate elsewhere in the world."
The assaults on Al-Qaeda sanctuaries in February and March in South Waziristan, the remotest of seven tribal districts hugging the porous Afghan border, had sent them scattering.
"Military operations in Wana, Shakai, Santoi and Mantoi villages in South Waziristan have uprooted these terrorists to move away to other cities and countries," he said.
The captures in July of computer whizz Naeem Noor Khan and of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the suspect in the Kenya and Tanzania bombings of US embassies in 1998, yielded a massive trove of information on Osama bin Laden's network.
This in turn led to the uncovering of fresh terror plots in Britain, Pakistan and the US, new terror alerts in US cities and the arrests of 12 Al-Qaeda suspects in Britain including major operative Abu Eisa al-Hindi.
Musharraf traced the Al-Qaeda planners' presence in Pakistan back to the US-led military campaign to oust Afghanistan's Taliban regime in late 2001.
"These elements came to Afghanistan after the 9/11 events where the military operations forced them to hide in the mountainous region along the Pak-Afghan border and in cities," he said.
He said top Al-Qaeda operatives such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Abu Zubayda had then moved eastwards to cities to hide among crowds.
But their captures in March 2003 and March 2002 respectively, from garrison city Rawalpindi and industrial city Faisalabad, had panicked their cohorts into staying in the remote frontier tribal areas -- from where they were driven out early this year.
"The capture of 500 to 600 al-Qaeda operatives including top Al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Sheikh (Mohammed) and Abu Zubayda from different cities forced them to take refuge mostly in South Waziristan," Musharraf said.
Two more Al-Qaeda suspects -- a Myanmar national and a Pakistani who is also a member of a banned local militant organisation -- were arrested Monday in the eastern city of Lahore, an intelligence official told AFP.
Al-Qaeda operated by using foreign masterminds who enlisted local Pakistani militants as the executors of their terrorist plans, he said.
"Masterminds were found to be foreigners who were using local extremists for planning and executing terrorist activities," he said.
"We are attacking the masterminds to dry up the source of terrorism and they are on the run," he said.
Musharraf, who campaigns worldwide for "enlightened moderation" among Muslims, urged Pakistanis to resist "elements infusing extremism in the society."
He said most Pakistanis were "moderate but religious people fulfilling their obligations."
Pentagon Denies Backing Americans on Kabul Trial
Tue Aug 17, 6:22 PM ET By Charles Aldinger
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon denied on Tuesday that it had sanctioned the activities of three Americans on trial in Afghanistan on charges of imprisoning and torturing Afghans.
The men were given a week on Monday by a judge in Kabul to provide evidence, which they say was withheld by U.S. authorities, proving they had official clearance to hunt "terrorists."
The leader of the trio, former American special forces soldier Jonathan "Jack" Idema, said they were disowned by the U.S. government after their arrest because their case followed the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq.
"He has not been employed or sanctioned by the Department of Defense," Army Lt. Col. Joseph Yowsa, a Pentagon spokesman, told Reuters when asked about Idema's claim.
Another defense official, who asked not to be identified, said Idema had at one point sent e-mails to the Pentagon, was answered "in a routine response to queries," but was given no authorization for any activities.
"We (the Defense Department) have sent him nothing" to support his activities, the official said.
The Pentagon said Idema joined the U.S. Army in 1973 and served for three years on active duty, then transferred to the part-time Army Reserve until he was discharged in 1984.
"He did receive special forces training and served in special forces units," Yowsa said of Idema's service with elite military units. He gave no further details.
Wearing khaki fatigues, combat boots and dark glasses, and speaking through an interpreter, the bearded Idema told an Afghan judge on Monday that "political motives" were at play.
He accused the FBI and U.S. Embassy of withholding documents, videotapes and photographs which showed his group had worked with Afghan and U.S. authorities as well as the NATO -led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) peacekeeping mission.
"I have this document between the Department of Defense and me. It clearly proves the ISAF is lying ... the Army is lying when it says we were not working for them, and the Department of Defense is lying when they say they didn't know we were here," Idema said.
His co-accused are Edward Caraballo, a cameraman who was making a documentary, and Brett Bennett, another former soldier. Four Afghans employed by Idema are also on trial.
Idema and his colleagues were arrested on July 5 after a brief shootout in Kabul. They face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty of illegally taking people hostage, detaining and torturing them.
While officially disowning Idema and his colleagues, the U.S. military in Kabul admitted last month that they held and questioned an alleged Taliban official handed to them by the vigilante group. The detainee was later released.
U.S. Knew All About Private Jail in Kabul, American Tells Court
Seized Material Is Said to Show 'Constant Contacts'
By Pamela Constable Washington Post Foreign Service Tuesday, August 17, 2004; Page A10
KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 16 -- Jonathan "Jack" Idema, the American accused of illegally detaining and torturing prisoners in a private jail in Afghanistan, testified in court Monday that he could prove U.S. and Afghan authorities were fully aware of his actions and accused the FBI of confiscating evidence that would support his claim.
Idema, who frequently interrupted the judge and laughed in apparent disgust at the proceedings, said FBI agents in Kabul had seized hundreds of documents, photographs and videotapes from his base here that showed "constant contacts" between him and U.S. military and intelligence officials this spring and summer.
"They knew every single thing we did, every single day," he said.
Idema, who claims to have been running an anti-terrorism operation, said FBI agents had questioned several Afghans after he took them prisoner and confirmed that the agents knew of a plot to kill two Afghan cabinet ministers. He also read from a printed e-mail about his operations that he said had been sent to him from the Kabul office of the multinational peacekeeping force.
U.S. military and intelligence officials here have repeatedly denied any affiliation with Idema, although they acknowledge having received one prisoner from him. International peacekeeping officials in Kabul say they cooperated with him briefly until learning he was an impostor.
Idema and two American associates, along with four of their Afghan employees, were arrested July 5 and have been charged with entering the country illegally, operating an illegal jail, detaining and imprisoning eight Afghan citizens, kidnapping and torture. If convicted, they could face 20 years in Afghan prisons.
Idema, 48, a flamboyant, burly man from Fayetteville, N.C., claims to be a former U.S. Army Special Forces operative and says he has been involved in various conflicts across the world. He served prison time for fraud in the United States on charges related to his mail-order military supply business.
In listing the charges Monday, the prosecutor said police found "torture equipment, bloody clothing, handcuffs, blindfolds and stored water" when they raided a building used by Idema to hold his prisoners. He said Idema's detainees had all proved to be "innocent Afghan citizens."
Although Idema did not deny holding a group of Afghans prisoner, he adamantly denied having tortured them, saying, "I assure this court, no one was burned with cigarettes, no one was hung upside down, no one was beaten, no one was in body bags. . . . None of this happened."
Noting that his operations this spring coincided with the allegations of abuse by U.S. military guards and interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, he said: "Everyone was very concerned about the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. . . . We were very careful to use standard interrogation techniques."
At an initial court hearing in July, several Afghans testified that they had been detained and abused by Idema and his group and were hung by their feet and doused with extremely hot and cold water. The alleged victims, including a senior religious judge, were all present in court Monday.
A second American suspect, Edward Caraballo, testified quietly that he had acted only as a journalist and had accompanied Idema here to film his operations. He said he was "very sorry for any pain I caused the people of Afghanistan by my involvement in a mission I believed to be sanctioned by the American and Afghan governments."
Caraballo's American lawyer, Michael Skibbie, described his protracted and unsuccessful efforts to obtain the documents and other evidence taken by the FBI. He said the evidence might have been tampered with or lost in the agency's custody, and he called the FBI's actions "insulting to this court."
The third American defendant, Brent Bennett, stood silently all day in the dock.
After six hours of testimony that was by turns contentious and inaudible, Judge Abdulboset Bakhtiary postponed the trial a week to allow Idema and his co-defendants time to examine the evidence taken by the FBI, which Skibbie said had finally been returned to Afghan intelligence police on Sunday.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said Monday night that he had no information about the FBI's role in the case. He said the embassy had had little contact with Idema except to ensure that he, Bennett and Caraballo were being treated well in custody.
Another defendant, a young Afghan named Abdul Wahid, told the court he had been introduced to Idema by an Afghan military commander, had witnessed him meeting senior Afghan officials and believed he was acting on orders from the U.S. intelligence services.
Wahid, 19, said he had worked as an interpreter for Idema but had committed no crime. He said he had seen prisoners kept in bathrooms, tied in chairs, covered with hoods and immersed in cold water until they started choking. "The first time I saw this, I was shaken and shocked," he said.
Standing in the dock with the other defendants, Wahid also apologized to the religious judge Idema had arrested -- a turbaned, bearded man who sat in the second row of the courtroom.
"I was rude to him as a clergyman," Wahid said. "I told him to put up his hands. I hope he forgives me."
But Idema, wearing military-style fatigues and acting as his own defense attorney, aggressively interrupted Wahid and every other speaker, including Bakhtiary, Caraballo and the prosecutor. He insisted that the men he had arrested were terrorists involved in plots to kill senior Afghan officials by planting bombs in taxis.
"This is insane. . . . This is crazy. . . . This is a classic case of an unfair trial," Idema burst out at frequent intervals.
"Just put me in jail for 15 years, and let's get this over with," he exclaimed sarcastically several times. Each time the public address system failed, he loudly demanded to have the testimony repeated.
Bakhtiary, robed in red and black, never reprimanded Idema but repeatedly asked him to return to the central issues of the case. The judge said that even if Idema had arrested terrorists, thereby doing Afghanistan a service, he still had to answer whether he had been acting under legal Afghan or U.S authority at the time.
Idema repeatedly responded that if he were allowed to view and present the confiscated evidence, he could prove he was acting with official consent.
He complained that he and his co-defendants had not been allowed to see written or translated copies of the charges against them, and he said they had been regularly beaten in jail until the prosecutor ordered the abuse halted.
U.S. forces staying out of Afghanistan's drug war for now
By Jon R. Anderson, Stars and Stripes European edition, Tuesday, August 17, 2004
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — There are no immediate plans for U.S. military forces to launch counternarcotics operations to try to stem the growing tide of opium production in Afghanistan, according to the top field commander in the country.
“At this point in time, U.S. troops will not be involved in counterdrug or counternarcotic operations at all,” said Maj. Gen. Eric T. Olson, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force 76, during a new conference Friday in Kandahar.
Olson’s assertion comes on the heels of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s announcement last week that countering the drug problem in Afghanistan will now become U.S. priority.
“The danger a large drug trade poses in this country is too serious to ignore,” Rumsfeld said, according to transcripts of the press conference in Kabul on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters en route to Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said, “plans are being fashioned now” to address the problem but skirted the issue of whether U.S. troops would be involved.
“I don’t want to get into whose troops could do what,” Rumsfeld stated in the transcript. “We’ve got a lot we’re doing with respect to the terrorist networks. It requires an overall master plan and that is what’s being developed.”
Vast poppy fields cultivated in nearly all of Afghanistan’s provinces account for 90 percent of the heroin sold in Europe, according to the United Nations.
“In many provinces there also are opium markets, under effective protection of regional strongmen, where opium is traded freely to the highest bidder and is subject to taxation by those strongmen,” according to a March State Department report. “An increasingly large portion of Afghanistan’s raw opium crop is processed into heroin and morphine base by drug labs inside Afghanistan, reducing its bulk by a factor of 10 to 1, and thereby facilitating its movement to markets in Europe and Asia,” according to the report.
Exactly how officials hope to tackle the problem remains to be seen, but Olson said going directly after poppy production was unlikely.
“He did say that the drug issue is a priority,” Olson said of Rumsfeld’s marching orders. “But poppy eradication may not be the best way to do that.”
There may be better ways to interdict the drug business in Afghanistan.
With poppy fields offering Afghanistan’s impoverished farmers their only real cash crop, Olson said alternatives must be found.
“Right now the drug trade, sadly, has become the livelihood of some of the Afghan population. Part of the elimination of that particular evil,” said Olson, “must be providing some replacement. … There has to be the substitution that will allow Afghans to make a decent living.”
The governor of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, speaking alongside Olson, insisted drug money was fueling Taliban and al-Qaida networks.
“I believe one of the most important factors in prolonging the life of terrorism, not only in Afghanistan, but in the region and internationally, is the drug issue,” said Yousaf Pashtun. “It is very closely related. We are 100 percent sure that some of the top terrorists are directly involved in drug trade. This is becoming more and more the bloodline for terrorists.”
Pashtun called for international assistance in helping stem that flow.
“The sooner the better. The later we move on it, the more price we will have to pay.”
Aid agencies rethink strategy
A new report urges top humanitarian groups to create a more-local presence in disaster-prone areas - a change from the current firefighting mentality.
By Sophie Arie | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
ROME -- Much of the developing world is facing crises of biblical proportions - floods, droughts, even locusts. But in the post-9/11 era, these disasters pose new problems. Many fail to capture the attention of a West preoccupied with terrorism. Others are complicated by the nexus of humanitarianism and politics. As a result, aid agencies are struggling to respond.
A group of the world's leading nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including CARE, OXFAM, Save the Children, and World Vision, have called on the experts to tell them how to cope. The result is a new report, entitled "Ambiguity and Change: Humanitarian NGOs Prepare for the Future." Its advice is brisk.
"It's time to realize: You can't sit in the United States and send fire-fighting missions [to the world's disaster zones] any more," says Peter Walker, a disaster-relief expert at Tufts University's Feinstein International Famine Center in Medford, Mass., who led a team that compiled the report. "You have to get local, become embedded in each country. You have to be there before disaster strikes and stay there when the emergency's over."
According to Mr. Walker, a former director of disaster and refugee policy for the International Federation of the Red Cross, Western-run aid agencies are facing a "crisis of legitimacy" as they struggle to be neutral in countries where their Western faces make them appear to be part of the enemy.
Aid groups have traditionally relied on the principle that their work is free from military or political influence to keep them safe in war zones. While maintaining that principle has always been difficult, aid groups say it's especially challenging now.
The United Nations confronted this reality last year when terrorists attacked the UN's Baghdad headquarters killing, among others, the UN's special envoy to Iraq, Sergio Viera de Mello.
At the same time, senior aid figures say that, because of their direct contact with local people, they are being forced, in countries like Afghanistan, to be the "public relations" branch of the US-led military operation, leading a "hearts and minds" campaign to win the support of the local population.
"We need the partners in the war on terrorism and particularly the US to start respecting humanitarian principles. We want them to separate their political and military activity from the operations of humanitarian agencies," says Phil Bloomer, Oxfam's head of advocacy. "Otherwise there is a danger that all humanitarians are perceived as nothing more than an extension of...the military operation."
Oxfam has recently decided to stop accepting funds from the British government, formerly one of its biggest sources of funds. And in July, after five of its workers were fatally ambushed, Doctors Without Borders pulled out of Afghanistan. In its press release, the group complained that US military efforts jeopardized its neutrality and endangered its members: "...The United States-backed coalition consistently sought to use humanitarian aid to build support for its military and political ambitions."
While aid agencies battle to be neutral, there are some countries that the war on terrorism has now made almost impossible to help.
NGOs have faced a particularly dire situation in North Korea - a country President Bush said was part of the "axis of evil" in 2001. By July, the World Food Program (WFP), the chief provider of food rations for the famine-stricken Marxist state, had raised only 20 percent of the funds it needs for this year's effort in North Korea. Program leaders have felt compelled to stop feeding some people.
"We have had to stop giving food rations to the elderly. It's an excruciating decision to have to make," says the deputy director of the Rome-based WFP.
North Korea is an extreme case. Aid agencies and government donors say donations and budgets have actually increased since Sept. 11, and a large proportion of aid is going to Muslim populations.
But people are thinking more carefully about who will best spend their donations. UN agencies are seen as too bureaucratic and tied to the politics of member nations. Instead, donors are slowly shifting toward the big, reliable, specialized agencies. NGOs are finding it difficult to call attention to a crisis that lacks an "evildoer."
"These days, because there are so many disasters, there have to be millions facing death before the West is going to notice," says Brenda Barton, the WFP's chief spokeswoman at its Rome headquarters. "We have noticed that the media and the public imagination can respond massively when there is a 'villain' in the picture. But when the villain is Mother Nature, people find it harder to react."
Bangladesh's floods have made headlines, but the response is not proportionate to the 20 million Bangladeshis whose homes are under water.
"The people of Bangladesh are not the only ones whose plight has gone largely unnoticed," says John Powell, the deputy executive director at the World Food Program.
Powell cites a swarm of locusts in West Africa, droughts in Kenya, Cuba, and Afghanistan, and freak weather conditions in Nicaragua and Peru as other problem areas being ignored. WFP officials say there are so many disasters now that disasters are fighting with each other for media attention.
"On top of that it is hard for us to tell people about hunger when they are obsessed with obesity and trying to lose weight," he adds from his office in Rome.
Further European Union support for the presidential elections in Afghanistan
Source: European Commission 17 Aug 2004
Brussels, 17 August 2004 - As part of its comprehensive programme of support for Afghanistan's first ever Presidential elections, the European Commission has today announced the deployment of a European Union Democracy and Election Support Mission (EU DESM) to Kabul. The Mission will assess key aspects of the October 9th Presidential Elections and, upon completion of the process, will make recommendations for the future regarding the electoral and wider democratisation processes. Additionally the Mission will support the work of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and domestic observer groups over the election period. In all 25 elections and field experts will be deployed in centres across Afghanistan for periods of up to three months. The Mission will work in close co-ordination with the EU Special Representative for Afghanistan and the European Commission Delegation in Kabul.
Deployment of an EU Democracy and Election Support Mission comes in addition to the €24 million already committed by the European Commission in support of the running of the elections. When bilateral contributions from EU member states are also included, the EU is the largest single donor to the Afghan elections. According to recent UN figures, the EU accounts for one half of all international support for voter registration and for over 40% of all funds for the organisation of the elections themselves.
As with all its support for reconstruction and stabilisation of Afghanistan, this initiative is being closely co-ordinated with the Afghan authorities, EU member states and the UN.
On 9 October, the Afghan people will vote for the first time in elections to select the country's President. The election is a crucial step in implementing the Bonn accords adopted in December 2001 with a view to bringing peace and stability to a country ravaged by nearly a quarter-century of violent conflict.
On 11 August, the Afghan/UN Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) announced that 18 eligible candidates had successfully registered as Presidential candidates. If no single candidate secures a majority on 9 October, a second round will be scheduled to select between the two candidates who received the highest number of votes in the first round.
As of mid-August, more than 9 million of the estimated 9.5 to 9.8-million-strong electorate had registered, over 41% of them women.
‘Pakistan and India should cooperate on Afghanistan’
By Wajahat Ali Daily Times
WASHINGTON: Pakistan and India must address the situation in Afghanistan together since they now face a common enemy called terrorism, said Robert Oakley, former US ambassador to Pakistan, while talking to a group of journalists at the National Defence University.
Mr Oakley said it was imperative for the two states to work together since Pakistan’s strategic stability was linked with Afghanistan while India needed a more secure Pakistan to advance its own strategic interests in the region.
Writing for the Strategic Forum in March 2004, the ambassador had listed “external complications” to the Afghan security. “The Pakistanis want a friendly government in Afghanistan to secure what they see as their vulnerable rear area,” he had claimed. “For this and internal political reasons, they support the Pashtun. Meanwhile, the Indians continue their support to the Tajiks (Punjshiris) since they see this as a counterbalance to Pakistan’s support of Kashmiri insurgents.”
Mr Oakley had also pointed out that Pakistan considered the Indian involvement in Afghanistan “as a threat designed to promote subversion”. Seemingly, he wanted to float a new idea to eradicate this situation while addressing his guests in Washington. But can his suggestion be implemented?
It seems quite impossible to do that at this juncture. Firstly, India and Pakistan are not likely to bring Afghanistan under discussion – a fact that has as much to do with Pakistan’s threat perception of India as to the Indian game plan in the region.
Given India’s military bases in Central Asia, its involvement in Afghanistan and its dealings with Iran, most Pakistanis believe that New Delhi is trying to encircle their country, even as the peace process continues on the subcontinent.
India, which professes to be pursuing a “policy of containment” against Pakistan, may also be more interested in upstaging its western neighbour in Afghanistan instead of joining hands with it to secure the Afghan future. New Delhi is already dealing with the warlords, apart from the government of President Hamid Karzai, while participating the reconstruction efforts and investing in “hearts and minds” projects like building hospitals.
The Indian quest to make the Chabahar project in Iran a success to neutralise Pakistan’s efforts in Gwadar is no secret either. Both projects are designed to link the Central Asian states to hot waters. The Chabahar project may not prove a viable option due to the cost factor. Yet, it indicates that Central Asia has become another point of competition, if not confrontation, between India and Pakistan.
But there is more to it. Any American attempt to encourage Indo-Pak cooperation on Afghanistan is likely to be viewed by Kabul as Washington’s attempt to “sub-contract” its security to the neighbouring states. The Karzai government has repeatedly pointed out that this is unacceptable. In fact, it has drawn a line for its neighbours to stop them from interfering in its domestic politics and will not allow them to cross it.
However, Mr Oakley, who is now working as a distinguished senior fellow with the Institute of National Strategic Studies, believes that both India and Pakistan can pull it off. India, he says, has got over its obsession with Pakistan. The ambassador points out it is now Islamabad’s turn to indulge in serious domestic reforms, adding that while the US has been keen on devising new ways to increase cooperation with India, it has been focusing on how to prevent Pakistan from slipping into greater problems.
Spain sends extra forces to Afghanistan for election
MADRID, Aug 17 (AFP) - A 70-strong Spanish advance party was set to leave for Afghanistan Tuesday to prepare the arrival of a more troops to reinforce NATO-led international peacekeepers there during a forthcoming presidential election, the defence ministry said.
The party would include army and air force personnel, a spokesman said Monday.
Further Spanish military personnel would deploy in Afghanistan in the coming days and weeks as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to provide security during the election on October 9.
The number of the full additional force to be deployed was not disclosed.
But the government said earlier it planned temporarily to increase the Spanish force in Afghanistan to between 940 and 1,040 during the election period.
Spain has up to now had a limited number of troops in Afghanistan, which increased to 165 last week, ISAF said.
Spain's parliament voted by an overwhelming majority last month in favour of the country increasing its contribution to international peace operations in Afghanistan and the Caribbean island of Haiti, scene of recent unrest.
ISAF forces in Afghanistan are expected to rise from currently 7,000 to some 8,500 during the election, with an additional 1,500 in reserve outside the country.
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