Senior Taliban security chief captured
Tuesday 14 December 2004 8:33 AM GMT Al Jazeera
Afghan security forces have captured Taliban leader Mulla Muhammad Umar's personal security chief as he travelled in a van to the southern city of Kandahar, provincial officials said.
The capture of the head of Mulla Umar's household security on Tuesday could help US and Afghan forces track down his boss, one of the most wanted fugitives in the US-led "war on terror".
"We have arrested top Taliban figures Toor Mulla Naqibullah Khan and Mulla Angar on the way between Arghandab and Kandahar," said a Kandahar official.
"They were carrying a satellite telephone and some important documents.
"We are hopeful we will arrest more Taliban figures and we hope that we can arrest their leader Mulla Umar," he said.
Khalid Pashtun, a spokesman for the provincial government, confirmed the arrests.
Mulla Umar's Taliban militias have been waging an insurgency in the south and southeast of Afghanistan since they were driven from power in late 2001 by US and Afghan forces.
Toor Mulla Naqibullah Khan was unarmed when he was arrested with Mulla Angar, another Taliban commander, on Monday evening. The security official said they were picked up following a tip from a Taliban insider.
President Hamid Karzai offered to let any Taliban fighters resume a peaceful life after he was elected in the country's first presidential vote on 9 October.
Some Taliban figures will be shown no clemency because of the alleged gravity of their crimes against the nation, however. The government, with input from US authorities, is expected to draw up a list of fighters who will not be accepted back into the mainstream.
US-led forces launched a winter offensive called Operation Lightning Freedom last week, aimed a preventing the Taliban from regrouping to pose a threat to parliamentary elections expected in April.
Afghan planning minister quits after disagreement with Karzai's office over NGOs
Pajhwok Afghan News 12/13/2004 By Mustafa
KABUL - The planning minister of Afghanistan, Ramazan Bashardost resigned Monday over what he called disagreements with the presidential office on his recent comments to dismantle nearly 2,000 Non-Governmental Organization's (NGOs).
In an emotional farewell, he told reporters that he was expressing Afghan peoples will: "The decision of dismantling NGOs was the demand of Afghan people and we must enforce it."
Earlier, on Thursday 8, he made an announcement that 1,935 NGOs working in the country had to be disbanded because he claimed the NGO community was spending Afghan aid money on expensive life styles.
But the minister faced severe opposition from the office of President Karzai and the presidential spokesman, Jawed Ludin said the idea of dispersing NGOs working in Afghanistan was purely a personal view of the planning minister and did not represent the view of the government.
When Pajhwok Afghan News contacted the presidential office they were unable to comment on the resignation of Bashardost.
Bashardost who stands firm in his decision said he will not play a role in the future political development of the country.
"I will accept no position in the next cabinet unless the President accepts the dismantling of NGOs," he said.
In the build-up to the resignation, Bashardost had described the work of NGOs in Afghanistan as 'economic terrorism' and said they were not helping the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
The NGO community met in the capital Kabul, Tuesday to demand an apology from the former minister.
But Bashardost maintained that he was acting on behalf of the Afghan people and he would never apologize.
The minister of planning has held his post for nearly nine months after he took over from Mohammad Mohaqiq.
US Army acknowledges eight deaths in military custody in Afghanistan
Tuesday December 14, 8:06 AM AFP
The US Army acknowleged that eight prisoners have died in US military custody in Afghanistan since US-led forces toppled the Taliban regime, two more than previously disclosed.
The Pentagon released a list of the death cases investigated in Afghanistan after Human Rights Watch sent a letter to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld demanding that the United States "get serious about prosecuting people implicated in prisoner deaths and mistreatment."
Investigations in at least three of the deaths are still ongoing, according to the list drawn up by Chris Grey, spokesman for the US Army Criminal Investigation Command.
Previously unreported cases included the death in November 2003 of an individual identified as A. Wahid.
"CID investigation closed and completed report forward to command," the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) statement said. "Case involved other than US personnel, and Afghan law enforcement officials have been notified."
A senior army official said the case involved a prisoner who was already seriously injured when he was left at the gate of a US base by members an Afghan militia. The prisoner later died in US custody.
A second previously unreported case dates from January, 2003, according to the CID tally.
"Death investigation of person detained by US soldiers in Wazi Village in January 03," it said. "Case remains ongoing."
Because the case is still under investigation, defense officials would provide no additional information.
The CID list shows that yet another prisoner, identified as M Sayari, died in military custody on August 28, 2002. It would be the earliest known death of a prisoner in US military custody. The CID said the case was adjudicated by the army, but offered no other information.
Human Rights Watch noted that recently released internal Defense Department document states that an investigation was opened September 26, 2002 into an alleged murder of an Afghan detainee by four soldiers in or before September 2002.
The document indicated that the case was closed and a commander's report of disciplinary or administrative action was issued, Human Rights Watch said. "Yet we know of no courts martial which have taken place with respect to this 'murder,'" it said.
Other cases listed by the CID included the death of Sher Mohammad Khan, who was arrested September 24 during a raid on his family's home near Khost. Khan died the next day at Salerno Fire Base of a heart attack, military officials have said.
The CID said that case was initiated on September 26, 2004. "To date no signs of abuse or trauma and awaiting final autopsy," it said in its statement.
The Army Criminal Investigation Division also is probing the death of a prisoner at the Gardez detention facility in March, 2003, according to the CID list.
Officials said the prisoner was Jamal Naseer, an 18 year-old Afghan Army recruit who died in US military custody after allegedly being beaten and tortured by his US captors.
The army's Criminal Investigation Command reopened its investigation of the case in September after an investigation by a US-based human rights group "Crimes of War Project."
The human rights group produced a report by the Afghan armed forces attorney general who found there was "a strong possibility" Naseer was murdered as a result of torture by allied forces during interrogation.
Other cases listed by the CID are better known.
They include two prisoners -- identified as Habibullah and Diliwar -- who died in US military custody at Bagram Air Base in December 2002. The army has said at least 28 soldiers face possible charges in the case, although so far only one sergeant has had charges placed against him.
The eighth case involved the death of Abdul Wahli at Asadabad air base in June 2003. The army turned it over to the Justice Department. A CIA contractor, David Passaro, was indicted in a North Carolina court in June.
In its letter to Rumsfeld, Human Rights Watch charged that in most cases the Defense Department has launched criminal investigations only after particular abuses received media attention.
"These investigations have proceeded extremely slowly and in excessive secrecy," it said. "An internal Pentagon investigation of detention operations in Afghanistan, conducted by Brig. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby, has been completed, but remains classified, unlike similar reports on abuses in Iraq."
Rights Group Reports Deaths of Men Held by U.S. in Afghanistan
By CARLOTTA GALL December 14, 2004 The New York Times
ABUL, Afghanistan, Dec.13 - Human Rights Watch said Monday that new cases of deaths of men in American custody in Afghanistan had come to light. It accused the Defense Department of operating outside the law there and failing to investigate abuses, including killings.
In an open letter to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Human Rights Watch, which is based in New York, described the deaths of three detainees, including a member of the newly established Afghan Army. Six men are now known to have died in American custody here, and only two people have been charged in the deaths, the organization said.
The detention system operated by American forces in Afghanistan continues to operate outside the rule of law, the letter said. The United States continues to hold Afghan detainees in legal limbo and in many cases incommunicado, in violation of American obligations under the international laws of armed conflict and applicable Afghan law, it said. Accusations of abuse and arbitrary detention continue to surface at American bases around Afghanistan, it added.
Failure to investigate and prosecute abuses created a culture of impunity among some interrogators, and allowed abuse to spread, in particular to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the organization said in a statement issued with the letter.
"It's time for the United States to come clean about crimes committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan," said Brad Adams, Asia division director for Human Rights Watch.
The three deaths include one that occurred in 2002 but was disclosed only last week after internal Department of Defense documents were released to the American Civil Liberties Union in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. According to the documents, an Afghan man was killed in or before September 2002 by four American soldiers - a captain and three sergeants - after they detained him on suspicion of following their movements in Afghanistan. The case was investigated in 2002, but no one was prosecuted, Human Rights Watch said.
The other two cases emerged in news media reports, Human Rights Watch said. It said Jamal Naseer, of the American-backed official Afghan Army, was killed in March 2003 after he and seven other soldiers were mistakenly arrested by American forces and taken to a base in Gardez. They were badly beaten, Human Rights Watch said, citing reports by the United Nations office in Gardez, the office of the attorney general of the Afghan Army, and the nongovernmental Crimes of War project.
The Army Criminal Investigative Command opened an inquiry into the case in May 2004 but has not charged anyone, Human Rights Watch said. The latest case, Human Rights Watch said, is of Sher Mohammad Khan, who was arrested on Sept. 24, 2004, in a raid on his family's home near Khost in eastern Afghanistan and died the next day at an American base. His brother was fatally shot by American forces in the raid, the group said. Relatives reported bruises on Sher Mohammad Khan's body when they retrieved it, Human Rights Watch said, calling for an investigation of the death.
Human Rights Watch had already documented the deaths of three other detainees. Two Afghan men died in detention at the United States air base at Bagram in December 2002, and American pathologists ruled at the time that their deaths were homicides. A third man, Abdul Wali, died in June 2003 in a forward operating base in Kunar Province. Only two people have been charged in the deaths, and the inquiries have stalled, the rights group said.
A Pentagon spokesman in Washington, Lt. Col. Joe Yoswa, declined to comment on the letter to Mr. Rumsfeld, but said that as a matter of practice, "we go out and investigate the deaths of all detainees."
Chris Grey, of the Army Criminal Investigation Command, said investigators had looked into the deaths of eight detainees in American military custody, Reuters reported.
Other reports of deaths of detainees in Afghanistan were not mentioned by Human Rights Watch. In a case documented by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, an Afghan named Abdul Wahed died in the American special forces bases at Gereshk in November 2003. He was tortured by the Afghan commander guarding the base and then given to American forces when close to death, the United States military has acknowledged. No charges have been brought, and the Afghan commander continues to work with the special forces at the base, Human Rights Watch said.
'Taliban Are Welcome'
In a NEWSWEEK interview, President Karzai invites his longstanding enemies to return to Afghan society
Dec. 20 issue - Eight million Afghan men and women braved Taliban threats and bad weather to cast their ballots during Afghanistan's first free presidential election this fall. A solid 55.4 percent voted for Hamid Karzai. Last week Karzai was inaugurated in the company of top U.S. officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Will Karzai now be able to impose his will on a country plagued by warlords and militants, where the biggest money earner is opium? In an exclusive interview at the presidential palace in Kabul, the 46-year-old Karzai spoke with NEWSWEEK's Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai about his plans for the next five years. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: Will your priority be to dramatically improve security?
-KARZAI: Today I met an elderly village man who had tears in his eyes. He pleaded: "Mr. President, I want a clean government." That was exactly what the Afghan people voted for. That's what I'm going to deliver. This means security; this means reconstruction, and an honest, accountable, austere government.
But how can you suddenly bring about good government, especially in the countryside where the Taliban and warlords are present?
-There's no Taliban in the countryside. Forget about that. The countryside is even more ready for good government than the urban centers. For that we need a capable administration that will be able to deliver services, including justice, to the people.
Will your new administration feature a dramatically new look to accomplish these tasks?
-Mostly a new look. It will reflect Afghanistan and the desires of Afghans to combat corruption, warlords and terrorism. There will be [an ethnic] balance of very capable people.
Can the Taliban be defeated militarily?
-The Taliban are not there. Otherwise how could we have had elections? The elections succeeded thanks to the force of the people. The Taliban can only succeed if they are accepted by or have a presence among the people. The Afghan people proved that this country is inherently democratic.
Will this election lead to defections from Mullah Mohammed Omar's forces?
-The Taliban have been talking to us for a long time. Those who are not part of Al Qaeda, who are not linked to terrorism, who have not committed crimes against our people, and those who have a desire to come back and be a part of this country again, are welcome. Thousands of them are just ordinary people, like the rest of combatant forces in Afghanistan. But there are about 50 to 100 people, not more than that, who have visible records of criminal activity, who are visibly part of Al Qaeda, who are visibly part of terrorism. We cannot accept them. We will fight them.
Is there an official amnesty policy to welcome back these so-called good Taliban?
-The Taliban are welcome to join us. It's their country, too.
Would hard-line elements in your new government be open to dealing with the Taliban?
-Yes, of course. Everyone in the government is open to it. We have discussed it already. Everyone wants them to come back.
Why don't you organize your own party?
-Many people have asked me to, but I'm not that kind of person. Now, this country needs national political parties. I would back that. But I don't have the skills to organize a political party. I'll simply continue working for a broad national movement.
Is the international community sufficiently engaged in Afghanistan?
-Even during the operations in Iraq, the U.S. in particular stayed very much committed and increased its help to Afghanistan. We would not have achieved what we have without its generous support. If you recognize that this country has the human potential to absorb more help and to do better if given more, we would be very grateful.
Will your new administration be capable of reining in and disarming the warlords, whom many Afghans think are a greater threat to security than the Taliban?
-We will get it done. There has to be significant progress. Afghanistan has no option but to fight private military forces. Afghanistan has no option but to fight corruption. Afghanistan has no option but to fight drugs. Without a major fight on these three fronts Afghanistan will not see permanent stability. Then the moment the international community leaves us we will fall back into disaster. We are not going to allow that.
Afghan president to make changes to cabinet as jihadi leaders object
Hindokosh news agency 12/13/2004
The elected president, Hamed Karzai, discussed the cabinet structure with jihadi leaders yesterday, providing a list of proposed cabinet members. However, some jihadi leaders reacted strongly against this.
On this list, Dr Abdollah was listed as the foreign minister, Ali Ahmad Jalali as the interior minister, Eshaq Naderi as minister of economic affairs, Amin Farhang as education and training minister, Ramazan Bashardost as the planning minister, Nematollah Shahrani as the higher education minister, Abdol Haq Wala as information and culture minister, Mostafa Zaher as rural development minister, Anwar al-Haq Ahadi as finance minister, Esmael Khan as governor of [western] Herat, Engineer Zarar [Ahmad] as governor of Parwan [province north of Kabul], and Hanif Atmar and Amena Afzali were also in the cabinet structure.
Given this opposition to the cabinet structure, Hamed Karzai has said he will make changes. New figures are expected to come into the new cabinet of the elected government.
At the same time, Afghan political analysts believe that Hamed Karzai is going through a difficult time in forming the future government structure.
These analysts believe that stability and security in Afghanistan are closely linked with the future cabinet of the elected government. On the other hand, there are reports that the cabinet will be announced in two stages. Key posts will be announced during the first stage, probably by the end of this week, and the remaining posts will be announced next week.
German airline begins direct flights to Kabul
RFE/RL 12/13/2004 By Amin Tarzi
Lufthansa flew to Kabul from Frankfurt, Germany on 11 December, commencing the first direct commercial air link between Europe and Kabul, Radio Afghanistan reported.
According to an agreement singed between Lufthansa and Afghanistan's Ariana Airlines, the German carrier will make two weekly flights between Kabul and Frankfurt and will also carry passengers of Ariana to European destinations.
Weary Taliban coming in from the cold
The Christian Science Monitor 12/13/2004 By Gretchen Peters and Aleem Agha
Some Afghan fighters talk of being duped by bin Laden and pledge to work for his capture
KANDAHAR and KABUL – Abdul Rahman Akhund has been battling US and Afghan government troops for three long, hard years. He misses raising his kids among the quiet pomegranate orchards he used to tend at home.
With another frigid winter setting in, and a new US offensive being launched this week, this weary Taliban fighter says he's ready to come in from the cold.
"If the government will let us peacefully return to our villages and our children, we will come," he says. "We are tired living on the run in these snowy mountains."
His fellow tribesman, Sarwar Akhund, goes one step further: Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and terror kingpin Osama bin Laden, he charges, tricked followers like him into believing they were fighting a holy war against infidels, "when really they just wanted to consolidate their own seats of power." If allowed back into society, he pledges to "do whatever I can" to help kill or capture the fugitive leaders.
The two soldiers expressed views that intelligence circles across southern Afghanistan have been hearing for months. Many officials, military strategists, and diplomats here are increasingly optimistic that the Taliban are largely a spent force, made up in great parts by disillusioned, worn out foot soldiers like the Akhund tribesmen.
That's why President Hamid Karzai plans a general amnesty for Taliban rank and file as one of his first major initiatives since winning national elections in October and being inaugurated last week.
Mr. Karzai and his American backers hope the move will not only bring peace to great swaths of Afghanistan, but may even lead to the seizure of the high-value terror targets US troops are hunting across the country's south and east.
Outreach to 'moderates'
Senior Afghan officials have been quietly preparing the groundwork for months, meeting with representatives of what they consider the "moderate" Taliban, some of whom may even be allowed to run in parliamentary elections planned for the coming spring.
"People associated with the former Communist regime are back. So are former mujahideen," says Jawed Ludin, a spokesman at the presidential palace. "Therefore, nothing should really stop the Taliban rank and file from taking part in the national life of the country."
Karzai is also preparing a list of names - said to number between 150 and 200 top and mid-level Taliban leaders and hardened criminals - who will not be accepted under the general pardon.
"Those folks won't be let back in," says Col. Dave Lamm, the chief of staff for the Combined Forces Afghanistan. "We will hunt them down and bring them to justice, or we will kill them."
That group would include men like Maulvi Haider, a battle-hardened Taliban commander who agreed to a rare interview for this story along a dusty mountaintop corridor, watched from above by turbaned snipers.
"Amir Ul Momineen [Mullah Omar) is our supreme leader and we will fight for him until the last drop of our blood is shed," he growls, his eyes as hard as the rugged peaks that hide him. "Hamid Karzai is a puppet ... of the Americans and he will do whatever they say just to please them."
According to Commander Haider, the Taliban remain strong and united in their holy war against the "Jews and infidels."
"We are not ready for talks with NATO forces or the Americans," he says. "We want a pure Islamic system in Afghanistan and we will fight for it."
But to hear Mr. Rahman and Mr. Sarwar tell it, the war is less about ideology and religion than it is a battle between strongmen over control of land and trading routes.
Conscripted by the Taliban, they say they lost their orchards when warlords loyal to the Karzai government moved in. They faced going to jail when the new regime took power or staying on the run with the Taliban.
They say they are heartened by efforts to release Taliban prisoners deemed safe to society and trust that Karzai, also an ethnic Pashtun, is sincere.
But members of the mainly Tajik Northern Alliance, which Karzai roundly defeated in the elections, have voiced outrage. They argue that most moderate Taliban defected when the hard-line regime fell in late 2001, and point out that several former detainees have returned to fight with the Taliban since winning release in the amnesty's early stages.
Even some members of Karzai's government argue there should be an independent reconciliation panel, rather than the handful of mainly Pashtun security officials who currently determine who goes free. "I am not opposed to the plan in principle, but the way this is being done is worrisome," says a senior Afghan official who quietly disagrees with the current program. "Why do you think the Northern Alliance is refusing to disarm?"
Most critics see the silent hand of Pakistan, which long supported the Taliban regime and wants to see friendly faces in the new Afghan parliamentary government.
They say the fact that the Taliban pulled off no major attacks during the elections is more a sign that Pakistan "can turn the tap on and off at will," as one official says, than an indication, as suggested by amnesty supporters, that the Taliban is on its last legs.
But one Western diplomat says the amnesty program hinges largely on a promise by Pakistan to turn over hard-core Taliban fugitives if some moderates are allowed to go free, perhaps even to run for parliament. Many senior Taliban are believed to live in the western Pakistani city of Quetta and the tribal regions around it.
A risky olive branch
Whatever the outcome, many believe offering the Taliban an olive branch is a risk for Afghanistan's first-ever elected leader, one that could either inflame the tense ethnic divide between Tajiks and Pashtuns or draw thousands of low-level fighters out from the war on terror.
"If Karzai announces an amnesty, he will be very successful, and if he doesn't, we will carry on what we are doing now," says Sarwar, his black Taliban turban flapping in the wind. "Then it will be very difficult for him to rule this country."
U.S. delivers funds, books to improve Afghan health
Source: US Department of State 13 Dec 2004
Health agency adds $6 million in funding
The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is delivering new health-education talking books to Afghanistan and providing an additional $6 million in health funding.
A December 12 press release says the agency has delivered 2,000 of the interactive, electronic health books first announced in August. The books are made with LeapPad®, a learning system technology, and will provide health information to women who cannot read or write.
Under the Taliban rule, women were not allowed to go to school or see doctors; about 80 of the female population percent is illiterate. According to the release, Afghanistan has some of the world's highest rates of maternal and early childhood death. One out of four Afghan children die before age 5, and there are 1,600 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.
The interactive books are designed to address these problems by providing an informational learning tool in both Dari and Pashto. HHS plans to send 20,000 of the books to Afghanistan.
HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson -- on his fourth trip to Afghanistan since September 2001 -- delivered the books in Kabul, and announced another $6 million in health funding for the country.
"I hope that these books and the new funding will be a signal to the Afghan people that Americans will remain by their side as they grow as a nation," he said.
The text of the HHS press release follows:
[U.S. Department of Health and Human Services]
December 12, 2004
HHS DELIVERS INTERACTIVE TALKING BOOK TO AFGHANISTAN Secretary Thompson also announces $6 million for Afghanistan
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today announced the delivery of thousands of interactive women's health books built with the LeapPad® learning system technology to Afghanistan and an additional $6 million in aid to improve the health of the Afghan people.
Announced in August, and under development for nearly two years, the talking books provide important personal health information designed especially to help Afghan women who cannot read or write. Joining Secretary Thompson in delivering the LeapPad systems was Bhavin Shah, Director of New Business Development from LeapFrog Enterprises. The announcement was made at the Rabia Balki Hospital in downtown Kabul.
"Each time I visit Afghanistan I am touched by the warmth of the people and the hope in their eyes," Secretary Thompson said. "It's heartening to leave Afghans with this talking book, a lasting legacy, from the American people. I hope that these books and the new funding will be a signal to the Afghan people that Americans will remain by their side as they grow as a nation."
Secretary Thompson delivered the books and announced the new funding during his fourth visit to Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. During previous visits, Secretary Thompson reviewed and evaluated the health needs of the Afghan people and helped target assistance to people throughout the country -- especially Afghan women, whose health care was virtually ignored under the Taliban. Based on his fact-finding trips, Secretary Thompson led the campaign to engage HHS as a financial and instructional supporter of the Rabia Balkhi Hospital and associated clinics that serve women in Afghanistan.
The additional $6 million in fiscal year 2005 funding brings the total of HHS assistance to Afghanistan to nearly $20 million since 9/11. In addition, HHS in cooperation with the Department of Defense, completely overhauled the Rabia Balki hospital in 2002. Once that was completed, in partnership with DoD, the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs, and non-government partner International Medical Corps, HHS provided clinical and management training for hospital staff, and much-needed pharmaceuticals and supplies, and eventually established this partnership with LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc.
Developed jointly by HHS and LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc., the 42-page interactive books deliver important basic health information through state-of-the-art audio and point and touch technology. Books are available in both of Afghanistan's two major languages, Dari and Pashto. Illiteracy is a common problem in Afghanistan where only half of the men and one in five women can read and write. The book allows users to point to pictures, then the book speaks to the user incorporating a literacy tool with health information. Information is conveyed in an accessible story-like format that allows the reader to interact with recorded conversations conveyed in the book through pictures, audio, and in text form -- for those who can read.
"We are proud to be part of this unique outreach to the people of Afghanistan," said Bhavin Shah, Director of New Business Development for LeapFrog. "Our LeapPad technology was designed from its inception to provide an engaging learning experience and it lends itself to unique opportunities, such as this important Afghan women's health book. Knowledge is liberating, and with key health information in hand, we think this offering can make a difference in people's lives in Afghanistan."
This new Afghan talking book solution is easy to use and has been field tested to be physically rugged and educationally effective in providing important health information to the people of Afghanistan. As in most cultures, women are the health leaders in Afghan families, so the Afghan talking books were developed specifically for them. However, HHS and LeapFrog had to adapt the tools for a population that is predominately illiterate.
Prior to Afghanistan liberation, the Taliban refused to allow women and girls the opportunity to go to school or to see a doctor. Consequently, almost 80 percent of women cannot read or write, an estimated one in four children dies before his or her fifth birthday, and there are 1,600 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births (as compared to the United States rate of 7.5 deaths per 100,000). By providing important public health and personal nutrition and hygiene information in this way, these 'talking books' will be an important tool in improving the overall health of Afghans.
The book presents more than 350 items of recorded information concerning 19 personal health subjects. Basic health information covered includes diet, childhood immunization, pregnancy, breastfeeding, sanitation and water boiling, treating injuries and burns, and preventing disease. The books convey everyday household situations, as well as information specific to child and reproductive health. LeapFrog's patented LeapPad technology uses stories that convey basic health lessons to bring the information to life for the readers.
HHS will initially disseminate 2,000 books to Afghan households and primary health care centers through an initial distribution program used to evaluate both usability and behavior change measures. HHS will use the results of this initial distribution to determine the best dissemination method for the 20,000 books that the United States is giving to the people of Afghanistan.
Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at [.]
EU urges new Afghan government to press drugs clampdown
BRUSSELS, Dec 13 (AFP) - The European Union urged Monday the government of newly sworn-in Afghan President Hamid Karzai to press home the war on drugs in a country that now accounts for nearly all of Europe's heroin.
Counter-narcotics is among the most pressing tasks facing Karzai's new administration along with strengthening democracy, security and reconstruction, EU foreign ministers said at a meeting here.
Underlining that heroin derived from Afghan poppies is hitting Europe afresh, the ministers said in a statement: 'The EU and Afghanistan therefore have a common interest and commitment to ensure that counter-narcotics action becomes a central priority in Afghanistan.'
Opium, the key ingredient of heroin, comes from poppies, the cultivation of which was suppressed by the Taliban militia that ruled Afghanistan until the United States drove it out of power three years ago.
But Afghanistan is now the source of 87 percent of the world's opium and 90 percent of the heroin on the streets of Europe, according to a recent United Nations report.
When he was sworn in on Thursday, Karzai declared a 'holy war' on a drugs industry that accounts for 60 percent of Afghanistan's economic output.
The EU ministers including Britain's Jack Straw, whose country is leading the international offensive against the Afghan drugs trade, said the global community 'must increase the risk and reduce the reward' for those involved.
Tougher police and judicial clampdowns must be accompanied by the 'early delivery of sustainable alternative livelihoods' for poppy farmers in Afghanistan, the EU statement said.
'The growing influence of the narcotics economy has been undermining efforts made by the international community to promote good governance, and the fight against corruption, which are key priorities,' it added.
Afghan legal teams begin training for special courts in counter-narcotics drive
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) Afghan and British officials preparing a crackdown on Afghanistan's booming illegal narcotics industry began training a legal task force Sunday for special courts they hope will begin jailing heroin and opium kingpins within months.
The six-week course opened at the headquarters of Afghanistan's new Counter Narcotics Police in the Afghan capital, officials said, under a plan to give specialist skills to 35 investigators, 35 prosecutors and 15 judges.
A secure court and prison facility is being set up at a notorious prison near Kabul to house the first convicts by the middle of 2005. ``One of the problems in the past has been that drug traffickers could be arrested but couldn't be prosecuted,'' British Ambassador Rosalind Marsden said. The new legal team will ``ensure that prosecutions can be effectively mounted.''
Under pressure from the United States and Europe, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has vowed to eliminate the exploding narcotics industry, which the United Nations warns is turning the impoverished country into a ``narco-state.''
U.S. and British counter-narcotics experts are training Afghan security forces who have already begun destroying drug stockpiles, smashing refining laboratories and arresting traffickers.
Plans are also being laid to punish farmers by destroying opium poppy crops in key growing regions early next year. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars are earmarked to help them switch to less lucrative but legal crops.
Mirwais Yasini, the Afghan government's top drugs official, said security forces aimed to seize their first top-level smugglers or refiners ``very soon'' and that graduates from the legal training program would be ready to bring cases against them by early February.
US military rules out cutting troop strength in Afghanistan
KABUL, Dec 13 (AFP) - The US military Monday ruled out scaling back its 16,000-strong force in Afghanistan despite mounting pressures on overstretched forces in Iraq. 'Right now there is no plan to reduce our forces,' US military spokesman Major Mark McCann told reporters at a regular news briefing in Kabul.
The United States leads a coalition of 18,000 international troops hunting Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants who are waging an open revolt in the country's troubled south and southeast.
US forces have launched a winter offensive dubbed Operation Lightning Freedom to prevent insurgents gathering strength ahead of parliamentary elections in the spring.
McCann said the coalition had made progress against insurgents who failed to derail the October presidential election, but guerrillas were still using crude homemade bombs against both soldiers and civilians.
'Although we continue to make progress each and every day in reducing that threat, there are still people who are intent on disrupting and destablising the government, disrupting the peaceful process and as long those people are out there we will continue to stay here until they are gone,' McCann said.
NATO-led troops in Afghanistan have also ruled out cutting back the 8,400-strong multinational peacekeeping force here ahead of the parliamentary polls. Although the October 9 presidential vote passed off without major bloodshed close to 100 people have been killed in the weeks that followed and there are fears the parliamentary polls will be more violent.
At the weekend three Afghan soldiers were wounded when militants fired nearly a dozen mortars on a US-led military outpost in Paktika province which lies close to the Pakistani border, McCann said. He said coalition soldiers also defused a home-made bomb in neighboring Ghazni province after local citizens led troops to the device, believed to have been planted by militants.
Iran: We've convicted Iranians for al-Qaida ties
By ASSOCIATED PRESS TEHRAN, IRAN
Iran acknowledged for the first time Sunday it has convicted some Iranian nationals of supporting al-Qaida, saying the number was fewer than five.
"A few pro-al-Qaida Iranian nationals have been tried and convicted," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters at his weekly press briefing.
Their number, he said, is less than "the fingers on one's hand," he was quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying.
He did not say when they were convicted, what sentences they had received, what sort of support they had provided Osama bin Laden's terror network or give any other details.
The United States has accused Iran of harboring al-Qaida operatives, with some US counterterrorism officials alleging hard-line elements within the Iranian regime may have developed working relationships with some senior al-Qaida officials who fled to Iran after the US-led war in Afghanistan. Iran has rejected the accusations.
Asefi said cases of foreign nationals in Iran with alleged links to al-Qaida are still under investigation and no trial dates have been set, IRNA reported.
Iran maintains it is committed to fighting al-Qaida, and insists it has significantly contributed to the war on terror by arresting al-Qaeda suspects.
Last year, Iran said it was holding a large number of minor and more significant al-Qaeda members captured in its territory. It also has said it has handed over more than 500 suspected al-Qaeda operatives, mostly Saudis, to their respective countries.
Iran does not turn over any captives to the United States, with whom it severed relations at the time of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and has no extradition treaty.
Iran has said it would try al-Qaeda operatives in Iranian custody whose nationalities were not clear and who were not claimed by any country. It also has said it would try any al-Qaeda figures accused of committing crimes in Iran.
Many al-Qaeda operatives are believed to have fled to Iran, entering through the two nations' long, remote and porous border, after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan in late 2001.
100 Taliban behind terrorism: Karzai
By Our Correspondent Dawn
WASHINGTON, Dec 13: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said that only about 50 to 100 Taliban have been involved with terrorism while the rest of them were ordinary people like members of other combatant forces in Afghanistan.
The Afghan president also said that those Afghan warlords who had their own private armies were "a greater threat to Afghanistan than the Taliban." Mr Karzai's assertions, published in the Newsweek on Monday, may have a far-reaching impact on Afghan politics.
Analysts say it has two major objectives, winning over Taliban supporters scattered across Afghanistan and strengthening Mr Karzai's support in the Pashtun belts of southern and eastern Afghanistan where most of the Taliban come from.
But, according to the analysts, it may further strain Mr Karzai's relations with the Northern Alliance already unhappy with his decision to distance himself from its powerful commander, Gen. Mohammed Fahim. The general had hoped to contest the October election as Mr Karzai's running mate but the Afghan president abandoned him at the last moment.
"Thousands of Taliban are just ordinary people, like the rest of combatant forces in Afghanistan," Mr Karzai told the Newsweek. "But there are about 50 to 100 people, not more than that, who have visible records of criminal activity, who are visibly part of Al Qaeda, who are visibly part of terrorism."
Mr Karzai said that his government has been talking to these ordinary Taliban for a long time. "Those who are not part of Al Qaeda, who are not linked to terrorism, who have not committed crimes against our people, and those who have a desire to come back and be a part of this country again, are welcome," he added. But he warned that those 50-100 Taliban supporters who he says are involved in "criminal activity," cannot be forgiven. "We cannot accept them. We will fight them," he added.
President Karzai, who was inaugurated last week in the company of top US officials, said he's not worried about the threat of the Taliban in the countryside because "the countryside is even more ready for good government than the urban centers."
Indicating his future strategy for winning over the Taliban, the Afghan president said that Afghanistan needs "a capable administration" which can bring these people into the mainstream by providing basic services to the countryside.
Indian could get Afghanistan access through Pakistan:
Indo-Asian News Service
[World News]: New Delhi, Dec 13 : The US might nudge Pakistan into granting India transit facilities to Afghanistan, US Ambassador David Mulford hinted Monday.
The US sees "merit" in India's stand that it could do more for Afghanistan's reconstruction if it had transit facilities through Pakistan, the envoy told a news conference here.
When visiting US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week, he had expressed appreciation for India's "very generous" assistance and support to Afghanistan.
"We can do a lot more to help Afghanistan if we are given transit facilities by Pakistan. Transit facilities are a normal right extended by neighbours to each others in civilised societies," Manmohan Singh had told Rumsfeld.
Mulford said Rumsfeld had reacted "positively" to the prime minister's remarks and had returned to Washington "with a positive frame of mind to see if anything can be done.
"He thought that there is some merit in the idea," the envoy said.
About Iraq, Mulford said Rumsfeld told Indian leaders that the US would welcome support and assistance from all countries for the stabilisation of the situation in that country.
Mulford said given India's strong cultural and historic links with Iraq and the critical importance of that country geo-politically to India, the US was convinced that "it will come forward with whatever it can offer".
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