Karzai Reaches Out to Afghan Leaders Ahead of Poll
Wed May 26, 4:55 AM ET By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been holding talks with leaders of the Northern Alliance to gain support for his candidacy in September elections in return for pledges of cabinet positions, alliance sources said on Wednesday.
The alliance consists mainly of mujahideen, or "holy warrior" factions, who form the backbone of Karzai's government and helped the U.S. military defeat the radical Taliban regime late in 2001.
It consists largely of ethnic minority groups like Tajiks and Uzbeks as opposed to the largest clan, the Pashtuns, from which the Taliban drew its support and which traditionally rules Afghanistan. Karzai is a Pashtun.
Those involved in the talks include ex-president Burhanuddin Rabbani, Defense Minister and alliance leader Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Islamist commander Abdul Rabb Rasoul Sayyaf.
Others include General Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek and regional strongman in the north, and Ismail Khan, the powerful governor of the western province of Herat.
"The talks have been going on for several weeks now," an alliance source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"It is about 'you scratch my back and I scratch yours'. Karzai is keen that the mujahideen do not contest him in the elections and in return promises them certain positions in the future government."
Jawed Ludin, Karzai's chief spokesman, refused to comment but another government official confirmed that talks were going on.
The talks come amid reservations by several alliance commanders about Karzai's attempts to disarm their factional forces prior to presidential and parliamentary elections set for September.
They also coincide with a rise in attacks by remnants of the ousted Taliban and their Islamic militant allies in the south and east of the country. More than 700 people have been killed in violence since last August, most in militant-related attacks.
As well as seeking to build bridges with mujahideen leaders, Karzai has offered an olive branch to moderate elements of militant Islamic parties, including that of renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Taliban itself.
He is expected to travel to the United States to hold talks with U.S. authorities next month. Afghan security and the September elections are bound to be high on the agenda, officials said.
With continuing turmoil in Iraq, President Bush's administration is keen to show ahead of U.S. elections in November that the Afghan government it supports has been a success story, political analysts say.
U.S. Air Raids Kill 20 Taliban, Afghan Officials Say
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - At least 20 suspected Taliban were killed in U.S. air strikes in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, Afghan officials said. The U.S. military in Kabul could not confirm the attacks.
If confirmed, the losses would be among the largest suffered in a single battle by the Taliban. In June last year, 40 Taliban and seven Afghan soldiers were reported killed in clashes in the south of Afghanistan, although no U.S. aircraft were involved. Khan Mohammad, a corps commander in the southern city of Kandahar, said Afghan forces had been engaged in fierce clashes with suspected Taliban near the town of Spin Boldak, which lies on the Pakistani border.
"There has been fighting going on between Afghan forces and the Taliban," he told Reuters. "They called in U.S. (air) support." He said 20 Taliban had been killed and that fighting continued. A second Kandahar official, who asked not to be named, said at least 28 Taliban had died.
A spokeswoman for the 20,000-strong American-led force in Afghanistan hunting remnants of the Taliban militia ousted by a U.S. invasion in 2001 said she had no comment on the report. "For security reasons, we can't disclose any details," she said.
The militant Islamist Taliban had harbored al Qaeda fighters believed to have been behind September 2001 attacks on the United States. They continue to resist Western forces in the country and the U.S.-backed government. Over 700 people have died in violence in Afghanistan since August, most of it involving clashes with militants.
U.S. Planes Attack Taliban in Afghanistan
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - U.S. warplanes helped Afghan forces pound Taliban militants in the mountains of southern Afghanistan Tuesday, killing some 20 suspected insurgents at a recently discovered camp, a senior Afghan commander said.
The three-hour battle occurred in Arghistan district of Kandahar province, some 120 miles southwest of the capital, Kabul, provincial military commander Khan Mohammed told The Associated Press.
Khan said about 150 Afghan troops attacked the camp in an area called Ghbragyan on Tuesday afternoon, sparking a three-hour gunbattle in which three of his soldiers were injured.
"After that, U.S. warplanes came and started bombing the Taliban area," Khan said. "U.S. forces told us that they had seen the bodies of about 20 dead Taliban."
Khan said he didn't know how many Taliban were using the camp on a rough mountainside, and U.S. military officials in Kabul had no immediate comment.
Still, the clash appeared the most deadly since U.S.-led forces and insurgents stepped up operations in the spring, fueling a spiral of violence that has killed more than 350 people this year, casting a shadow over plans for national elections in September.
Some 20,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, including some 2,000 extra Marines stationed in the south of the country. The U.S. force is at its largest since the Taliban government was ousted in 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden.
The top U.S. general here has vowed to crush anti-government militants, which also include followers of fugitive warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, this year with a combination of military might and reconstruction aid to persuade ordinary Afghans to turn their back on the militants and back the faltering peace process.
Elsewhere, officials in the embattled south and east said Taliban militants riding motorcycles killed an Afghan soldier in an attack on troops guarding a shipment of aid, while a rocket attack further west killed two people.
Militia ambushed the convoy carrying tractors and generators Saturday as it drove toward Waza Khwa, a remote town in Paktika province, about 170 miles southwest of Kabul, provincial police chief Abdul Rahim Khan said.
A second soldier was wounded, the police chief said.
He said the assailants — about 20 men on motorbikes — retreated after a 30-minute gunbattle.
The four tractors and five generators, paid for by aid groups as part of efforts to re-establish local government in the lawless province, were undamaged.
Abdul Hakim Latifi, who claims to speak for the Taliban, said two of its fighters were injured in the shooting.
Latifi said two more Afghan soldiers were killed Sunday night in a rocket attack near Tirin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province, about 250 miles southwest of Kabul. But Uruzgan police chief Rozi Khan said the victims were civilians.
A Norwegian peacekeeper died Sunday in a rocket attack in Kabul also claimed by Latifi for the Taliban.
Taliban Assaults Kill 3 in Afghanistan
Associated Press Tuesday May 25, 6:10 PM
Taliban militants on motorcycles killed an Afghan soldier in an attack on troops guarding a shipment of aid in an impoverished southeastern province, while a rocket attack farther west killed two people, officials said.
Militia ambushed the convoy carrying tractors and generators Saturday as it drove toward Waza Khwa, a remote town in Paktika province, about 170 miles southwest of the capital, Kabul, provincial police chief Abdul Rahim Khan said Monday.
"Taliban opened fire on the vehicle carrying the soldiers," Khan said. "One of them was killed and another was wounded."
He said the assailants _ about 20 men on motorbikes _ retreated after a 30-minute gunbattle.
The four tractors and five generators, paid for by aid groups as part of efforts to re-establish local government in the lawless province, were undamaged.
Abdul Hakim Latifi, who claims to speak for the Taliban, said two of its fighters were wounded in the shooting.
Latifi said two more Afghan soldiers were killed Sunday night in a rocket attack near Tirin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province, about 250 miles southwest of Kabul.
But Uruzgan police chief Rozi Khan said the victims were civilians.
More than 350 people have died in violence across Afghanistan this year, most of them in the south and east where Taliban-led insurgents have stepped up attacks on Afghan and foreign troops and aid workers.
A Norwegian peacekeeper died Sunday in a rocket attack in Kabul also claimed by Latifi for the Taliban.
Despite the violence, NATO-led peacekeepers and a separate U.S.-led combat force have pledged to help ensure security for the country's first post-Taliban elections slated for September.
Blair insists Afghanistan not forgotten
Tue May 25,11:23 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - The international community remains committed to helping Afghanistan, British Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted after a lawmaker from his own party described the impoverished country as a "basket case".
Speaking at his regular monthly press conference, Blair rejected this description.
"It is absolutely wrong and unfortunate if people end up thinking Afghanistan has made no progress in the past two to three years," he told reporters.
There were now 5.5 million children in school -- including two million girls kept out of education when the country's former Taliban regime was in power -- while Afghanistan's economy had grown by 30% this year, Blair said.
"The most telling statistic is that 2.5 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan," he added.
"And you have a situation where they are now going to approach elections. This idea that the Taliban is back in charge running Afghanistan is -- as far as I am concerned -- just nonsense."
Blair was responding to a question concerning comments by members of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, a cross-party group of lawmakers who have just returned from a trip to Afghanistan.
Eric Illsey, a member of Blair's Labour Party, said he was shocked at what he saw.
"Afghanistan is a basket case. It's a forgotten country," he was quoted as saying in the Independent newspaper on Tuesday.
Blair stressed that rebuilding the country would take time.
"Sure, there are still problems -- these countries are completely failed states in a position of total and absolute degradation," he said.
"You don't turn them around in two to three years. They don't become First World countries en route to joining the European Union."
Three Guilty in Afghan Terror Recruiting
Wed May 26,12:30 AM ET
PARIS - Two Frenchmen and an Algerian were convicted Tuesday of organizing networks that sent militants to Afghan camps for training in terrorism. The three men were sentenced to between two and 10 years in prison.
One of the Frenchmen is the brother of Jerome Courtailler, who was acquitted in 2002 in a trial in the Netherlands of plotting an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
During the trial, prosecutors alleged that David Courtailler, 28, had met with Jamal Zougam — a Moroccan who is a prime suspect in March 11 railway bombings in Madrid that killed 191 people.
Courtailler was sentenced to two years plus a two-year suspended sentence and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Courtailler, who lives in the French Alps, was not detained during the trial.
The other Frenchman, Ahmed Laidouni, 35, was handed a seven-year sentence. The Algerian, Mohamed Baadache, 34, received a maximum 10 years.
Prosecutor Christophe Teissier charged that the men helped organize the networks so militants could later return to Europe with terrorist aims.
Courtailler went to Afghanistan in 1997, training for six months at a camp in Khost, south of Kabul, prosecutors said. Between November 1998 and January 1999, he met Zougam in Spain and went to Morocco to learn Arabic.
Baadache oversaw the structure set up to take in foreign volunteers arriving in Peshawar, Pakistan, across the Afghan border, according to the prosecution.
US invites Mideast and Afghan leaders to G8 summit
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States has invited the leaders of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, and Yemen to the Group of Eight summit next month as President George W. Bush pushes his Greater Middle East democracy initiative, the White House said. But Saudi Arabia and Egypt, key US allies in the Middle East, were notable absentees from the list of countries that will attend the meeting.
Bush has sought to make the spread of democracy one of the key topics at the meeting of the leaders of the industrialized powers in Sea Island, Georgia on June 7-10. A White House statement said the Middle East leaders and Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai would attend the summit on June 9.
Bush "looks forward to a discussion of how the G8 can support political, economic, and social freedom in the greater Middle East," said the statement. "The president hopes that these leaders will discuss their efforts to pursue democracy and reform in their countries. "The president anticipates that the G8 will respond to calls for reform from the region with offers of concrete support that will help reformers implement their plans."
Egypt's foreign minister, Abdel Maher, said earlier Monday that his country's president, Hosni Mubarak, had declined an invitation to attend the summit. He said Tunisia had also refused a US invitation. According to Arab sources, Saudi Arabia had also been invited to Sea Island.
The White House also said that Karzai will hold talks with Bush in Washington on June 15. "Presidents Bush and Karzai will discuss a wide range of issues, including our common effort to fight terrorism and bring peace, security, and prosperity to the Afghan people," said a separate White House statement. "They will talk about ways to strengthen our bilateral partnership, the upcoming Afghan elections, US and international efforts to spur economic growth by 'Investing in the Afghan People', and efforts to curb the growing narcotics menace in Afghanistan."
Increase in militant infiltration on Afghan-Pakistan border: official
KABUL, May 25 (AFP) - A senior Afghan security official said Tuesday The number of insurgents entering Afghanistan from Pakistan had increased, possibly because of an intensified campaign by Pakistani forces to destroy their sanctuaries.
'Recently the cross-border graphics show that there has been increased infiltration along the border,' security advisor to President Hamid Karzai, Dr. Zalmay Rassoul told a press conference in Kabul.
'We are watching the activities in the border area and we are studying causes very closely.' Rassoul, who heads Afghanistan's delegation at a tripartite commission with Pakistan and US military officials, said the crossings could have been prompted by Pakistan's efforts to root out insurgents in the porous border area.
'Maybe the military activities in South Waziristan prompted more militants to cross the border into Afghanistan,' he said, referring to the 12-day offensive in late March by Pakistan's army in the remote tribal district.
Hundreds of Al-Qaeda-linked fighters have taken refuge among Sympathetic Pashtun tribes in South Waziristan and intelligence agencies believe Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri may have taken refuge there.
The Pakistani army said it smashed a major Al-Qaeda sanctuary in the March operation, when it pounded a cluster of hamlets in the South Waziristan district of Azam Warsak, some 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) From the Afghan border.
Rassoul did not say how many militants had crossed the border since the beginning of the Pakistani operation. The Pakistani campaign coincided with a buildup of US troops and surveillance along the border as part of Operation Mountain Storm.
The tripartite commission, established in late 2003, is made up of delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States-led coalition force hunting remnants of the Taliban in Afghanistan since its ouster in December 2001.
The commission holds talks every month aimed at improving security Along the rugged 2,500-kilometer (1,550-mile) frontier. Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked fighters are believed to use the border region as a supply site for attacks against troops, aid workers and officials in Afghanistan.
Rassoul charged that the Taliban-led insurgents receive support from certain groups in Afghanistan's neighboring countries but declined to name them. 'The security threats by terrorists that Afghanistan faces have roots outside the country,' he said. 'If they (Taliban) had no logistic support behind the border today terrorism would have been demolished in Afghanistan.'
Meeting of Pakistani, U.S. commanders postponed
Tuesday May 25 - A meeting between Pakistani and U.S. military commanders set for Tuesday in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area to discuss incursions by U.S. troops into Pakistan was postponed until Thursday for unspecified reasons, a Pakistani Defense Ministry spokesman said Tuesday.
Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sulatan told Kyodo News the meeting had been planned in Lowara Mandi in North Waziristan, some 320 kilometers northwest of Islamabad. Plans now are for brigadier-level officers to meet Thursday, he said.
Lowara Mandi is one site where U.S. troops are reported to have entered Pakistan from neighboring Afghanistan on May 5 and 20. The Pakistani government has said the incursions were accidental and the United States has apologized. But a spokesman for U.S.-led forces in Kabul had said no incursions have occurred since May 2, the last time a "mistake" was made.
"We have researched these allegations thoroughly and can report without a shadow of doubt that coalition forces are conducting operations on the Afghan side of the border," the spokesman said. The tribal area is believed to be a hiding place for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters who use the area as a staging point for attacks inside Afghanistan.
Afghan team sent to prevent outbreak of fighting
KABUL, May 25 (Reuters) - Afghanistan's Defence Ministry has dispatched a team to prevent an outbreak of fighting between police and a factional commander reluctant to surrender arms under a national disarmament plan, a spokesman said on Tuesday.
Tension has been building in the past week in the central province of Ghor between supporters of Abdul Salaam, a powerful local commander, and Aman Khan, provincial police chief appointed by the central government, ministry spokesman Zahir Azimy said.
He said several hundred fighters loyal to Salaam had taken up positions around Chaghcharan, the provincial capital, in response to his brief detention by Khan's men.
"The delegation is trying to find ways to avert a possible eruption of fighting," Azimy said. Khan and Salaam have a long record of rivalry dating back to Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s.
The tension in Ghor comes at a time when the central government is seeking to disarm factional fighters, including those loyal to Salaam. The plan is seen as vital to stabilising the country as it prepares for landmark elections in September.
According to Azimy, Salaam is not willing to surrender his weapons or decommission his fighters unless President Hamid Karzai's government gives him a role in the local administration. Salaam was not immediatedly available for comment.
Karzai has vowed to disarm 40 percent of armed fighters loyal To provincial leaders and commanders by the end of June. The official Total number of men is 100,000, but U.S. officials say the real figure is nearer 40,000.
Ghor lies next to the western province of Herat and the Northern province of Faryab, both scenes of clashes between pro-government commanders in recent months. In the Herat fighting, a cabinet minister was killed.
AP: Terrorists Planning Summer Attack
By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - U.S. officials have obtained new intelligence deemed highly credible indicating al-Qaida or other terrorists are in the United States and preparing to launch a major attack this summer, The Associated Press has learned. The intelligence does not include a time, place or method of attack but is among the most disturbing received by the government since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to a senior federal counterterrorism official who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Tuesday.
Of most concern, the official said, is that terrorists may possess and use a chemical, biological or radiological weapon that could cause much more damage and casualties than a conventional bomb. "There is clearly a steady drumbeat of information that they are going to attack and hit us hard," said the official, who described the intelligence as highly credible. The official declined to provide any specifics about the sources of the information but said there was an unusually high level of corroboration.
Tribesmen demand halt to Allied operations in eastern Afghanistan
Kyodo (Japan) Tuesday May 25, 5:43 PM
A 50-member delegation of influential Tani tribesmen in Khost in eastern Afghanistan met Tuesday with the governor and demanded an end to Allied troop operations in the province, Afghan Islamic Press reported.
The Pakistan-based news agency quoted Ghazi Nawaz Tani, leader of the delegation, as saying after the meeting Tuesday that the governor has assured the delegation that Afghan troops and local dignitaries would be taken into confidence by the allied troops before any operations in the province.
Shah Mahmud Qureshi, a spokesman for the Khost governor also confirmed the assurance and said negotiations were continuing with allied troops over the issue and the tribal delegation would meet the governor again Thursday for another round of talks.
The delegation had threatened to boycott the Afghan elections if troops do not stop house-to-house searches and bombing in the province.
AIP said people in Khost are fed up with frequent searches.
Report: al-Qaida Ranks Swelling Worldwide
By BARRY RENFREW, Associated Press Writer
LONDON - Far from being crippled by the U.S.-led war on terror, al-Qaida has more than 18,000 potential terrorists scattered around the world and the war in Iraq is swelling its ranks, a report said Tuesday. Al-Qaida is probably working on plans for major attacks on the United States and Europe, and it may be seeking weapons of mass destruction in its desire to inflict as many casualties as possible, the International Institute of Strategic Studies said in its annual survey of world affairs.
Osama bin Laden 's network appears to be operating in more than 60 nations, often in concert with local allies, the study by the independent think tank said. Although about half of al-Qaida's top 30 leaders have been killed or captured, it has an effective leadership, with bin Laden apparently still playing a key role, it said.
"Al-Qaida must be expected to keep trying to develop more promising plans for terrorist operations in North America and Europe, potentially involving weapons of mass destruction," IISS director Dr. John Chipman told a press conference releasing "Strategic Survey 2003/4."
At the same time it will likely continue attacking "soft targets encompassing Americans, Europeans and Israelis, and aiding the insurgency in Iraq," he added. The report suggested that the two military centerpieces of the U.S.-led war on terror — the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — may have boosted al-Qaida.
Driving the terror network out of Afghanistan in late 2001 appears to have benefited the group, which dispersed to many countries, making it almost invisible and hard to combat, the story said. And the Iraq conflict "has arguably focused the energies and resources of al-Qaida and its followers while diluting those of the global counterterrorism coalition that appeared so formidable" after the Afghan intervention, the survey said.
The U.S. occupation of Iraq brought al-Qaida recruits from across Islamic nations, the study said. Up to 1,000 foreign Islamic fighters have infiltrated Iraqi territory, where they are cooperating with Iraqi insurgents, the survey said. Efforts to defeat al-Qaida will take time and might accelerate only if there are political developments that now seem elusive, such as the democratization of Iraq and the resolution of conflict in Israel, it said.
It could take up to 500,000 U.S. and allied troops to effectively police Iraq and restore political stability, IISS researcher Christopher Langton told the news conference. Such a figure appeared impossible to meet, given political disquiet in the United States and Britain and the unwillingness of other nations to send troops, he said.
The United States is al-Qaida's prime target in a war it sees as a death struggle between civilizations, the report said. An al-Qaida leader has said 4 million Americans will have to be killed "as a prerequisite to any Islamic victory," the survey said. "Al-Qaida's complaints have been transformed into religious absolutes and cannot be satisfied through political compromise," the study said.
The London-based institute is considered the most important security think tank outside the United States. Its findings on al-Qaida's expanding structure and growing support by allied terrorist networks around the world track with similar assessments from governments and other experts.
The IISS said its estimate of 18,000 al-Qaida fighters was based on intelligence estimates that the group trained at least 20,000 fighters in its camps in Afghanistan before the United States and its allies ousted the Taliban regime. In the ensuing war on terror, some 2,000 al-Qaida fighters have been killed or captured, the survey said. Al-Qaida appears to have successfully reconstituted its operations by dispersing its forces into small groups and through working with local allies, such as the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front in Turkey, the report said. "Al-Qaida is the common ideological and logistical hub for disparate local affiliates, and bin Laden's charisma, presumed survival and elusiveness enhance the organization's iconic drawing power," it said.
AFGHANISTAN: New press law welcomed
KABUL, 25 May (IRIN) - Journalists and independent writers have welcomed the endorsement of a new Afghan press law earlier this month, believing that it has reduced curbs on press freedom. They argue, however, that additional steps are still needed.
"The new press law guarantees freedom of expression and is unprecedented not only in Afghanistan, but also at the regional level," Abdul Hamid Mobarez, deputy minister of information and culture, told IRIN in the Afghan capital Kabul.
Mobarez added that there were no limitations in the new law, except one article which stated that dishonouring Islam or any other religion was unacceptable.
Up to now the Afghan press law of 1943 has been in force, but it has been widely criticised by local and international groups for its many limitations on the press, and being quite unable to meet the present needs of the country. Mobarez explained that today the country required a comprehensive and progressive press law that could ensure and promote democracy and freedom of speech for all Afghans. He added that, compared to the old press law, the new law did exactly that.
"In my opinion the press law is a good and comprehensive one," Dr Kabir Ranjbar, chairman of the lawyers' association of Afghanistan, told IRIN, noting that international conventions on human rights had also been taken into account.
Ranjbar said that there had been one difference, namely it had been recommended that the dictates of Islam must be enshrined in all mass media, including radio, TV, films and drama.
He argued that no law, including this one, was totally adaptable to the conditions prevailing in the country due to the dominance of warlords, even in the capital, adding it was necessary to accelerate the disarmament process and put an end to warlordism forever.
Some journalists, however, are critical of the new law. "Why is the press evaluation commission run by the government? We want the evaluation commission's members to be from the independent press because [only] the independent press can implement freedom of expression in the country," Shukria Dawi Barekzai, editor-in-chief of the Aina Zan weekly in Kabul, told IRIN.
Meanwhile, spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Manoel de Almeida e Silva hailed the new law, telling IRIN: "The new Afghan press law is a positive development with progressive elements and an improvement over the previous law."
He noted that the new law had some very important features. For example, it prohibited censorship and guaranteed the right of people to seek information, something that did not exist before.
Gen. Franks gets honorary knighthood for work in Afghanistan and Iraq
Tuesday May 25, 2004
LONDON (AP) Retired U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who oversaw military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, received an honorary knighthood Tuesday in recognition of his ``inspirational leadership.''
Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon made Franks a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in a private ceremony attended by Franks' wife, Cathy.
Because he is American, Franks, 58, cannot call himself ``sir'' a distinction reserved for British citizens but can use the initials ``KBE'' after his name.
``Gen. Franks has been a sterling friend to the United Kingdom during a period of extraordinary turbulence in world affairs,'' the defense ministry said in a statement. ``This award is to recognize his exceptional and inspirational leadership of British forces during operations both in Afghanistan and Iraq.''
Other American recipients of the honorary knighthood have included former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former President Ronald Reagan, the late actor Bob Hope, director Steven Spielberg, Secretary of State Colin Powell and pianist Andre Previn.
Two Afghan Girls Bid for History at Athens Olympics
Tue May 25,10:14 AM ET By Angie Ramos
KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - At opposite ends of the Afghan capital, two teen-aged girls prepare for the biggest day of their lives, one that will put them in the history books.
Robina Muqimyar, a shy, rosy-cheeked 17-year-old, says she will feel the weight of a nation's hopes on her when she takes to the sprint track at the Athens Olympic Games in August.
The 100-meter runner is training day in, day out at Kabul's Olympic Stadium, used less than three years ago by the hard-line Islamic Taliban regime to carry out amputations, lashings and executions, including those of women.
A few miles away, Fraiba Rezzay, also 17, wrestles her opponent to the ground. The chubby athlete with short, black hair is representing her country at judo.
Win or lose, the two will make history in Athens as the first women to represent their country at the Olympics.
That is a remarkable turnaround for a country where as recently as 2001 girls were denied education and women were forced to wear the heavy burqa veil.
"Whenever I come out here for practice, the only thing that I think about is my country, that I should be able to achieve something for my country," Muqimyar told Reuters at the city's main stadium, during a break in training.
Rezzay is also aware of the expectations of Afghanistan's 29 million people.
"I'm doing everything to be prepared for the Olympics so I can achieve something for my country," she said, speaking at the country's only studio for female judo players.
Behind her, Afghan boys and girls as young as 5 are busy doing their exercises, though their oversized white suits mean they spend as long tripping up as kicking.
DARK PERIOD FOR SPORTS
The Taliban's rule from 1996 to 2001 was a dark period for Afghan athletes, especially girls and women.
"There was nothing for us girls during the Taliban," said Muqimyar, who is the fourth of eight children.
"We couldn't go to school, we couldn't play, we couldn't do anything. We were just at home all the time."
Rezzay was more lucky.
She and her family fled to neighboring Pakistan where she was exposed to outside influences like martial arts.
When they came home after the Taliban were toppled by Afghan opposition forces backed by U.S. air power in 2001, Rezzay knew exactly what she wanted to do.
"I think sport is for everyone, not only men but also for women. As long as you have the skills, you can do it," she said. Like Muqimyar, she has had the full support of her family since deciding on a sport traditionally dominated by men.
The fear left by the harsh Taliban rule, compounded by society's conservative views about women, initially limited the number of female participants in sport.
But as more and more girls like Rezzay and Muqimyar turned up at covered gymnasiums, organizers knew they had another, more welcome problem on their hands; inadequate facilities and infrastructure to cope with the demand.
"The demand for sports for girls is enormous, and we don't have enough coaches for them and mainly we don't have enough gymnasiums, because they cannot train in the open air," said Stig Traavik, senior adviser to the Afghan National Olympic Committee.
While most girls their age go home after school, Muqimyar and Rezzay have to train for at least three hours every day.
Despite the rigorous schedule, the two still find time to enjoy listening to their favorite Bollywood singers -- from Indian films -- who enjoy a huge following in Afghanistan.
During training, Muqimyar's brightly colored mobile phone rings constantly, to the annoyance of her Afghan coach.
And when she is not on the track, she is at her mother's beauty salon helping her older sister to do bridal make-up.
Rezzay blushes when asked to name her favorite actor.
"Jackie Chan," she replies sheepishly. "He's great and I learned a lot of my moves from him."
Muqimyar and Rezzay knew they had to get serious as May 21 neared, the date of their departure for Greece. Nutritionists will ensure they get a balanced diet on their trip instead of the greasy, rich local dishes of kebabs, rice and dumplings.
They will face athletes who have been training for years, whereas Muqimyar only started three months ago and Rezzay less than a year ago.
For the first five to six weeks of their trip, the two, along with a male wrestler, runner and boxer, will train on the Greek island of Lesbos. The next five to six weeks will be spent in Thessalonika for further training.
Organizers say they hope for the best.
"They want to demonstrate to the world that Afghanistan is in a new situation: there is peace, there is progress and there is hope, especially for the girls," said Traavik.
With a fastest 100-meter time of 15 seconds, Muqimyar will struggle to compete with the world's best. But winning is not the most important thing.
"They (girls) should come forward and join any sport they like, and, who knows, someday they may succeed," she said.
For luck, Muqimyar is taking a worn pair of cheap Chinese running shoes. Rezzay has packed her lucky black shawl.
Spain Will Not Send More Troops to Afghanistan
RIA Novosti 05/25/2004
The number of Spanish soldiers in Afghanistan will not be increased, Spanish Defence Minister Jose Bono announced, cited by RIA Novosti. The Spanish contingent, which consists of 125 soldiers, was decreased twice last year because of the war in Iraq. Spanish and foreign analysts expected that Spain would increase the number of its soldiers in Afghanistan after it had withdrawn its contingent from Iraq. NATO has approved the involvement of other country's troops in Afghanistan.
Two detained in Afghan rocket attack that left one Norwegian peacekeeper dead
The Associated Press
Oslo - Authorities are holding two men and looking for two others in connection with a rocket attack in Afghanistan that killed a Norwegian peacekeeper and wounded another.
A man claiming to speak for the Taliban tells The Associated Press in Kabul that nine of its fighters carried out yesterday's attack.
Norway's military says the unarmored vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade as it traveled at the head of a convoy on a main road in Kabul.
It's the first time a Norwegian soldier has been killed in combat in Afghanistan. Norway's defense minister says its contingent of more than 200 soldiers will stay in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan expands disarmament of militia throughout the country
Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur 25 May 2004
Kabul (dpa) - Supported by the Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP), the Afghan government expanded the main phase of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration programme throughout Afghanistan on Tuesday.
In a ceremony to initiate the main disarmament phase, the Afghan government and the United Nations-backed ANBP transferred the first of up to 60 missiles belonging to the 99 Rocket Brigade to a cantonment site in Pol-i-Charki, just east of Kabul.
The main phase, which aims to disarm and reintegrate the majority of the Afghan Military Forces by the September elections, will spread to the remaining units and provinces as commanders hand over the lists of soldiers under their command,'' said Denise Duclaux, spokeswoman for the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programme.
Under both the pilot and the current main phase of DDR, more than 6,630 officers and soldiers have been disarmed and demobilized and more than 5,600 of the personnel have taken up one of the reintegration options, according to Duclaux.
The programme is expected to gather momentum as key commanders, including Governor Ismail Khan, the powerful governor of Herat, General Mohammed Atta from a commander in northern province of Mazar-e-Sharif and General Mohammed Daud from Kunduz, have now expressed their support for the programme, she added.
The number of heavy and light weapons collected so far in the entire DDR pilot programme is 4,830, Duclaux said.
Most of the 100,000 militiamen across war-torn Afghanistan have been heavily armed since the 1979 invasion by the Soviet Union.
According to Peter Babbington, the acting ANBP programme director, "the government set two very ambitious targets. The first is 40 percent of the Afghan Military Forces (AMF) will go through the DDR process by July 5th. The second target is that 100 per cent of heavy weapons will be collected before the elections.''
Regional militiamen have recently been involved in fighting in the western province of Herat and Faryab in the north, leading U.S-backed President Hamid Karzai to deploy troops to restore order. dpa km mga
Food distributions boost student enrolment for girls
Source: World Vision 26 May 2004
Students in the northwestern city of Qala-e-Naw were the first recipients of food distributed last week as part of the Global Food for Education Program in Afghanistan. The program is funded by the USDA, and is implemented in Afghanistan by World Vision. As the program begins it has already had a major impact, by drawing more female students.
"The sharp increase in girls enrolment is directly related to the food we are distributing. If we weren't distributing food, girls enrolment would not be as high," said Sara Lim, World Vision Program Officer for Education. "For example, in some of the districts, we've doubled the gross enrolment rate for girls."
It's an incredible increase in the number of female students, considering the ban on education for girls was lifted only two years ago after the fall of the Taliban.
Students from two schools benefited on the first day of distributions. The first day's distributions had girls receiving food packages at the Newswan school in Qala-e-Naw, with boys receiving their packages at the Hanzala school located a few blocks away.
"The students were so happy with the provision of the food," said Cosmas Elotu, World Vision's Commodities Manager in Afghanistan, "and there was total cooperation with the school administrators."
The food rations the students receive include wheat, rice, lentils and cooking oil. This amount of food will feed each student for one month, with distributions taking place every month for the duration of the school year.
In addition to providing food to students to encourage school attendance, the school enhancement program includes the construction of 10 new schools. All totaled, the program will benefit 37,000 students, plus 1,200 teachers, in 115 schools in the provinces of Ghor and Badghis.
World Vision has previously built four other schools in Afghanistan, and refurbished eight more in the provinces of Herat and Kabul. Although more schools are being built, thousands more are needed as the Afghan education system still struggles to recover from the destruction of war from the past two decades.
49,000 Afghan Refugees Back Home Over Past Three Months
MASHHAD (IRNA) -- Some 49,726 Afghan refugees have returned to their home country via Dogharoon border crossing in the northeastern province of Khorassan over the past three months, said an official report here Tuesday.
The report issued by foreign nationals and migrants center of Khorasan governorate general, of the total number, 2,406 refugees returned home through official channels and the remaining left Iran under their own steam.
Some 4,537 of the aforesaid refugees, added the report, had been living in Khorasan province, bordering Afghanistan, during the years of their stay in Iran.
Explaining the official channels through which the refugees turned back to their mother land, the report referred to the a tripartite plan on repatriation of the Afghan refugees which has been in effect since 2002.
The plan was inked by the Islamic Republic of Iran, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Afghan central government, the report added.
It further said that the latest figures on the repatriation of the Afghan refugees showed that over 700,000 Afghan refugees have successfully returned to their homeland since the beginning of the plan.
The report also noted that two decades of devastating war forced over two millions of Afghan people to flee their country and take shelter in Iran.
Today, it added, the Afghan refugees are gradually returning to their homeland either within the framework of the tripartite plan or upon their own will.
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