US-led military base attacked in southeastern Afghanistan
Wednesday June 23, 3:22 AM AFP
A US-led military base in southeastern Afghanistan came under rocket attack, prompting American helicopters to fly over the city which lies close to the Pakistan border, an official said.
Coalition helicopters flew "in an air patrol" in the area after militants fired about eight rockets over Khost airfield, used as a firebase by hundreds of US-led troops, Khost's military commander Khial Baz Khan told AFP.
"Two of the eight rockets hit the airfield but caused no casualties," he said. "The rockets were fired from Tawda China district," some eight kilometers south of Khost city, he added.
Khan was unable to say who might have been behind the attack but similar acts have in the past been blamed on remnants of the ousted Taliban regime and their Al-Qaeda allies.
A spokeswoman for the US-led coalition was unable to comment on the incident.
Over two and half years after the ouster of the harsh Taliban regime, remnants of the militia regularly carry out attacks on foreign and pro-government troops.
Khost, some 150 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of Kabul, borders Pakistan's restive tribal areas.
As President Hamid Karzai's US-backed government prepares to hold elections, scheduled for September, suspected Taliban militants have increased their attacks in the country's south and southeast.
Dozens of people, including seven US soldiers and marines, have died in attacks since early May.
A 20,000-strong coalition force under the command of the United States is hunting militants holdouts, mainly in the south and southeast of Afghanistan.
Rural areas face lack of arable land
KABUL, 22 June (IRIN) - Suffering from years of severe drought, Afghanistan continues to lose large tracts of arable land - a particularly serious issue for rural communities, where upwards of 80 percent of the country's 28 million population lives.
"The database available on various natural resources in Afghanistan is very limited, but Afghanistan is a desert area so desertification is a serious issue in the country," Dr Prem Sharma, a senior project operations officer for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told IRIN in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Marking the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought one week earlier, the FAO noted that many parts of the country - particularly in the northwest, west and the southwest belt regions, as well as a part of the central and eastern regions - faced desertification due to a continued lack of water.
Mitigating that reality presents a serious challenge to experts. Twenty-five years earlier, the country had some three million hectares of land under irrigation, Sharma claimed, nearly double the figure today.
According to an FAO report, except for the northeast and the eastern-central regions of the country, the situation had deteriorated over the past year. The country is suffering from a lack of rain, dry spells, extreme heat and winds, along with severe frost conditions. The areas prone to desertification were affected by drought and very low nighttime temperatures, the report added. Years of drought and decades of war had eradicated many forests in Afghanistan, leaving just three percent of the country forested today, the FAO official said.
And while the Ministry of Irrigation had just signed an agreement with the World Bank and FAO to help rehabilitate over a thousand broken irrigation systems over the next three years, Sharma, who described this as a quick and serious effort, noted much more would be needed.
Thousands of farmers were in need of assistance, as well as much of the country's irrigation infrastructure rehabilitated, he said. According to the Development Gateway, an independent nonprofit organisation, reporting on Afghanistan's reconstruction, 50 percent of country's irrigation canals had been destroyed.
Policeman killed, UN worker hurt in Afghan attack
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, June 21 (Reuters) - A policeman was killed and an Afghan U.N. worker wounded when gunmen attacked a U.N. electoral vehicle in southern Afghanistan on Monday, hours after a U.N. electoral office was attacked with rockets.
The attacks in the southern province of Kandahar and in Logar province, just south of the capital Kabul, were the latest targeting preparations for September elections, which the Taliban and allied Islamic militants have vowed to disrupt.
The policeman was killed and the election worker wounded when attackers on two motorcyles opened fire with AK-47 assault rifles on their car in Kandahar's Arghandab district, U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said.
Provincial spokesman Khalid Pashtun said two policemen were wounded and four men took part in the attack.
The U.N. spokesman said the U.N. worker was the driver of the car carrying policemen providing security for voter registration.
Early on Monday, a U.N. election office was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades south of Kabul, causing no casualties but damaging several vehicles and underscoring the risks to polls due in September, the United Nations said.
The U.N. spokesman said four four-wheel-drive vehicles were damaged in the attack on the joint U.N.-Afghan electoral office at about 1.30 a.m. (2100 GMT Sunday) in which attackers fired three RPGs before escaping.
U.N. Special Representative to Afghanistan Jean Arnault said the attack in Logar province showed the need for the international community to do more to protect the electoral process.
"Again, so close to Kabul and so close to the security umbrella provided by the international community," he told reporters.
"We are now facing attacks - direct attacks - with fairly heavy weapons, against the office of the electoral process."
Arnault urged NATO to send more peacekeeping troops quickly to boost security for the polls.
The alliance is due to hold a summit meeting in Istanbul from June 28-29 to consider repeated appeals to expand its mainly Kabul-based peacekeeping force into restive provinces.
"This is clearly an attempt at undermining the process and again it stresses the importance of the international community to do more in order to assist this process," Arnault said.
He said NATO needed to send more troops by the end of July if they were to be effective in protecting September polls.
On Friday, the office of the U.N. refugee agency in the southern city of Kandahar was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades, although there were no casualties.
The Taliban and their allies have declared a holy war against U.S.-led foreign forces in Afghanistan and consider foreign and local aid workers legitimate targets.
At least 33 foreign and local humanitarian workers have been killed since the beginning of last year, severely disrupting aid and reconstruction work and hampering election preparations.
Pakistan to Invest US$1 BLN in Afghan Textile City Project
Wednesday June 23, 8:50 AM Asia Pulse
MULTAN, June 23 Asia Pulse - Pakistan plans to establish a textile city in Jalalabad (Afghanistan) and it would make an investment of US$1 billion in Afghanistan up to December 31, 2004, said Federal Finance Minister, Shaukat Aziz while talking to a delegation of All Pakistan Bed sheets & Upholstery Manufacturers Association (APBUMA) in State Bank auditorium, Multan.
"We are going to establish a textile city in Jalalabad (Afghanistan) to meet the requirements of Afghans and attractive incentive would be given to the local and foreign investors, while Pakistan has fixed a target of investment of US$1 billion in Afghanistan from January Ist to December 31,2004," Shaukat Aziz said.
He said that Pakistan was playing a key role in the rebuilding of Afghanistan besides meeting its food requirements and it would soon be able to stand on its own feet.
The Finance Minister said," Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission is manufacturing a Laser Levelling Plant which would help in low-cost soil levelling besides importing 300 bulldozers from different countries.
Afghans Behead Taliban in Revenge for Beheadings
Tue Jun 22, 1:45 PM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan soldiers beheaded four Taliban fighters after guerrillas cut off the heads of an Afghan interpreter for U.S.-led forces and an Afghan soldier, a government commander said Tuesday.
The interpreter and the soldier were beheaded after becoming separated from a patrol of Afghan and U.S.-led foreign troops in the Arghandab district of Zabul province Monday night, Namatullah Tokhi, commander of the government's 27th division in the province, told Reuters.
He said government troops later captured and killed four Taliban guerrillas in the same way. "They cut off their heads with a knife, so when our forces arrested four Taliban, we cut off their heads too."
UN Appeals to NATO Amid New Afghan Poll Attacks
Mon Jun 21,12:44 PM ET By David Brunnstrom
KABUL (Reuters) - The United Nations urged NATO to send more troops to Afghanistan to bolster security ahead of elections in September following two attacks against U.N. electoral authorities on Monday.
A policeman and an Afghan U.N. worker were killed when gunmen attacked a U.N. electoral vehicle in the south of the country hours after a U.N. election office was hit by rocket-propelled grenades south of Kabul.
U.N. Special Representative Jean Arnault told a news briefing that more NATO troops would be needed by the end of July along with a surge in disarmament of factional militias if security was to be sufficient for elections.
He said attacks in recent weeks on foreign aid and reconstruction workers and U.N. offices showed the security situation was becoming more volatile and more troops would be needed once nomination of candidates and campaigning started.
Taliban and allied Islamic militants have vowed to disrupt what are billed as the country's first free polls.
"All the requirements prod us to turn again to the international community and say: 'The time is now'."
He called on NATO members at a summit in Istanbul on June 28 and 29 to make a final decision to send more troops.
NATO has said it will expand its force of about 6,400 peacekeepers now confined mainly to Kabul, but member states have been reluctant to provide more troops, particularly to southern areas where militants are most active.
DECISION TIME LOOMS
Arnault said a decision would have to be taken by the end of this month as to whether polls, already postponed from June, could be held as scheduled.
President Hamid Karzai says he is committed to the election timetable. Analysts say his main backer, President Bush, wants a September poll so he has a foreign policy success to balance against Iraq ahead of his own re-election bid in November.
The U.S. military, leading 20,000 foreign troops pursuing Taliban and al Qaeda guerrillas, said more attacks were likely ahead of the polls, but rejected suggestions that security was deteriorating, citing the registration of more than four million voters.
"Allegations that the security situation is becoming more volatile fly in the face of the successes we are seeing in voter registration," said spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Tucker Mansager.
Arnault said that for the elections to be held, international donors would first have to release tens of millions of dollars of poll funds they have pledged but not yet delivered.
He said Afghans had demonstrated their enthusiasm for the poll by registering at a rate of more than 100,000 a day to vote. "That very determination places an obligation on many other actors inside Afghanistan and outside Afghanistan," he said.
Arnault stressed that for the process to be considered free and fair, there was a minimum acceptable security environment and level of progress on disarmament.
He said a target of disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating 40 percent of factional militiamen by the end of June -- something considered essential to ensure free and fair polls -- was far from being met.
HEAVY WEAPONS ATTACKS
A U.N. spokesman said the policeman killed in the southern province of Kandahar was a member of a detail providing security for voter registration.
Arnault said attacks on election workers emphasized the need for the international community to do more to protect the process.
"Again, so close to Kabul and so close to the security umbrella provided by the international community," he said of the RPG attacks in Logar province. "We are now facing attacks -- direct attacks -- with fairly heavy weapons."
More than 800 people, including dozens of foreign and local humanitarian workers, have died in militant-related violence since last August, the bloodiest period since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in late 2001.
The U.S.-backed government responded to the escalation in violence by saying it was sending troops to reassert its authority in the capital of the central province of Ghor overrun last week by forces of a renegade commander resisting disarmament efforts.
(With reporting by Yousuf Azimy in Kabul and Mirwais Afghan in Kandahar)
NATO to feel heat on Afghanistan at Istanbul conference
AFP , BRUSSELS Wednesday, Jun 23, 2004,Page 6
NATO leaders head for Istanbul next week hoping to avoid new splits over Iraq, amid simmering discord over calls for it to play a larger role there at a time when it is already stretched in Afghanistan.
US-led pressure for the Alliance to do more in Iraq comes as it battles to meet its commitments to extend a peacekeeping force beyond the Afghan capital Kabul, to help secure the country ahead of planned September elections.
In Istanbul next Monday and Tuesday, NATO is expected to declare itself ready to fulfill those pledges -- specifically to set up five Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in northern Afghanistan, as well as sending reinforcements for the polls.
But the battle to secure the resources from NATO member states has been painfully difficult, a process which risks compromising the credibility of an Alliance seeking to present itself as a key force in the global war on terror.
NATO took command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan last August, in its first-ever mission outside Europe, and was given the green light by the UN a short time later to extend it outside Kabul.
Eight months later, it is in charge of only one PRT, in the northern city of Kunduz, run by the German army.
"Whenever we enter into a political commitment to undertake an operation, we must have a clear idea beforehand as to what forces we have available to honor this commitment," NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in London last Friday.
On Iraq, NATO has never really recovered from its divisions in the run-up to last year's war -- when it was plunged into the most serious crisis in its 55-year history amid a split between pro- and anti-war factions.
Sixteen months after that crisis, the US is pushing for NATO to take on a bigger role than its current one of providing logistical support to Poland in running its sector of a stabilization force.
But France and Germany -- which sparked the the crisis in February last year -- are again resisting the call.
To add to the potential for rifts, the Istanbul summit comes two days before the June 30 handover of sovereignty from the US-led occupation force to an interim Iraqi government.
With Paris and Berlin blocking any suggestion of NATO troops on the ground, one key option under consideration is for the Alliance to help train Iraqi troops. Officials stress this would only be possible if Iraq requested it.
Decisions expected at the Istanbul summit include the formal end to the NATO-led SFOR mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which will be handed over to the EU at the end of the year.
NATO will also trumpet a new strategy of strengthening cooperation with Muslim states around the Mediterranean basin, although leaders of these countries will not be in Istanbul.
Afghan women's Olympic dream
Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK BBC News
Two athletes set to become the first women ever to represent Afghanistan at the Olympic Games have told the BBC about their hopes for the competition.
Robina Muqimyar, who will run in the 100 metres, and Friba Rezihi, who will compete in judo, have been preparing for the Games on the Greek island of Lesbos, ahead of their debut at the games in Athens in August.
Afghanistan was suspended from the Olympic movement in 1999.
"I'm really happy to be participating in these games," Muqimyar told BBC World Service's Everywoman programme.
"I'm really happy that for the first time I will be in these games and I can raise the Afghan flag worldwide."
'The time to dream'
Rezihi said she was thankful to the Greek government for giving the pair permission to train in the country.
"It's a big opportunity for us and our people, and we will take advantage of this opportunity," she added.
"I want to be a role model for my country."
She added that she was not aiming to get a medal - which would be highly unlikely - but to "show people that it's a good chance and it's a good thing".
"It's like a gold medal for us to participate as Afghan women after a long, long time," she added.
Rezihi, who lived in the Palestinian territories between 1995 and 2000, only returned to Afghanistan after the country's hardline Taleban rulers fell.
She took up judo on the advice of her coach.
Both athletes were prevented from training under the Taleban. The national stadium was used to stage executions and floggings.
"We couldn't do any sort of sport. I couldn't feel secure enough to go out," Muqimyar said.
"The moment the Taleban went out of Afghanistan we started again... before this we couldn't do it.
"In the Taleban's time, we couldn't even dream about it. Now the time is our dream has started."
Although the Taleban have gone, there are still a number of strongly conservative mullahs in the country's interim government that have voiced opposition to Afghanistan's athletes competing in the Olympics.
Abdul Matin Mutasem Bilal, a mullah at Kabul's Abu Bakar Sidiq Mosque, has argued that they cannot attend because the strict Islamic dress code requires that all but a woman's hands, feet and face be covered.
"When I tell you that her neighbour shouldn't see all her face, how should thousands of foreigners, non-Muslims, in a big stadium be allowed to see her body?" he said.
Zia Dashti, the Afghan Olympic Committee's vice president, has said that the woman competing on the track will be required to wear tracksuits and not show their legs.
Muqimyar said she would "wear whatever they tell me to wear".
But she added that she did not see too many problems: "I'm not scared of anything at the moment.
"I'm really happy and dreaming of going back home to being welcomed by my own people."
And she added that she would be channelling her anger at being prevented from participating for so long into her performance.
"I learned from the Taleban how to be oppressed," she said.
"I'm going to teach people how to struggle against them, how to learn and how to get whatever you want in life."
Afghan Troop Deployment to Ghor Province Delayed
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
KABUL, 22 June (RFE/RL) -- A battalion of Afghan troops scheduled to travel to northwestern Ghor province today to quell factional unrest has postponed its departure by one day.
Ahmad Jawid, secretary of the military commander in the western city of Herat, today said the delay was caused by logistical and technical reasons. He said the troops will leave from Herat for Ghor tomorrow.
Forces loyal to a local commander overran Chaghcharan, the capital of Ghor province, last week. The ousted military commander of Ghor today promised a "river of blood" unless his factional rivals and the provincial governor are kicked out of power.
Aid groups press for better security in Afghanistan
FROM ASSOCIATED PRESS
KABUL — Warning that security in Afghanistan is deteriorating, international aid groups today urged NATO to make good on a promise to deploy more troops ahead of September's general elections.
In a joint letter to NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and member states, 53 non-government groups called for the alliance to send more soldiers to help confront "the immediate security threats faced by Afghans."
Leaders of NATO are due to meet in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 28-29.
NATO has 6,400 peacekeepers in Afghanistan but they are confined to the relatively safe capital Kabul and the northern province of Kunduz. Countries have been slow to commit forces for a promised expansion across the north.
NATO's United Nations-mandated International Security Assistance Force includes 2,300 Canadian troops based in Kabul.
A recent spate of attacks in once stable northern provinces has raised fears that Taliban-led rebels maybe moving beyond their stamping grounds in the lawless south and east ahead of the polls — the country's first free elections.
"Security is markedly deteriorating, affecting ordinary Afghans as well as the assistance community," said Barbara Stapleton, of the Agency Co-ordinating Body for Afghan Relief, in a press release supporting the letter.
"The Istanbul conference may prove to be the last chance for the international community to face its obligations by devoting sufficient forces to guarantee security throughout Afghanistan," she said.
The release said that attacks had killed 30 humanitarian workers this year and wounded 15.
This month, 11 Chinese road workers were slain in Kunduz, and five health relief workers, including three Europeans, were gunned down in northwestern Baghdis province.
"This situation is leading to the withdrawal of international humanitarian staff from project sites in more and more parts of the country," it said.
The top UN envoy in Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, made a similar plea to NATO on Monday — amid lingering doubts over whether the security situation makes it feasible to hold the election as planned. He warned that the country was growing more volatile.
Insurgents have vowed to sabotage the vote, seen as crucial to Afghanistan's rehabilitation after a quarter-century of war. The latest election-related attacks Monday killed one Afghan soldier and injured another.
Afghan warlord offers to disarm
Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK BBC News
An Afghan militia commander whose forces overran a provincial capital last week says that he is prepared to disarm and work with the government.
But Abdul Salaam Khan said he would only do so if the rival commanders he ousted also disarmed.
Hundreds of Mr Khan's troops attacked Chaghcharan, capital of central Ghor province, on Thursday.
His offer to disarm coincides with a visit by a government minister to Ghor ahead of the arrival of Afghan troops.
Rivers of blood
The BBC's Charles Haviland in Kabul says that calm appears to have returned to Ghor after heavy fighting last Thursday.
The governor, Mohammed Ibrahim, fled Chaghcharan last week. But he has now returned to the city and has offered to work with Mr Khan.
At the same time, a battalion of the Afghan National Army is due to be deployed in the town later on Tuesday or Wednesday.
But the forces who were ousted from Chaghcharan last week are threatening a counter attack.
Their commander, Ahmad, is reported to have threatened "rivers of blood" unless Mr Khan and Mr Ibrahim are removed.
Otherwise, he told the BBC: "We will attack with every means possible."
He said he would welcome the national army battalion as long as it disarmed Commander Khan and his allies.
Another official ousted in the fighting, the police chief Mohammed Zaman, said Mr Khan and his allies were former Taleban members who should be flushed out.
But Mr Khan's spokesman described last week's fighting as a "popular uprising" against local leaders who he said had persecuted the people.
The spokesman said Mr Khan would happily work with Mr Ibrahim and the central government, which has just sent a minister to Ghor to try and calm things down.
Our correspondent says that disputes between militia leaders, sometimes called warlords, continue to cause trouble for President Karzai as he struggles to ensure security for national elections due this September.
Ousted Afghan commander warns of more bloodshed in tense western province
Associated Press Tuesday June 22, 4:01 PM
The ousted military commander of a remote province captured by warlord militias last week threatened on Tuesday a "river of blood" unless his rivals and the provincial governor were kicked out of power.
Deposed division commander Ahmad, who like many Afghans goes by a single name, accused Ghor province Gov. Mohammed Ibrahim of orchestrating the fighting that killed several people _ including Ahmad's brother.
Ibrahim denied the allegation and said he was willing to stand down if asked by a central government delegation currently in the provincial capital Chagcharan to investigate the clash and hold talks with rival factions.
Meanwhile, an Afghan army battalion which was due to head for Ghor by road on Tuesday to help keep the peace postponed its departure. A battalion usually numbers about 750 soldiers.
Ahmad Jawid, the secretary of the army corps commander in the main western city of Herat, said the battalion would leave there on Wednesday. He said it was delayed for logistical and technical reasons.
More than two years after the fall of the Taliban, President Hamid Karzai is struggling to assert his control across Afghanistan, which is still dominated by private militias.
The planned deployment in Ghor from the new, U.S.-trained national army is the third this year after fighting between warlords in the provinces _ adding to security woes caused by Taliban-led insurgents in the south and east of the country ahead of national elections due in September.
Chagcharan was reportedly calm on Tuesday, with schools and businesses open.
But Ahmad's accusations against the provincial governor added a dangerous twist to a confused situation.
Speaking by phone from his village about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Chagcharan, he warned there would be a "river of blood" if the governor and five rival commanders whom he said launched the take-over that ousted him and other provincial security chiefs remained in power.
He claimed to have between 2,000 and 2,500 fighters.
Ibrahim denied Ahmad's allegations that he orchestrated the fighting, saying the hostilities were between local commanders.
He said the forces of Rais Salam _ chief among the warlords who led the assault that ousted Ahmad _ were occupying the Ghor division headquarters, although Karzai this week ordered the unit dissolved.
While Ahmad said he was willing to cooperate with the government delegation, which is led by a veteran former interior minister, he was reluctant to lay down his weapons.
"To hand over weapons needs the right atmosphere. How can I hand over my weapons when my enemy is in power?" Ahmad said.
There are still tens of thousands of militiamen in Afghanistan, and a U.N.-backed program to disarm them has proceeded slowly, with only 9,000 laying down arms so far _ far behind the target of 40,000 by the end of June.
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