Taliban Claims Killing Afghan Aid Workers
Wed Jun 2, 6:14 PM ET By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Three foreign medical workers and two Afghans were killed Wednesday when their car was ambushed in northwestern Afghanistan, police and the aid agency said. Resurgent Taliban militants claimed responsibility.
The assault was the deadliest on foreign aid workers since the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001, and was bound to raise new security fears that already prevent agencies from operating in much of the insurgency-hit south and east.
The group was ambushed in Khair Khana, a village in Badghis province 340 miles west of Kabul, provincial police chief Amir Shah Naibzada told The Associated Press.
An official at aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, which runs several clinics in the province, said three of its foreign staff and two Afghans died in what "seemed to be a terrorist-type attack," but added that details were still murky.
An MSF news release later said the foreign victims were a Belgian woman and a Dutch man and a Norwegian man. The MSF said they were members of a medical team, but it did not give their specific jobs.
Naibzada said it was unclear if they were the victims of anti-government militants or robbers. "It's too early to say who's behind this," he said by telephone from a car rushing him to the scene.
But Mullah Abdul Hakim Latifi, a purported spokesman for the Taliban, called AP and said it carried out the attack at 4 p.m. and gave the location where it took place. He threatened more attacks would follow.
"The Taliban was responsible for this attack," Latifi said. "Those international aid workers were working for the policy of America. There will be more of these attacks in the future."
Badghis province is far from where most of the 20,000 U.S. troops deployed in the hunt for Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts in the south and east of the country are operating. Several dozen U.S. troops are based in neighboring Herat.
Rebels of the former ruling Taliban regime and al-Qaida, active in the south and east of the country, have targeted aid workers over the past year in an apparent attempt to undermine efforts by the U.S.-backed government to rebuild the country after a quarter century of war.
A remote-control bomb exploded Wednesday in eastern Nangarhar province, injuring two Afghan election workers, said Gen. Mohammed Mustafa, an Afghan border security official.
Three other Afghans in the vehicle escaped unhurt from the blast, in Momand Dara area, about 20 miles east of the provincial capital Jalalabad, Mustafa said.
Security is also poor in areas of the north, because of the continuing influence of rival warlords. Armed robberies are regularly reported in the region. But attacks by suspected Taliban militants are rarely reported in the north.
"It's the first time anything like this has happened here," Badghis Gov. Azizullah Afzali said.
Growing violence in recent months — including killings of NATO peacekeepers in the capital and attacks on U.S. forces — has cast a long shadow over plans for general elections in September, seen as key to rehabilitating the war-battered nation.
Last week, a senior European Union official accused troops with the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan of endangering humanitarian workers by operating in civilian vehicles and clothes, raising local hostility, and said that 23 aid workers had been killed in Afghanistan since March 2003.
In May, gunmen killed three U.N. election workers, including two British security consultants, in eastern Nuristan province. The Taliban claimed responsibility. Two other foreigners were found bludgeoned to death in Kabul the same month, but the motive for the killings remain unclear.
In November, two gunmen killed Bettina Goislard, a 29-year old worker for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, in the eastern city of Ghazni, the only foreign U.N. staff member slain since the fall of the Taliban.
Five humanitarian workers killed in north Afghanistan
Wed Jun 2, 2:34 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Five humanitarian workers including three foreigners were shot dead when their vehicle was ambushed in northwest Afghanistan, officials said.
"A vehicle belonging to a non-governmental organisation has been attacked by unknown armed people," Baghdis provincial police chief Amir Shah Naibzada told AFP.
"In an attack on a Medecins Sans Frontieres vehicle two Afghans and three foreigners have died."
"It is too early to say who is responsible for this attack," he added.
Naibzada said the aid workers were killed by two men, one armed with a Kalashnikov and the other with a pistol.
"Three foreigners -- one woman and two men -- have died. Two Afghans, one a translator and the second a driver also died," he added.
Naibzada said he was on his way to the site in the Khair Khana area of Qades district of Baghdis some 500 kilometres (310 miles) west of Kabul.
The incident was confirmed by several Western humanitarian sources who said the non-governmental agency concerned was Medecins Sans Frontieres (Holland) which works in Baghdis and neighbouring Herat province.
A spokesman for Medecins Sans Frontieres, or "Doctors Without Borders", in Kabul refused to comment on the incident.
Provincial governor Azizullah Hafzali confirmed the incident which occurred at 4:00 pm (1130 GMT) and said the aid workers were from Medecins Sans Frontieres, an aid agency which works to bring medical assistance to war zones and impoverished nations.
"Five people, three expatriates and two Afghans were killed by unidentified people," he said.
An Afghan security source speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP that among the dead are two Afghans, a Belgian woman, a Dutchman and a Norwegian man.
A spokesman for the Belgian embassy in Kabul refused to comment.
While a wave of low-level guerrilla insurgency has hit southern and southeastern Afghanistan, the north is generally considered safe.
Attacks against soft targets such as aid workers have been concentrated mainly in the south, the former stronghold of the Taliban regime.
Following the point-blank shooting of a French UN High Commissioner for Refugees worker in southeastern Ghazni in November, the UN and other aid agencies have largely withdrawn from the south and southeast.
On Tuesday, the commander of the US-led coalition force in Afghanistan, US Lieutenant General David Barno warned that further attacks against unarmed foreigners and Afghans were likely in the lead-up to the country's landmark general elections scheduled for September.
On May 5, two Britons and an Afghan translator working on the UN-administered electoral process were killed in eastern Nuristan province.
Three days later, the bodies of a Swiss and a Norwegian were found in a public garden in Kabul, apparently stabbed and stoned to death. The circumstances surrounding the deaths of the two young men, apparently tourists, remain unknown.
At least 13 aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan since the beginning of this year, the same number as were killed throughout the whole of 2003.
U.S.: Afghan Army Effort Will Take Years
Wed Jun 2, 4:16 PM ET By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - It will take four more years to train a new Afghan army and perhaps a decade to deal with the country's worsening problem, Bush administration officials estimated Wednesday as lawmakers criticized other nations for not helping more with peacekeeping and reconstruction work there.
Despite progress since the 2001 war that routed al-Qaida from Afghanistan, members of the House International Relations Committee told administration officials that they worried insufficient resources were being spent in the country and that warlords and their heavily armed militias would continue to undermine the central government and disrupt elections planned in September.
William B. Taylor, Department of State coordinator for Afghanistan, acknowledged the country has a long way to go, but asserted: "They can get there."
More than 2 1/2 years after the demise of Taliban rule, regional warlords battle constantly over turf and narcotics trafficking. The militias are supposed to make way for a new U.S.-trained Afghan National Army. But only 10,000 of its planned 70,000 men are expected to be in place by the September vote.
Asked when the training will be completed, Taylor said he didn't know exactly, but imagined "it wouldn't be before 2008."
Lawmakers criticized the administration for moving too slowly in tackling the drug problem. Afghan poppy farmers last year produced about three-quarters of the world's opium.
Appearing with Taylor, Defense Department counter-narcotic official Mary Beth Long said the Pentagon is working to help Afghans build the ability to fight the drug trade on their own.
The effort "will take time ... and it must be sustained over many years, perhaps over a decade," she said.
Several committee members criticized NATO for not sending promised troops to Afghanistan.
"Much of Europe and many of our NATO allies are shirking their responsibility globally, and Afghanistan is an outstanding example of this," said California Rep. Tom Lantos, the committee's ranking Democrat.
Lantos called it inexcusable that Turkey only has 150 troops in Afghanistan. He said it was "a disgrace" that the "incredibly wealthy country" of Austria is only contributing $2 million to reconstruction. And he said Spain should take the troops that it withdrew from Iraq and redeploy them to Afghanistan.
Allied governments agreed months ago to a U.N. request to expand the force in Afghanistan, which has 6,000 troops in the capital Kabul and the northern city of Kunduz.
But they have balked at providing specialist troops and equipment for the costly and potentially dangerous operation.
Other lawmakers Wednesday also said they believe the United States should be doing more, noting that Afghanistan only gets a fraction of money and troops compared to the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on Iraq.
"My own sense is that we could probably use 100,000 troops, or 138,000 troops in Afghanistan rather than Iraq," said Rep. William Delahunt, D-Maine.
Despite problems, officials said much has been accomplished in Afghanistan, one of the world's poorest countries and already ravaged by decades of war when the U.S.-led coalition invaded.
"The reconstruction success that has taken place in the last two and a half years has been nothing short of phenomenal," said James Kunder, deputy assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Asia and the Near East.
As an example, he said, there has been a 100 percent increase in production of wheat, Afghanistan's primary agricultural commodity.
US Senate passes 25 billion dollar request for Iraq, Afghanistan
Wed Jun 2, 7:22 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Senate unanimously approved a 25 billion dollar emergency request to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
President George W. Bush requested the extra funding to cover the cost of military operations, which have spiraled upward as US troops combat insurgencies in both countries.
"This serves as a clear, unambiguous signal that while our troops are deployed and are in harm's way, they will have the unequivocal and unwavering support of the Congress," said Senator Ted Stevens, the Republican chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The vote passed 95-0.
The money come on top of a 392.1 billion dollar defense spending bill being debated in the US Senate this week for the 2005 fiscal year.
The emergency funding, Stevens said is direly needed, especially in Iraq, where the Pentagon's military operations have mounted to some five billion dollars per month.
"It will ensure that our men and women in uniform continue to have the resources they need. Weve worked very hard to make certain that that is the case in the past," said Stevens, whose committee oversees the disbursement of funds.
"Certainly, the developments on the ground in Iraq make it plain that there is an absolute need to plan for contingencies for our military commanders," he said.
"They have prudent operational plans, but they must be prepared to respond to the dynamic events that are going forward now in Iraq."
"We can expect nothing less of our military leadership and the Congress must give them the tools they need," Stevens added.
"This reserve fund will do that."
In a separate floor vote, the Senate approved a measure to provide low-cost health care to members of the National Guard and Reserve and their families, by a vote of 70-25.
"Today's vote was a significant victory for members of the Guard and Reserve and their families," said the Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, a chief sponsor of the measure.
"The men and women serving in the Guard and Reserve face real danger on the battlefield, and we cannot afford to let them go without medical care."
Backers of the measure point to a study by the General Accounting Office estimating that 40 percent of the National Guard's junior enlisted personnel and 20 percent of all reservists lack health care coverage.
If approved by the House, the legislation could ultimately provide health coverage to some 300,000 reservists, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Bin Laden within reach of US-led force several times: French general
Thursday June 3, 3:11 AM AFP
Al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden has been within reach of the US-led coalition force in Afghanistan several times, the chief of staff of the French armed forces General Henri Bentegeat said.
"The coalition on several occasions has had Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda operatives directly within reach," Bentegeat said during a press conference following a 24-hour visit to Afghanistan.
"Since 2002, on at least two occasions, they have been able to locate him but he has managed to escape," he said, adding that there was a difference between finding and trapping an individual.
"To my knowledge, there has not recently been any incidents of this nature... but sooner or later, he will be arrested."
Asked about the possible places of refuge for the suspected mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Bentegeat said he did not have any information which would help locate the Saudi dissident.
In a radio interview with Europe 1 in March Bentegeat said bin Laden had slipped past French commandos on several occasions.
France is one of the members of the US-led coalition which has been fighting against remnants of the Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda and other militants since late 2001.
About 200 French special forces soldiers have been working in the Spin Boldak region on the border with Pakistan since August 2003 to destroy Taliban and Al-Qaeda networks.
"French special forces are continuing their mission without change in the (southern) Kandahar region," Bentegeat said Wednesday.
Bentegeat also said France would also increase the number of its troops serving with the NATO-led peacekeeping International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, a force which will be led by a French general from mid-August.
"France has decided to strengthen her participation in the ISAF mission beginning next August," he said.
An extra 300 French troops will be stationed in the Central Asian nation, bringing the country's contingent to a little more than 1,000 servicemen and women.
"From August 11, a French general will take command of ISAF," the general said without identifying the officer who will take command of the 6,500 troops from more than 30 nations.
The peacekeepers work under a UN mandate to maintain security in the capital Kabul. Late last year the mandate was extended to the rest of the country but so far the force has only moved to the northern city of Kunduz.
Bentegeat ruled out a French-led provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan, saying his country had more than 15,000 troops outside France and as such was obliged to limit its commitment in Afghanistan.
The general, who met with senior Afghan, US and ISAF security officials while in Kabul, said despite an increase in attacks in the south and southeast the overall security situation in the country was improving.
Karzai's rivals slam Afghan elections law
02 Jun 2004 13:34:13 GMT By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, June 2 (Reuters) - Several Afghan presidential candidates protested on Wednesday against an election law passed by President Hamid Karzai's U.S.-backed government, calling it undemocratic and unconstitutional.
Writer Latif Pedram, lawyer Ismail Qasimyar and Mohammad Mahfooz Nedaye, a former member of Karzai's cabinet, also vowed to choose a candidate from amongst themselves to stand against the president in the September vote.
Karzai, who was installed in power following the late-2001 overthrow of the Taliban regime by U.S.-led forces, enacted the election law last Thursday, several weeks behind schedule.
Under the law, a candidate is required to collect the signatures of 10,000 supporters.
The candidates said that contravened a new constitution approved in January which calls for a secret ballot.
"The election law signed by Karzai, who himself hopes to win the presidential seat...consists of undemocratic, unfair articles," they said in a statement.
"For example, presenting photocopies of 10,000 registered cards in itself contradicts another article of the election law which says a candidate needs over 50 percent of votes through free, general, secret and direct voting."
The candidates urged Karzai to revise the article and pledged to unite behind one of their number to stand against Karzai.
They said the president had formed a coalition with powerful leaders from the mujahideen, "holy warriors" who fought against the Soviet occupation of the 1980s.
Last week Karzai met mujahideen members, including Islamic conservatives and power brokers who have defied his bid to disarm their private armies, and won assurances they would not field a candidate in return for a share of power if he was elected.
But Karzai's spokesman, Jawed Ludin, rejected claims by mujahideen officials that they were assured cabinet positions.
Ludin confirmed talks had taken place with mujahideen leaders but said they were aimed at trying to avoid things that could disrupt the election.
Western diplomats are concerned about a power-sharing deal between Karzai, from Afghanistan's dominant Pashtun ethnic group, and members of the mujahideen, who are mainly from smaller ethnic groups including Tajiks and Uzbeks.
Some mujahideen leaders have resorted to violence in recent turf battles and have been accused of human rights violations.
Pashtun members of Karzai's government also expressed unease at his willingness to negotiate, prompting the brother of Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai to say that the minister was considering running against the president.
The diplomatic community is worried that factions, yet to be disarmed in many cases, could coerce voters into backing them in parliamentary polls, which are due to take place at the same time as the presidential election.
Karzai's talks with mujahideen members came ahead of a trip to the United States starting next week that will include a June 15 meeting with President George W. Bush.
With no let-up in difficulties in Iraq, political analysts say Washington is keen to portray Afghanistan as a foreign policy "success" story before Bush's own re-election bid in November.
Afghan elections have been delayed from June because of the slow pace of registering voters and a rising tide of violence by Islamic militants.
7th candidate joins Afghan presidential race
KABUL, June 2 (Xinhua) -- Another Afghan politician Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai on Wednesday announced his candidacy for the upcoming presidential elections, bringing the number of aspirants to seven.
"My objective of candidacy is not enmity with political rivals rather to serve my nation," Ahmadzai said at a news conference attended by his loyalists and news men here.
Earlier, six others including incumbent President Hamid Karzai,popular woman doctor Masouda Jalal, former Planning Minister HajjiMohammad Mohaqiq and an ex-bureaucrat Mohammad Ismael Qasimyar declared their candidacy.
"As an Afghan national, I have the right to stand for presidency in the election," western-educated Ahmadzai stressed.
Ahmadzai, former prime minister and a close aide to the fundamentalist Jihadi leader Abdurab Rasuol Sayaf during Afghanistan's resistance against the ex-Soviet Union in late 1980s.
The first-ever presidential and parliamentary elections in the country have been planned for September.
Afghan govt to dissolve nine ministries
Afghan government has decided to dissolve nine Ministries under a new plan of the government. Talking to Radio Mashed, The Afghan Minister for Planning Ramazan Bashardost disclosed that nine ministries of Afghan government would be dissolved under new plan of the government.
It is noteworthy that the committee headed by the Afghan Minister for planning is working on restructuring of Afghan ministries on the orders of Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Meanwhile Afghan Minister said that government would cancel the permit of those organizations, which are not following country's law. "Permits of nongovernmental organizations either locals or foreign based which were not abiding by the country's law would be cancelled", he maintained.
Congress Watchdog: Drugs Threaten Afghan Stability
Wed Jun 2, 2:23 PM ET By Saul Hudson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A booming opium trade, intensifying violence and a weak central government threaten the long-term stability of Afghanistan despite U.S. military and aid efforts, a congressional watchdog said on Wednesday.
And while Bush administration officials who spoke to Congress after the General Accounting Office report was issued emphasized progress rebuilding after the toppling of Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, they echoed concerns that the drugs trade was bolstering warlords and undermining President Hamid Karzai's power.
The GAO, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog agency, also criticized the Bush administration for weak oversight of U.S. aid and delays in disbursing billions of dollars for the impoverished Central Asian nation.
"Conditions in Afghanistan, such as the deteriorating security situation, the relative weakness of the central government, and the increase in opium production, complicate the long-term reconstruction process and threaten its ultimate success," the GAO said in a report to Congress monitoring U.S. aid.
The criticism highlights concern that Washington, distracted by Iraq, has paid too little attention to Afghanistan since ousting the Taliban and routing al Qaeda fighters in retaliation for the Sept. 11 attacks.
U.S. commanders in Afghanistan fear that remaining militants will continue to intensify attacks as the nation heads for its first direct elections in September.
With international security forces largely confined to the Kabul area, militia leaders have tightened their grip on power in the provinces and prompted Karzai to strike a power-sharing deal with them ahead of the election, which he hopes to win.
"Expanded trafficking in narcotics helps local commanders who want to resist our efforts to expand the authority of the Afghan government throughout the country," Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics Mary Beth Long told a congressional hearing after the release of the GAO report.
"The drugs trade ... provides cover for unaccountable groups, including al Qaeda and its allies, to wield power," she said.
Afghanistan is the world's leading producer of opium, and the United States estimates that its farmers are expected to harvest 50 percent more poppy plants this year. Output has soared since the ouster of the Taliban, which had almost eradicated opium poppy production.
The U.S. plan for long-term Afghan stability is to support the government in disarming militias, discouraging poppy growing and preparing for the September elections, William Taylor, the State Department coordinator for Afghanistan, said.
Afghans Say Repel Major Taliban Attack in South
Wed Jun 2, 4:24 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan forces said on Wednesday they had foiled a major attack by remnants of the ousted Taliban regime in the restive southern province of Zabul.
At least three Taliban fighters and three government soldiers were killed in the two pronged assault by militants on the headquarters of Shah Joy district overnight, one official said.
"This was a very heavy Taliban assault," Zabul's Police Chief, Mohammad Ayoub, told Reuters by satellite phone from Qalat, the provincial capital of Zabul. "They stormed from two directions, but government forces bravely managed to defeat them and forced them to flee."
He said the fighting lasted for several hours, but he could not say how many attackers took part in it.
Nimatullah Tokhi, a senior government commander in Zabul, said some 100 Taliban fighters were involved in the attack and quoted locals who reported seven Taliban killed.
Tor, a commander in Shah Joy, said the district's headquarters and its bazaar were damaged during the fighting.
No Taliban official could be immediately reached for comment.
Zabul was once part of the Taliban heartlands before the hardline Islamic movement was overthrown from power in a U.S.-led war in late 2001.
The province has been rocked by a series of attacks blamed on the militants, mainly targeting Afghan government troops.
Local officials say that six Taliban fighters were killed in a surprise attack by U.S. soldiers in Sori district of Zabul on Tuesday, although the U.S. military has not confirmed the clash.
Four U.S. soldiers, part of the 20,000-strong American-led force, were killed by an explosive device in another area of the province on Saturday.
Escalating violence in the south and east threatens to undermine landmark elections in September. Over 700 people have been killed in violence since August, mostly in militant-related attacks. (Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin in KABUL)
Pakistan may launch air strikes against militants in tribal area
Wed Jun 2, 8:11 AM ET
WANA, Pakistan (AFP) - Pakistani authorities have warned of possible air strikes against foreign Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the northwestern tribal belt who failed to report for registration.
"We are not satisfied at all with the performance of tribesmen in finding and handing over the foreigners hiding in the area," local administrator of South Waziristan Ismatullah Gandapur told AFP on Wednesday.
"Pakistan Air Force personnel have arrived in (the region's main town) Wana for the survey of suspected hideouts" of the fugitive fighters, Gandapur added, indicating that the impending operation would involve air strikes.
Under a deal brokered by tribal elders in April the government allowed an estimated 500 foreigners to stay in the rugged terrain bordering Afghanistan if they denounced militancy and registered with the authorities.
However, despite the expiry of several deadlines, none has registered.
Gandapur said the the authorities were frustrated with the inaction of tribal elders in the hunt for suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.
"These are unfortunate people and will take action only after a bloodshed involving hundreds of people," Gandapur said.
"I have literally begged them to do something as the time is running out fast."
The latest warning came in the wake of an economic blockade of tribesmen over the weekend. Troops erected road blocks and shut down thousands of shops and gas stations in the markets of Wana.
The Pakistani army launched its fiercest operation in March and lost at least 46 troops in a 12-day siege and search operation. The government changed its strategy and agreed to seek a political solution to the problem.
Child kidnappings leave families mourning in Afghanistan
Wednesday June 2, 2:10 PM AFP
Ever since their 10-year-old son Jawad disappeared from Kabul's streets in mid-May, the poverty-striken Razaq family has been in mourning.
"Jawad disappeared, now 19 days ago," says his mother Haqila, while sweeping tears from her sun-burnt cheeks. "We sent him to one of our relatives' homes but he never returned."
Haqila and her husband, cobbler Abdul Razaq are among the dozens of Afghan couples whose children have gone missing in recent months amid concerns that child trafficking and kidnappings have increased in the impoverished country.
"Knocking from door to door we have searched for him but we can't find him," Haqila says. "This is a big city, how can we find him?" she asks while pointing to the dusty landscapes of Kabul from the hill-top where her single-room mud-brick house is located.
Jawad's distraught parents have placed an advertisement asking for information on their son on Kabul TV, a free service now increasingly used by worried citizens whose relatives have gone missing.
"We have had no news from him even after we advertised on TV," says the disheartened father.
Nearly 100 such advertisements have been broadcast on the state-run station since March, a Kabul TV official told AFP while displaying the files of scores of lost children.
"Most of them are children under 10," says the official, who asked not to be named, adding that the station did not keep records of those children who were found after the segments aired. "There are people asking for advertisements for their missing kids almost every day."
Sixty-five year-old Bibi Jan is one such desperate relative. She has come to the station to plea for information on her missing 12-year-old grandson Shkib. "Anyone who has seen Shkib... inform me," she begs, describing what the boy was last seen wearing. "I'm trying my last chance," she admits.
While there are no official figures on the number of children being kidnapped or trafficked, growing alarm about the issue has prompted government officials to look for ways to fight the problem believed to be on the rise.
The ministries of Labour and Social Affairs and Foreign Affairs and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission have been working to develop a national plan of action to combat child trafficking.
Child trafficking is "a problem which seems to be on the rise but lacks documentation," says UN spokesman David Singh.
City authorities have arrested more than 20 suspects linked to child abductions over the past month, according to Kabul police's counter-criminal department.
"From more than 19 cases we have arrested 23 people in the past month," department head Abdul Jamil Kohstani told AFP.
While welcoming the efforts by the police, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has voiced concerns that some of those arrested have been released due to lack of evidence.
"The commission has been concerned that maybe there are some illegal compromises between traffickers and law enforcement authorities," commissioner Ahmad Nader Nadery said.
The commission has registered more than 300 cases of child trafficking throughout the war-torn country over recent months, Nadery says.
"The figure that we have from five months ago, there were more than 300 cases that have been registered here," he said. "The number has been increasing," he said.
The rights group, which is working with the government and other children's rights groups on a policy to combat trafficking, is "closely monitoring the situation," Nadery says, adding that most children who are abducted are thought to be taken to Middle Eastern countries and sexually abused or put to work.
Nadery said it was possible that children were being abducted for their body organs but that "we have not been able to confirm that."
Talk of a child protection policy is of little comfort to grieving mothers.
"Last week I dreamed of him coming home," says Jawad's mother Haqila. "But I don't think my dream will come true."
US army bars soldiers from leaving units set for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan
Wed Jun 2, 6:26 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Army has moved to block soldiers scheduled for discharge from leaving units bound for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan to keep those units at full strength for deployment.
The "stop-loss" order issued Tuesday by Reginald Brown, assistant army secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, is effective from the time a unit is ordered to deploy to either country until after they return to the United States.
"Continuing personnel losses caused by routine rotational policies have the potential to adversely impact training, cohesion, and stability in future ... deploying units," Brown said in a statement.
"To ensure our formations remain a cohesive element throughout their deployment it is necessary to stop personnel losses from the deploying units until after they return to their permanent duty stations."
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the US military has also used the "stop-loss" authority to keep reservists and those with special skills on duty. Before that, the authority was last used during the 1990-1991 Gulf war.
Afghan Women Visit USDA
06/02/2004 Farm Page
Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman today welcomed to the USDA a delegation of 12 Afghan women who are participating in the Cochran Fellowship Program. This U.S.-based training program will help them improve Afghanistan's agricultural economy and strengthen trade links with the United States.
"The U.S. Department of Agriculture is committed to helping the people of Afghanistan rebuild their agriculture, healthcare and educational systems," said Secretary Veneman. "This training program will provide rural Afghan women with the education, skills and tools they need to obtain jobs, support their families and become an integral part of Afghanistan's economy."
The team of women will participate in a program called "Women in Agricultural Finance" through which they will learn about business plans, financial management, farmers' cooperatives and micro-credit programs. This is the department's only initiative that specifically targets Afghan women.
Pakistan frees Afghan held over bid to sneak US reporter into tribal area
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan, June 2 (AFP) - Pakistan on Wednesday released an Afghan journalist held on charges of trying to sneak a US reporter into a tribal zone where foreigners are forbidden, an official said.
'Sami Yusufzai has been released and he left Miranshah at 2:30 pm (0930 GMT),' deputy administrator of North Waziristan tribal district Syed Zahurul Islam told AFP.
An AFP reporter in the area saw Yusufzai leaving in a car for northwest Peshawar city. 'We received a call from Islamabad to release Yusufzai,' Islam said but declined to name the official.
Sami Yusufzai, who contributes to US weekly magazine Newsweek, was detained at a checkpost on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Bannu on April 21 along with freelance US reporter Eliza Griswold, who writes for The New Yorker magazine.
Griswold disguised herself as an Afghan women by wearing a burqa, the all-enveloping veil, while Yusufzai told security officials at a checkpost she was his relative.
They were trying to visit the North Waziristan area near the Afghan border, the focus of a Pakistani military hunt for suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban fugitives. Griswold failed to answer when asked questions in the local Pashtu dialect and the two were detained.
Griswold, who had violated rules barring foreigners from travelling to the tribal area without proper authorisation, was sent to Islamabad and later allowed to return to home, but Yusufzai remained in custody for more than a month.
Three Afghan refugees shot dead in Pakistan
QUETTA, Pakistan, June 2 (AFP) - Three Afghan refugees believed to be former Taliban were killed and another was wounded Wednesday when gunmen ambushed their car in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, police said.
The attackers were in a car and opened fire on the victims' Toyota Land Cruiser, killing all three on the spot, senior police officer Hamid Shakil told AFP. He said the injured man was unconscious and admitted To a local hospital. The victims appeared to be former Taliban, he added.
They were living in Girdi Jungle, a refugee camp near the Afghan border, he said, adding that they had come to Quetta two days ago as guests of an Afghan national.
He identified the dead as Maulavi Meraj, Mauleavi Mohammad Qasim and Abdul Qayyum, while the injured was named as Syed Mohammad Nabi. Provincial police chief Chaudhry Mohammad Yaqub said the attack was the 'outcome of some rivalry, maybe some drug-related affair.
'This is not an act of terrorism, not an act of sectarianism,' Yaqub told AFP by telephone. Shakil said police were questioning their host and would speak to the injured man after he regains consciousness in a bid to discover the motive for the attack.
International peacekeepers to boost presence in Afghanistan
KABUL, Jun 2, 2004 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan (ISAF) as part of efforts to stabilize security in Afghanistan would expand its presence beyond the capital city, a spokesman said Wednesday.
"The Secretary General of NATO on a number of occasions said that there will be a number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams(PRT) up to about five in the northern part of Afghanistan prior to the Istanbul Summit," Chris Henderson told reporters here at a news briefing.
"These PRTs is the first stage of ISAF's expansion in Afghanistan," added the Canadian official of ISAF.
Afghanistan's situation and larger role of NATO is among several issues being discussed in the 26-nation summit at the end of June in Istanbul.
The 36-nation ISAF force since its deployment over two years ago has only one PRT, a civil-military unit involved in stabilizing security and reconstruction process in the northern Kunduz province.
Earlier, US authorities have announced an increase of number of US-led coalition PRTs from 12 to 16 by the end of year.
Around 27,000 US-led foreign troops including 6,500-strong ISAF force have been tasked since the collapse of Taliban regime in late 2001 to establish peace and security in the war-ravaged country.
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