U.S. to Send New Soldiers to Afghanistan
Thursday September 16, 12:38 PM AP
The U.S. military is planning to send hundreds of new troops to Afghanistan to increase security before the Oct. 9 election, officials said Wednesday.
Guerrillas have stepped up attacks in the final weeks before the election, defying the presence of some 18,000 coalition troops and the Afghan National Army.
Two military officials, who discussed the potential deployment only on the condition of anonymity, said the new troops have not been selected. One of the officials, who is at U.S. Central Command, said the new deployment would probably be battalion-strength, numbering several hundred troops.
The remnants of the Taliban have vowed to disrupt the presidential election. Twelve election workers are among more than 900 people killed in Afghan political violence this year.
The second military official said several hundred troops already in Afghanistan had been sent to the region around the western city of Herat to bolster the Afghan National Army forces there. Those were deployed to limit violence after the local warlord was fired from his governor's post by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Earlier this week, the United Nations and various aid groups withdrew their personnel from Herat after weekend violence by mobs reacting to the ouster of Ismail Khan.
U.N. officials said three Afghan civilians were killed and dozens wounded in that fighting, many by bullets apparently fired by Afghan forces trying to control the crowds.
Two U.N. workers, three American troops and three Afghan soldiers were also reported injured by the crowds, which the U.S. military said threw grenades as well as stones.
The Afghan government announced Saturday that Khan was being replaced. The move was seen as an effort by the Kabul government to increase its authority into a wealthy region recently wracked by factional fighting.
Khan had ruled Herat province since helping U.S. forces oust the Taliban in 2001. He has been in conflict with Karzai's government over customs duties levied at the Iranian border, and clashed with the United Nations over accusations he shielded his militia from a national disarmament program.
His downfall came after his troops took a beating in fighting last month against the forces of rival warlords. One of his rivals could face criminal charges for his part in the violence, while another has been relieved as governor of a neighboring province.
The violence in Herat has died down in the last few days, one military official at the Pentagon said, crediting Khan's appearance on local television Sunday evening to appeal for order in the city.
Associated Press Writer Robert Burns contributed to this story.
Afghans arrest three for rocket attack on Karzai
By Yousuf Azimy Friday September 17, 12:16 PM
KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Three men have been arrested for trying to kill Afghan President Hamid Karzai by firing a rocket at his helicopter during his first election campaign trip outside the capital, officials said on Friday.
The men, aged between 20 and 23, were captured just after the unsuccessful rocket attack in the southeastern town of Gardez on Thursday, after they tried to flee by motorcycle, said Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal.
They were chased to a house in the centre of Gardez, where police found detonators and explosives, he said, adding that the men had fired the rocket from the village of Rabat on the outskirts of town.
"They admitted during questioning that they carried out the attack," Mashal said.
Taliban guerrillas, who have vowed to disrupt Afghanistan's first ever direct presidential polls on Oct. 9, have claimed responsibility, but the government has said it was too early to say who was to blame.
"You can call them enemies of Afghanistan," said Haji Assadullah Wafa, the governor of Paktia province, of which Gardez is the capital. He identified the men as Saeed Amin, Ahmad Shah and Mohammad.
The incident was the most serious known threat to the U.S.-backed Karzai since he escaped an assassination attempt in the southern city of Kandahar on Sept. 5, 2002.
It came as his rivals in the presidential election called for a delay of at least a month, saying security worries made campaigning difficult.
Witnesses said the rocket flew over Karzai's helicopter, and a crowd of about 400 supporters gathered to meet him at a school, as he was about to touch down, but caused no injuries.
The president's campaign trip, his first outside Kabul, was immediately aborted.
Karzai complained later that his U.S. security detail had not let him stay in Gardez.
After the Kandahar attack, his security was dramatically tightened and he has since rarely been seen in Afghanistan outside his heavily fortified presidential palace, where he is protected by U.S. bodyguards.
Karzai is favourite to win the polls, which analysts say U.S. President George W. Bush is keen to see held on time in the hope of a foreign policy success story ahead of his own re-election bid in November, but security is a major worry.
Afghan president escapes assassination bid
By Ahmad Masood Friday September 17, 1:14 AM
GARDEZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has escaped an assassination bid when a rocket was fired at his U.S. military helicopter as it was landing in the southeastern town of Gardez.
Just hours later on Thursday, Karzai said he was confident of winning next month's election and said foreign troops would stay in the country until it could take care for itself.
The most serious challenge yet to an October 9 presidential election, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility, came as Karzai's rivals called for the vote to be delayed by at least a month, saying security worries made campaigning difficult.
"A rocket was fired at President Karzai as his helicopter was landing," U.S. military spokesman Major Mark McCann said. "It missed and landed about 300 metres (yards) from a school in the vicinity of the landing area."
The rocket flew over Karzai's helicopter as a crowd of about 400 supporters gathered to meet him at a school when he was about to touch down, but caused no injuries, witnesses said.
The president's campaign trip, his first outside Kabul, was immediately aborted and he was flown back to the capital, the U.S. military and Afghan officials said.
"The security is really over precautious," Karzai said, adding he had wanted to land at Gardez to address the crowd.
The incident was the most serious known threat to Karzai since he escaped a Sept 5, 2002, assassination attempt in the southern city of Kandahar.
After that attack Karzai's security was dramatically tightened and he has since rarely been seen in Afghanistan outside his heavily fortified presidential palace, where he is protected by U.S. bodyguards.
FOREIGN TROOPS TO REMAIN
Karzai complained at a news briefing that his U.S. security detail had not let him stay in Gardez. He said foreign troops would remain in Afghanistan for some time to come.
"We will have this force till Afghanistan is firmly on its own feet with regard to its security forces, with regard to its police, with regard to its national army, with regard to its economy, with regard to its government...
"Only then can we ask the international security forces to leave -- not till we are fully capable of defending ourselves against everybody else that may be trying to hurt us."
Karzai became president after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban, who were protecting Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, architects of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Taliban guerrillas, who have vowed to disrupt what will be Afghanistan's first direct presidential poll, claimed responsibility for the attack, but the government said it was too early to say who was to blame.
Taliban military commander Mullah Abdur Rauf told Reuters the guerrillas learned of Karzai's trip on Wednesday and planned the attack. "Because of shortage
Taliban threaten Afghan presidential candidates, pledge more attacks
Thu Sep 16,11:47 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A Taliban spokesman said all 18 candidates in Afghanistan's presidential elections were "top targets" for attack, and claimed responsibility after a rocket landed near a school President Hamid Karzai was about to visit.
"All presidential candidates are our top targets now because they are running for the polls of a US-made election -- an election which will create a government in the interest of the Americans," Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
"We claim the responsibility for the rocket attack today in Paktia aimed at President Karzai but he was lucky, the rocket missed him."
Karzai had to abort a visit to the southeastern province of Paktia after a rocket landed two kilometres from a school where he was due to speak, forcing him to turn back to Kabul.
The incident highlighted how security concerns will hamper President Karzai's ability to campaign in next month's elections.
"It was a remote-controlled rocket. Because of time limitations we could not fire more rockets, but this will continue in the future," Hakimi added.
Karzai's spokesman earlier said an investigation was underway to find out if Karzai was the target of the attack.
Hakimi said the Taliban had called on the "Afghan nation to boycott the election and not vote because this is not going to be the type of government Afghan's want."
Taliban loyalists have vowed to disrupt the election and also claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on a US security firm which provides President Karzai's guards in Kabul late last month.
At least three US citizens and six others were killed in the bomb blast and there have been a string of attacks on government officials, aid workers and UN and electoral staff by militants bent on disrupting the polls.
Afghan refugees to vote en masse in landmark presidential election
Friday September 17, 7:08 PM AP
Dawa Jan's fierce blue eyes burn as he complains about the lack of jobs and security in Afghanistan, the land he fled 25 years ago. The 50-year-old tribesman's pent-up frustration is as common as the dust that cakes this sprawling mud-brick warren of refugee homes in northwestern Pakistan.
Come Oct. 9, those opinions may finally count for something when more than 1 million refugees in Pakistan and Iran will have the chance to vote in Afghanistan's first direct presidential elections.
"In my province, there's still no security, gangs are looting the people," said Jan, a father of eight children _ all of them born in Pakistan, where he struggles to get by on 80 rupees (US$1.30) a day as a laborer. "I will vote for whomever can bring peace so we can return to Afghanistan."
Refugee voters represent a significant chunk of the electorate _ alongside 10.6 million voters registered inside Afghanistan _ and could boost U.S.-backed front-runner Hamid Karzai's drive to retain the office he's held as an interim leader since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.
Registration and polling stations will be scattered around refugee settlements, including the vast Jalozai encampment just outside the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. It houses 200,000 Afghans, many of whom have lived here since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Others escaped from drought and civil war in the 1990s, harsh Taliban rule and the U.S.-led war that ousted the hardline Islamic militia from power.
Aware that many of the 3 million Afghan refugees who have gone home during the past two and half years have struggled to find good land, water and work, few at Jalozai now appear willing to follow them. Afghanistan is still roiled by a Taliban-led insurgency and dominated by powerful local warlords with private armies.
Yet Karzai is still expected to corner much of the refugee vote here due to his international prominence and his ethnic Pashtun background, which is shared by many of the refugees in Pakistan. Most of the refugees from Iran are from the smaller Tajik and Hazara ethnic groups.
The other 17 candidates _ with the exceptions of Karzai's chief rival, Yunus Qanooni, and former Islamist Vice President Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai _ are little known. And there's little time for serious canvassing.
The green light for out-of-country voting only came in late July after protracted negotiations involving Afghanistan, the United Nations and the two host countries _ amid reports that when voter registration was initially going slowly inside Afghanistan itself, Karzai's rivals were concerned it could give him an advantage at the ballot box.
"We are a bit confused about the candidates," said Saifur Rahman, 52, a Jalozai resident. "Nobody knows what their plans are for our country."
But he's adamant that he'll vote. "I'm an Afghan and this is my right. I will use that right."
The International Organization for Migration is rushing to set up more than 3,000 polling and registration stations in Iran and Pakistan, hire nearly 20,000 mostly Afghan staff and conduct election crash courses for the legions of first-time voters, many of them illiterate _ at a budgeted cost of US$21 million, paid for out of a U.N. trust fund for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
The agency says the polls will have shortcomings, but will be the "best possible within the time frame."
Stuart Poucher, regional director for IOM's election operations in northwestern Pakistan, who has worked on post-conflict elections in Kosovo, Bosnia and East Timor, said that usually they'd need six months to organize a vote.
"We have to do it in a third of that time," he said.
In Iran, the IOM expects to cater to up to 600,000 voters, who will just have to show their refugee identification on polling day. In Pakistan, where there is no official refugee roster and numbers of eligible voters are unknown, there will be a swift three-day registration for an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people a week before the vote in camps and the cities of Peshawar and Quetta. After voting, the ballots will be transported to the Afghan capital, Kabul, for counting.
There'll be no voting in the volatile tribal areas of North and South Waziristan, where Pakistani forces are fighting al-Qaida-linked militants, nor in the major cities of Lahore and Karachi, home to large Afghan immigrant populations _ although any Afghan is free to travel to a registration site in another place to take part.
Organizers acknowledge the short period for registration and voter education could discourage women's participation. In Afghanistan, where more than 40 percent of the electoral list is female, it took months to coax conservative Muslim communities to allow women to register in large numbers.
Nadia Ghafoory, headmaster of Bibizanab girl's high school in Peshawar, expected only about half of Afghan women to vote in the city. At outlying camps, many expect the number will be less.
"Some husbands don't want their wives to come out to vote," said Ghafoory, a Kabul native, whose pupils were recently schooled about the election in the hope that they'd encourage their mothers and female relatives to cast a ballot.
A few copies of a forbidding letter written in the form of an Islamic decree circulated in Jalozai camp last week telling people to boycott the vote. Written anonymously, it condemns the election as submitting to the aggression of Britain and America in Afghanistan and says voting is a sin against jihad, or holy war.
A Pakistani official said the font used in the Pashto-language letter indicated that it originated in Afghanistan, where at least 30 election workers and registered voters have died in attacks blamed on Taliban-led rebels.
"We are taking the threats seriously because we don't know who's doing it," said Said Amin, 33, a senior Afghan election worker at Jalozai.
AFGHANISTAN: Interview with UK international development minister
Gareth Thomas MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the UK Department for International Development
LONDON, 16 Sep 2004 (IRIN) - As Afghanistan moves towards holding its first ever democratic elections in early October, the international community is cautiously expecting to see the results of the millions of dollars that have been spent in the country, which is still reeling from the consequences of more than 20 years of conflict. In an interview with IRIN, Gareth Thomas, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Development (DFID), said Afghanistan had made major advances, while many challenges, including security, had yet to be fully addressed.
DFID is one of the leading donors in Afghanistan's reconstruction, with projects addressing sustainable livelihoods, law and order, and the campaign against poppy cultivation.
QUESTION: How do you see the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan?
ANSWER: I would describe Afghanistan simply as a country with considerable poverty. It is a country that is emerging from conflict with real security challenges but with huge progress having been made.
Q: What is DFID doing in Afghanistan?
A: Our priority is to help and continue to build the institutions of the Afghan state and at the same time help to create economic opportunities for the people of Afghanistan, and to provide access to basic services that people need which were devastated during 20 years of conflict. We work very closely with a range of other donors who are committed to the same objectives.
We have put in money in the National Solidarity Programme (NSP), which is a fantastic programme, bringing tangible benefits to every part of Afghanistan. The great thing about the NSP is that the community has to come together to decide priorities, and I think that is bringing development to all parts of the country.
Q: Do you think Afghanistan has achieved any major development?
A: I think development is taking place. A real difference is being made. The European Commission has funded over 70 hospitals and health clinics across the country to be rebuilt. The number of children going to school has increased dramatically and over 40 percent of those going to school are girls, while girls' education during the Taliban was in secret.
Measles and polio have almost been eradicated in Afghanistan, which is a successful development. We are beginning to see progress in building the Afghan army and building the Afghan police force. The position of women in Afghanistan has improved dramatically.
I have always been optimistic about Afghanistan but I suppose the thing that makes me most optimistic about Afghanistan is the number of people that have been registered to vote in the presidential elections.
Q: What is DFID's long-term commitment to Afghanistan?
A: DFID's commitment has been 500 million pounds [about US $900 million] over five years from 2002 to 2007. We are working, for example, on what we can do to provide an alternative livelihood for those who work in the poppy trade, particularly in Badakhshan and eastern Hazarajat; looking at issues around the debts that many farmers have, which is the reason why they cultivate poppy; looking at how we can stimulate the many traditional industries Afghanistan has.
The money that we are putting into the central administration is also helping to fund health care, schools, the Afghan army and helping the Afghan elections process. Our money is making a real difference in all series of ways.
Q: What is the top Afghan priority for the UK?
A: One of the top priorities for the UK is our work on counter-narcotics and tackling the opium trade; and that is because probably 90 percent of the heroin that ends up on Britain's streets comes from Afghanistan. We also recognise how devastating the drugs trade is for the local well-being in the long-term of Afghanistan unless we tackle it. We are working not just in terms of alternative livelihood but we are working to develop the Afghan army, the Afghan police force and the national security council, which target those who are engaged in the drugs trade.
Q: Just recently the international NGO Medicines Sans Frontieres [MSF] pulled out of Afghanistan due to increasing attacks on aid workers. Don't you think the current insecurity is making the aid delivery more difficult?
A: It is not good that MSF finally had to pull out from Afghanistan totally because of the security situation. It is a tragedy, what we are seeing. Those who reject the Afghan government and don't want to see democracy are targeting what they view as soft targets [aid workers]. It is not great that some of the NGOs scale back their activities.
But at the same time one has to recognise more development is taking place. The fact that so many people have registered to take part in the elections is a sign of progress. Let's be honest that the security challenges have been there for the last 25 years in Afghanistan. It is not going to go away overnight. It is for the international community and the Afghan government to continue to work.
Q: How do you channel DFID's funding in Afghanistan?
A: Well, our approach is to put our money through the government. Because one of the ways to strengthen government institutions is by giving them the resources so they can employ the people on the ground. So we always put a significant proportion of our funding to Afghanistan through the government's own finances.
The issue of accountability is always challenging in post-conflict countries. I would never say it is 100 percent better but we do have confidence in the way the money is being spent.
Q: The Afghans say most of the donor funds have been spent on administrative costs and have had little visible impact on Afghanistan development. How do you see this issue?
A: I think you would not have seen the level of development that we have seen in Afghanistan [now]. Schools are functioning and a huge number of children are back to school, including girls. The economy of Afghanistan is growing 20 to 30 percent a year. That would not happen if the money for the development of Afghanistan was simply being recycled in terms of people's salaries and administrative costs.
One of those direct ways to stop that happening is spending money through the National Solidarity Programme where communities are being given grants by the Afghan government to decide for themselves what their top priority is.
Q: What are the challenges in Afghan rehabilitation?
A: I suppose there are three big challenges. The biggest is security. Obviously the Taliban and al-Qaeda continue to operate. Continuing the process in putting in place the institutions that can tackle the drugs trade is another challenge. And I think the third challenge is to continue the process of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration.
Q: How do you see the donors' interest of Afghanistan in a longer sustainable period?
A: I am cautiously optimistic about the international community being determined to continue to support Afghanistan. I note from what the [UK] prime minister said, that probably he is absolutely determined that Britain will continue to support Afghanistan. And, similarly, Americans have made very strong comments to provide future financial support for the country.
Q: What is DFID's support for the Afghan elections? Do you think it will be a free and fair process?
A: We are putting a close eye on the elections. We are putting some money in the elections monitoring. So there will be international observers in Afghanistan to take a view on the elections process.
I don't think the elections are going to be perfect but I think it's a massive step forwards for Afghanistan. That is why voter registration teams are targeted by terrorists.
Karzai rivals call for Afghan election postponement
KABUL, Sept. 16 (Xinhuanet) -- While Afghans are 22 days away fromthe first-ever presidential elections, Karzai's opponents on Thursday accused the serving president of misusing power and called for its postponement.
"Misusing government resources by Karzai and persistent security problems in certain parts of the country undermines the elections transparency so we demand the authorities to delay it for at least 30 days," Mohammad Ismael Qasimyar, the spokesman of opposition candidates told journalists here.
Karzai's opponents in the very beginning of election campaign late last month asked Karzai to resign ahead of the upcoming October 9 presidential poll while the incumbent president dismissed the demand as unconstitutional, saying he would stay in office until the new head of state is elected.
Karzai's 17 challengers who gathered under the umbrella of "Shurai Hamkari Candidaha" or Council for Cooperation of Candidates(CCC) have failed to introduce a joint candidate in the race against Karzai.
The CCC since late August has several times warned to boycott the elections if Karzai does not step down ahead of the elections,but the confident US-backed leader downplayed the demand.
"Introducing a joint candidate to contest Karzai in the race isalso under our consideration," Qasimyar added.
A confident Karzai who escaped a rocket attack in his maiden election campaign this morning in the militancy-plagued southeast Afghanistan asked the Afghans to use their franchise in the coming elections for the betterment of the war-shattered nation.
"We are still pressing for our demand, if the incumbent president rejects it we would boycott the election at last," the spokesman warned.
Presidential candidates threaten to boycott Afghan elections
KABUL - Ten presidential candidates on Thursday threatened to boycott Afghanistan's first democratic election if President Hamid Karzai does not stop "misusing" his power.
Ismail Qasemyar, a vice presidential candidate, told reporters that the continuation of Karzai's policy has led the Afghan people and presidential candidates to lose their trust towards a free and fair elections.
The candidates also accused Karzai of removing people from their posts, in places where voters are not "willing" to support him, to pave the way for his campaign and impose his influence. As an example they cited the removal of the former powerful governor of western province of Herat, who was fired by Karzai last Saturday.
"In the long run, after consulting with our people, we will have no other choice, but to boycott the elections," the candidates said.
The candidates also demanded that they should be given more time to campaign so they can access different provinces across the country.
In the past month, several presidential candidates have threatened to boycott the elections unless Karzai resigns.
Originally, the presidential election had been scheduled for June, but President Karzai delayed it to September and then postponed it to October 9.
There are 17 candidates, including Masouda Jalal, the first and only female, running against US-backed President Karzai.
Afghans need food aid amid poor harvest
Rome, Italy, Sep. 16 (UPI) -- More than 6 million Afghans will need food aid in 2005 due to a widespread crop failure, the Food and Agriculture Organization warned Thursday.
The Rome-based agency said severe draught has lead to more than half of the crops in the west, southwest, and south of Afghanistan to fail. The northern areas, meanwhile, have been hard hit by pest and unseasonable rains, the FAO said.
The agency said it will work with the World Food Program, also based in Rome, to address the anticipated food shortage.
Crop harvest reached record levels in 2003, but this year, cereal production is expected to be 43 percent lower than a year ago, the FAO said. The agency estimated 1.7 million tons of cereal will have to be imported next year, which accounts for nearly 34 percent of total consumption in the country.
The Afghan government has already asked for emergency assistance as a result of the poor harvest, and the country is asking for $71.3 million in total aid, of which $51.8 million will be for food.
AFGHANISTAN: Observers question election's credibility
A National Democratic Institute(NDI) election centre in Kabul
KABUL, 17 Sep 2004 (IRIN) - A local think-tank has questioned the legitimacy of Afghanistan's October elections. The Kabul-based AREU (Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit) has outlined key challenges and recommendations to boost the credibility and perceived legitimacy of the presidential and parliamentary elections.
"Fix the flaws to increase electoral legitimacy," warns an AREU briefing paper that was released on Monday, entitled "Free, Fair of Flawed: Challenges for Legitimate Elections in Afghanistan".
"The paper raises a number of challenges for legitimate elections ranging from questions of security, security of ballots, security of voters, security of polling stations, and also raised the question of possible use of militia forces to provide security at polling stations," Thomas Muller, a communications and advocacy manager for AREU, told IRIN on Monday.
According to the AREU, one way to prevent fraud and voter intimidation, as well as to increase the likelihood of legitimate elections, is to flood polling sites with international and domestic observers.
"But the October presidential elections in Afghanistan are likely to be observed by less than 150 international observers," Muller said.
The paper claims that, out of the US $200 million that has been spent on registration and holding presidential elections, less than $500,000 is going towards domestic monitoring.
"There is still time for the international community to come forward and provide support and funding for domestic monitoring," he said.
So far, there is just one significant Afghan observation effort - the newly formed Free and Fair Elections Foundation for Afghanistan (FEFA) - backed by the American-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), and funded by the US government's development agency USAID.
A FEFA member who did not want to be named told IRIN that they were training 1,500 Afghan observers, a number that would only be sufficient to observe just 12 percent of polling stations.
"They will only be in towns and cities, not in the rural areas where most people live," the FEFA member said.
Meanwhile, AREU expresses concern that in many areas it is likely that polling staff from local villages will be guarded by local police all under the watchful of the local warlords. "This is a recipe for electoral fraud," said Muller.
Muller also expressed concern about the recruitment and training of more than 100,000 Afghans who will run polling stations throughout the country, which has barely begun. "Nearly half of these need to be literate, half need to be women, and all need to be appropriately trained," he noted.
The United Nations in Kabul admitted that due to security concerns there were fewer observers from international electoral observation organisations. "Security is among the major concerns of these organisations," Manoel de Almeida e Silva, a spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), told IRIN.
The UN spokesman said he did not know the specific number of international observers during the elections. However, he said that more international observers would be identified between now and the 9 October polling date.
"We have recently sent a letter to all embassies [based in Kabul] and requested them to look among the personnel that they have who would be available and willing to support this electoral process," he said. "In addition to that [domestic and international observers] the candidates and political parties can have their [own] observers."
The UNAMA official said that 125,000 Afghans would be recruited to run the one-day elections process. The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) has sent 35 international and 80 national provincial trainers to train the elections workers in the provinces, he added.
"The people who will be actually working in the 25,000 poling station will be trained."
But Muller said things could have been better if there had been an organised international response to securing and monitoring the elections. "It is too late to start asking for embassies to volunteer staff."
Bush Rebukes Afghans, Others for Drug Production Reuters
By Adam Entous
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush, who touts Afghanistan as a success in the war on terrorism, on Thursday included the country on his list of major drug-producing nations and said its U.S.-backed president, Hamid Karzai, lacked the capacity to solve the problem.
Bush also announced that Thailand was being removed from the annual list of major drug-transit and drug-producing countries, citing a drop in Thai opium poppy cultivation and heroin processing. Bush said Haiti's new interim government was making progress, but sharply criticized North Korea and Myanmar.
The vast majority of illicit drugs entering the United States comes from South America and Mexico, but Bush cited "continuing concerns" about the flow of drugs from Canada.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan quoted Bush as saying that he was "concerned" legislation in Canada to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana "could be an invitation to greater activity by organized crime and can undermine law enforcement and prosecutorial efforts."
Karzai became Afghanistan's president after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban, who were protecting Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, architects of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Bush, campaigning for reelection, touts democratic changes in Afghanistan as a sign of progress in the war on terrorism. At a rally in St. Cloud, Minnesota on Thursday, Bush said Afghans are "now free" with presidential elections scheduled for next month. "It's unbelievable," Bush said.
But in its report on major narcotics producers, the White House said: "Despite good faith efforts on the part of the central Afghanistan government, the president reported his concerns about the increased opium crop production and the government's lack of capacity to prevail in the provinces."
Officials with the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Afghanistan have warned that militants were financing their guerrilla war by drug running. Afghan opium, which spawns the lion's share of the West's heroin, accounts for about one third of the country's economy, Afghanistan's Central Bank governor said on Wednesday.
BUSH'S LIST OF MAJOR DRUG OFFENDERS
Bush named the following as major drug-transit or producing nations: Afghanistan, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela, and Vietnam.
While Haiti remained on the list, the White House, in a shift, said the island's U.S.-backed interim government "has taken substantive -- if limited -- counter-narcotics actions in the few months it has been in office."
The White House accused Myanmar of failing "demonstrably" over the last year to adhere to its international counter-narcotics obligations.
The White House warned that "pervasive corruption" in Nigeria was undermining efforts to combat the drug trade. Bush said Nigeria must take "significant and decisive action" to investigate and prosecute political corruption, and to increase transparency if it is to combat corruption effectively, according to McClellan.
While North Korea was not among the countries found to be major drug producers or transit points, it was harshly criticized by Bush, who said he was increasingly convinced that state agents and companies were involved in the drug trade. Bush expressed "deep concerns about heroin and methamphetamine linked to North Korea being trafficked to East Asian countries."
Bush has branded North Korea as part of "axis of evil" for developing nuclear weapons and exporting missile systems. (Additional reporting by Caren Bohan)
No reservation by US over conviction of Americans in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON - The United States expressed no reservation over the conviction and sentencing of three Americans for illegally running a private jail and torturing suspects in Afghanistan.
US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Afghan government held their trial in accordance with Afghan law.
"Their decision was handed down by an Afghan court after a full trial had been conducted," he said.
The three Americans were sentenced to between eight and 10 years in prison. Jonathan "Jack" Idema, 48, and Brent Bennett, 28, received 10-year terms.
Co-defendant Edward Caraballo, 42, who claimed to be a freelance journalist making a documentary on their activities, was handed an eight-year sentence by a special tribunal in Kabul which has been hearing the case since mid-August.
The trio were arrested in July for allegedly running a private prison and counter-terrorism operation in west Kabul and jailing and torturing at least eight Afghans as part of a "private war on terror".
Their four Afghan accomplices were sentenced to between one and five years in prison.
When pressed whether the judicial process was acceptable to the United States and whether it was fair and transparent, Boucher said: "As I said, it was conducted in accordance with Afghan law; that's the rules that apply on that situation."
Herat in the shadow of Khan
BBC 09/16/2004 By Andrew North
After violent clashes in the Afghan city of Herat, its new governor will be in no doubt about the mammoth task ahead of him, as he seeks to restore order just weeks before the presidential elections. It was several hours before the plane left Kabul. With reports of spreading violence in Herat, many thought it would never take off. And when the governor arrived, it was a convoy almost fit for a US president that took him into the city, guarded by heavily armed soldiers from the new Afghan national army.
But this was ultimately an American-run operation. The hundreds of Afghan troops now in the city had all arrived in US aircraft. The governor was driven straight to a ceremony at Ismael Khan's offices, which was supposed to mark his official takeover.
The choice of venue was symbolic, the ornate hall in which Khan - the self-styled Amir of Herat - used to literally hold court.
I was in this same hall just three months ago, watching the white-bearded former mujahideen leader receive petitions from hundreds of poor local residents. Women were enveloped in blue burkhas as they made their pleas.
It was a weekly event, and an almost medieval scene, except that for much of the time Ismael Khan had a mobile phone clamped to his ear, while listening to the requests with the other.
Although these aspects of his rule attracted plenty of criticism, Khan also won praise for his reconstruction efforts - Herat is in much better shape than many other Afghan cities and a lot more secure - or was.
This time though, the only sign of Ismael Khan was his picture on the wall.
But as Mohammed Khairkhwa began speaking, a crackle of gunfire echoed through the hall from the streets nearby. Then again.
The governor was trying to ignore it, while the soldiers felt for the safety catches on their weapons.
As soon as the ceremony was over, the governor was swept away in a screech of tyres, not to be seen again for the rest of the day.
Just one week before this, he was Afghanistan's ambassador to the Ukraine. I wondered if he was missing it.
We found a taxi and headed off to find out what was going on.
The worst of the clashes were over, but small knots of youths were still taunting the hundreds of Afghan and US soldiers out on the streets, throwing stones then running for cover. After negotiating several checkpoints, we made it to the main area of United Nations compounds attacked by Ismael Khan's supporters earlier in the day. The damage was far worse than anyone expected. The front of the main UN mission building was still smouldering. Next door, the UN refugee agency had been ransacked, office equipment strewn and smashed all over the grounds.
Nearby, another compound was in an even worse state, every room gutted by fire, every vehicle a charred shell. Yet buildings right next door were completely unscathed, not even a rock over the wall, one occupant told me.
There was no doubt, it had all been deliberately targeted. Many people in the city were pointing to Ismael Khan's longstanding antipathy to the UN.
One question that occurred immediately was that with all the planning that went into this move, why did no one consider the possibility of the UN becoming a target? Apparently none of the compounds had extra guards that day. And why, many people are asking, did President Karzai and his US backers make this move now, with just three weeks to go before the elections which the UN is organising?
But as the authorities sought to restore order, who was it that Karzai and the American ambassador in Kabul called on to appeal for calm - not their newly appointed governor, but the man they had just sacked - Ismael Khan.
By the next day, the city had quietened down. But it was still far from clear who was in charge - with the ousted governor still in his home, guarded by his own militia soldiers, still hanging on to their weapons.
And that is another question no one has answered. Are these troops going to be disarmed, and by who?
Governor Khairkhwa did not seem to have the answer when I found him in another defining Ismael Khan location, a hilltop guesthouse overlooking the city, where he used to entertain VIPs. Again, I had been there myself a few months ago - not as an important visitor I should add - rather watching Ismael Khan greet the director of a key United Nations agency. Heaps of water melon and other fruit were on the tables. How things change.
But now, not only is this guesthouse a temporary base for the new governor, it is also serving as a US command post. A large military satellite dish was outside and American soldiers were sleeping nearby.
Inside, troops were hunched over laptops and radios and Ismael Khan's soft-pile carpets were getting a punishing from a constant to-and-fro of boots.
And that may be another problem for the new man in Herat, as he tries to assert his authority, demonstrating he is his own man and not someone installed and protected by American power.
The struggle for control of one of Afghanistan's most important cities is not over yet.
From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 16 September, 2004 at 1100 BST on BBC Radio 4.
Afghan passenger jet slides off runway in Kabul
An Afghan passenger jet slid off the runway at Kabul airport on 16 September 2004, causing slight injuries to some of the 27 passengers onboard.
The Kam Air flight experienced engine trouble on its approach to the airport. It landed crookedly and swerved off the runway, according to a spokesperson for the NATO-led international peacekeeping force in Kabul.
Kabul airport has been partially renovated since NATO forces overthrew the Taliban regime and is now a hub for passenger, cargo and military flights, reports Reuters.
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