Fierce Fighting Kills 21 in Afghanistan
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Fierce fighting between Taliban rebels and Afghan security forces left 18 insurgents and three others dead, a day after the U.S. military pounded suspected rebels in airstrikes that killed as many as 20, officials said Monday.
Three U.S. troops were slightly wounded when a bomb exploded near their armored Humvee in Paktia province on Sunday, said U.S. military spokesman Col. James Yonts.
A Taliban spokesman, meanwhile, claimed his fighters had assassinated a kidnapped Afghan police chief and five of his men for collaborating with the U.S.-led coalition.
Eleven rebels were killed in an hour-long firefight before dawn Monday after attacking a government office in the Washer district of Helmand province, said Haji Mohammed Wali, a spokesman for the governor. The district government chief and an Afghan soldier also died.
Seven rebels were killed late Sunday and early Monday after they attacked a police checkpoint on a stretch of the Kabul-Kandahar highway that runs through southern Zabul province, said Zabul's deputy police chief, Bari Gul. A policeman manning the post was also killed.
Three months of bloodshed across the south and east has left hundreds dead and sparked fears that the Afghan war is widening, rather than winding down. U.S. and Afghan officials warn things could get worse ahead of landmark parliamentary elections scheduled for September.
About 280 suspected rebels and 29 U.S. troops have been killed since March, according to Afghan and U.S. officials. More than three dozen Afghan police and soldiers also have died, as have more than 100 civilians.
Yonts warned that foreign militants backed up by networks channeling them money and arms had come into Afghanistan to try to subvert legislative elections in September. He said that for "operational security reasons" he could not identify the networks or who was backing them.
Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak told The Associated Press last week that intelligence indicated al-Qaida had slipped at least have a dozen foreign agents into the country, two of whom had already detonated themselves in suicide attacks
On Sunday U.S. aircraft opened fire on a group of suspected Taliban along a narrow footpath in the high mountains northwest of Gereshk, in southern Helmand province, after rebels had pinned down a coalition ground patrol with rocket and small-arms fire.
"Initial battle-damage assessments indicate 15 to 20 enemies died and an enemy vehicle was destroyed," the U.S. Army said in a statement Sunday. No Americans were injured.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara added a warning to the insurgents.
"When these criminals engage coalition forces, they do so at considerable risk," he said. "We are not going to let up on them. There is not going to be a safe haven in Afghanistan."
O'Hara told The Associated Press that additional U.S. and Afghan forces had been sent to the scene and the numbers of rebel dead could rise.
Elsewhere in Helmand on Sunday, gunmen shot to death three men — a judge, an intelligence worker and an employee of the provincial education department, said Wali, the governor's spokesman.
He said it was not clear whether the Taliban or some other armed group was behind the Saturday night attack.
And in Kandahar, rebels fired three rockets into the city center early Sunday, jolting residents but causing no casualties.
Purported Taliban spokesman Mullah Latif Hakimi claimed responsibility for the ambush of a police convoy in southern Afghanistan earlier this week and said insurgents had killed a district police chief and five of his men after taking them captive.
Hakimi said five other officers captured in the Thursday ambush were alive. He said the men would face trial.
Hakimi often calls news organizations to claim responsibility for attacks on behalf of the Taliban. His information has sometimes proven untrue or exaggerated and his exact tie to the group's leadership is unclear.
Three officials killed in southern Afghanistan ambush: security chief
Sun Jun 19, 8:09 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Suspected Taliban militants ambushed and killed a judge and two other officials in the latest violence to hit Afghanistan's south, an official said.
The judge, an intelligence official, and an employee in Helmand province's education department were killed as they returned home from a dinner in the Nad Ali district to Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand.
"As they were coming from a dinner party they were ambushed and killed on their way back to Lashkar Gah," provincial security chief Amanullah told AFP on Sunday.
"It was the the work of the enemies of Afghanistan -- Taliban and their terrorist allies," he added.
Taliban militants claimed Sunday to have executed a district police chief, who was among 13 hostages seized in a daring raid on a district government headquarters in southern Afghanistan, the rebel spokesman said.
"Nanay Agha, the district police chief of Mian Nisheen, was tried and executed by our court," for cooperating with US troops, Abdul Latif Hakimi, spokesman for the ousted Taliban regime, told AFP by satellite phone from an unknown location.
Agha was among 13 people including the chief of southern Kandahar Mian Nisheen district who were taken hostage after militants stormed their district headquarters on Wednesday.
Hakimi said the rest of the prisoners would be tried in a separate court. He did not give any deadline for their trial.
"Maybe the rest of the prisoners will be released because they're not as guilty as Nanay," he said.
Mian Nisheen, about 85 kilometers (53 miles) northwest of Kandahar, the former powerbase of the ousted militia, was the scene of a series of daring raids on a district government headquarters beginning on Wednesday.
The district was occupied by the rebels after a second attack on Saturday and held overnight.
It was not known Sunday who controlled the area as government officials were not available for comment.
Taliban guerrillas also fired at least three rockets, one of them near a US military outpost, into Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar early Sunday but no one was hurt, an official said.
One landed near the former home of the Taliban's fugitive leader Mullah Omar, said General Salim Khan, deputy police commander of Kandahar.
The home is currently used by US special forces.
The two other rockets exploded around the city but caused no damage, Khan said.
He blamed the attack on remnants of the fundamentalist Muslim militia which ruled the country until it was ousted by US-led attacks in late 2001.
Also in Kandahar one suspected militant and one Afghan soldier were killed, while a US soldier and an Afghan interpreter were wounded, in a gunfight in Shah Wali Kot district on Friday, the US military said.
The guerrillas have stepped up attacks on US and government targets over recent months.
Despite the presence of an 18,000-strong US-led force who still remain in Afghanistan after toppling the hardliners in late 2001 the remnants of the Taliban continue to attack foreign and local troops.
Almost 400 people have been killed since the beginning of the year in Taliban-related and other political violence.
Mark Kirk says Afghan heroin hitting suburbs
By Michael Tackett Chicago Tribune's Washington Bureau chief
June 19, 2005
Mark Kirk draws a straight line from the poppy fields of rural Afghanistan to the leafy suburbs of Chicago.
Kirk, the Republican congressman from the North Shore, contends that Afghanistan's plentiful poppies are seeding a growing and damaging heroin trade that is affecting suburban teenagers.
And because nothing else has prompted a curb in Afghan heroin production, he believes that showing its impact on politically influential suburbs might.
The heroin coming from Afghanistan is so pure that it can be snorted like cocaine and doesn't require injecting like the heroin of old, making it a more acceptable suburban drug of choice.
"The heroin that we all knew from the 1960s was 30 percent pure," Kirk said. "To generate a high, it had to be injected. That created an almost insurmountable barrier for drug dealers to sell to suburban kids who had a huge aversion to needles."
The new heroin is almost 100 percent pure in part because supply has increased substantially. And snorting heroin has become more common.
Kirk is also among members of his party who lay at least part of the blame at the feet of the Bush administration for its prosecution of the war in Afghanistan and, so far, its inability to stem poppy growth and heroin trafficking.
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has pledged to do more to eradicate the bountiful poppy crops, but those words have met the reality of record production instead.
To the poor farmers in Afghanistan, poppy growing is a matter of basic economics, and so far they have not been believers that either the U.S. or the Afghan government will provide for them if they abandon their best-yielding crop.
Kirk, who has traveled to Afghanistan and throughout Central Asia, said that the problem has escalated to the point that the president might have trouble with his own party when it comes to additional funding for the war that does not go directly to troops.
"As recently as last year, only 8 percent of heroin from Afghanistan reached the United States," Kirk said. "Last year's crop was the largest in human history, all of it coming out of one country and flooding this country."
He said law-enforcement officials in Lake, DuPage, Will, McHenry, Kane and suburban Cook Counties all have reported an increase in heroin use, and heroin-related emergency room hospitalizations have soared as well, some 13,000 cases in the last year.
The Afghans also have noted that demand from users has as much to do with the problem as does their local production.
And dealers thrive when the supply is up, the price is down and the market for users is expanded.
"If a hit of heroin costs $100, a significant number of teens will not try it," said Kirk, who serves on a foreign operations and export financing subcommittee. "If it costs $5, you have the potential of deep penetration into the high schools."
Karzai has tried to convince his people that the Koran opposes intoxicants and therefore that poppy growing violates Muslim religious tenets.
"Karzai has done a good job of getting that message out," Kirk said. Karzai also has implored farmers to switch to crops like wheat and barley.
But the farmers can do the math and don't like the prospects of losing so much money.
This leaves the Bush administration with harder choices of whether to conduct its own eradication efforts that might include spraying of crops.
That would put the administration squarely at odds with Karzai, who has rejected aerial spraying.
"Right now there is great discomfort in the House of Representatives," Kirk said. "It is not over the lack of progress on spraying. We understand the political dynamic in Afghanistan, and at the moment we are following the express wishes of the president."
But that patience is waning, he said. Republicans on his subcommittee want to pressure the administration to implement "an effective eradication" plan "or the committee will take radical action on its own."
The committee "could either dedicate a huge portion of assistance to this mission or withhold funds," Kirk said.
"The administration does not have a clear plan on this right now," Kirk said. "The administration has produced at least three different plans, and right now we have a very unclear idea of how they intend to move forward."
And if the perceived menace of heroin trade as the engine for terrorist financing doesn't stir action, Kirk said, then maybe the fact that heroin is reaching the suburbs will.
Heroin has always been seen "as an inner-city problem," he said. "But it is now moving out to the suburbs." And maybe that, he said, finally will prompt action in Washington.
Highway police chief gunned down; four hurt
By Sadiq Behnam & Khalida Khursand
HERAT CITY, June 20 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Unidentified gunmen shot dead the Herat-Kandahar Highway police chief and killed his four subordinates in an overnight attack, officials said on Monday.
Press Officer at Herat Police Headquarters Colonel Abdur Rauf Ahmadi said assailants in two Corolla cars opened indiscriminate fire at a highway police vehicle on a patrol in the Aab Khurma locality late Sunday night.
Commander Ghulam Mohammad succumbed to his wounds minutes after the incident while four injured policemen were shifted to a Herat hospital, Colonel Ahmadi told Pajhwok Afghan News.
Mohammad Rafiq Shirzai, in charge of the emergency ward at the hospital, said the police officers having suffered serious injuries were under treatment.
Colonel Ahmadi said police, having initiated investigation, were on the lookout for the attackers, who fled the scene after firing at the jeep on patrol.
No one has responsibility for the attack so far, Ahmadi said, suspecting Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants hiding in Zirkoh neighbourhood of Shindand district might have been involved.
Pakistani tribesmen vow to oust US from region
June 18, 2005
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Thousands of Pakistani tribesmen have vowed to fight US forces as they marked the first death anniversary of a slain militant leader in a tribal region near Afghanistan.
Witnesses said up to 3,000 people, some brandishing assault rifles and some masked, turned up in the remote district of Azam Warsak, in South Waziristan tribal region, to offer prayers at the grave of militant leader Nek Mohammad.
Mohammad, a former Taliban commander, was killed in June last year after leading a bloody resistance to the Pakistan army's largest-ever offensive to drive-out Al-Qaeda linked militants in South Waziristan. Pakistan's military said it killed the militant.
"We will complete the mission of our commander Nek Mohammad and we will continue our jihad (holy war) against the US forces in the region," militant leader Maulvi Abdul Aziz told the gathering amid shouts of "Allah-o-Akbar" (God is greatest) on Saturday.
Pakistan's tribal region bordering Afghanistan has long been suspected of providing refuge to hundreds of Al-Qaeda-linked and Taliban militants who fled there after the ouster of the extremist Muslim Taliban regime by US-led forces in 2001.
Afghan and US government officials have said that Taliban militants hiding in the Pakistani tribal regions were conducting hit-and-run attacks on the US-led coalition and Afghan forces inside Afghanistan.
Since last year Pakistan, a key ally in what the US calls a war on terrorism, has conducted several major operations in its tribal regions. It says it has destroyed hideouts and training camps of militants linked to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network which claimed responsibility for attacks on the United States that killed about 3,000 people on September 11, 2001.
A US-led 18,000-strong coalition force is battling militants in Afghanistan's south and eastern provinces which border the Pakistani tribal belt, three years after the Taliban's ouster by a US-led military campaign. Taliban have stepped up attacks on US and government targets over recent months after a winter lull in fighting.
Nearly 400 people, mostly militants, have been killed since the beginning of the year in Taliban-related and other political violence, most of them in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
Afghan drug traders seize two Tajik hostages: source
DUSHANBE, June 18 (AFP) - Afghan drug traffickers seized two Tajik nationals hostage for debts and dragged them off to Afghanistan's north, a Tajik military source told AFP late Friday.
"Armed Afghans captured two Tajiks, brothers from the mountain village in Shuroabad region that is on the Afghan border. The hostages' elder brother took a large drug load from Afghans, but could not pay back his debt in time," the source said.
In January, four Tajik nationals, including two border guards, were similarly taken hostage after they failed to pay back their drug debts.
Tajikistan serves as one of the main transit routes for drugs grown in its southern neighbor Afghanistan and destined for the Russian and European markets.
Fire breaks out at Kabul tyre market
KABUL, June 18 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A huge fire broke out at a carpenter's shop and spread to the main tyre market in this capital city Saturday noon. Firefighters had to struggle for hours before they extinguished the blaze, which caused no casualties but sent clouds of thick black smoke into the sky.
As losses could not be ascertained immediately, officials feared the blaze might have inflicted damage on the bustling tyre market in Shahrahrah.
The fire that erupted at about 1.00 pm was put out just before 4.00pm, said Press Officer at Interior Ministry Dad Mohammad Rasa. He added the carpenter was being searched by police to ascertain what caused the flames.
Laden on Afghanistan-Pakistan border: Musharraf
June 19, 2005 06:01:00 PM Press Trust of India
Islamabad, June 19 (PTI) Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is probably somewhere in the area of Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has said.
Asked whether he believed suggestions that bin Laden was somewhere on his country's border, Musharraf, on a state visit to New Zealand, said: "Probably, yes." "Most likely that is the case, that he is somewhere around the border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan," he told TV3's Campbell Live programme on Friday night.
Speaking to a gathering of Pakistani expatriates in Auckland yesterday, Musharraf said Islamabad was committed to eliminating extremism and terrorism from the country.
Pakistan, he said, has to address both extremism and terrorism as "we require a peaceful and congenial environment for continuing our march on the path of high economic growth and to reduce poverty." An effective check will be ensured on misuse of mosque loudspeakers and publication and propagation of hate material, he was quoted as saying by the official APP news agency.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark expressed admiration for Pakistan's fight against terror, saying, "al-Qaeda could not have been tackled without Pakistan's active cooperation. Pakistan has achieved impressive success in the fight against the menace of terror." Clark also said the country will respond positively to Musharraf's desire for rapid modernisation and developmnt of his country's agriculture sector.
"New Zealand has skills which can help Pakistan in education and agriculture technology, and we want to be part of Pakistan's success story," APP quoted her as saying. PTI
South and Central Asia: Afghan, Tajik leaders see new bridge as crucial link
Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have laid the foundation stone of a U.S.-funded bridge that will cross their countries' river border. But the bridge over the Pyandzh River is more than just a link between the two countries. It is part of an ambitious regional transportation plan to link the former Soviet republics of Central Asia to an Iranian port in the Persian Gulf and Pakistan's port city of Karachi.
Prague, 19 June 2005 (RFE/RL) - Both presidents had lofty proclamations when they laid the foundation stone on 18 June for a U.S.-funded bridge across their border on the Pyandzh River.
Like his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov said the structure would be more than just a bridge. It was, he said, a first step in building a major regional network of transportation and infrastructure links.
"In the future we will lay electricity, gas and water lines through this bridge. We also hope that next to this bridge will be built another bridge designed for the Dushanbe-Kurghonteppa-Kunduz railway," Rakhmonov said. "With the construction of this bridge and the repair of transport roads in northern Afghanistan, our country will benefit from the shortest possible access to the warm waters of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. That will not only have a big impact on Tajikistan's economy and communications, it will also have a big political and geostrategic importance for our country."
The U.S.-funded bridge, measuring 670 meters in length, is expected to cost $29 million. It will be built by an Italian contractor under American supervision. Construction is expected to get seriously under way when the river's water level lowers in the autumn. It is expected to take two years to complete.
Like his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov said the structure would be more than just a bridge. It was, he said, a first step in building a major regional network of transportation and infrastructure links.
At yesterday's ceremony, Karzai said the bridge will benefit the whole region in terms of trade and transport. That point was echoed by Zalmay Khalilzad, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.
"When this bridge is completed, when other infrastructure projects are completed in Afghanistan that will assist in restoring Afghanistan's historic role as a bridge between Central Asia and South Asia, trade and economic interaction as well as people to people contact between these two important regions will be enhanced," Khalilzad said.
In recent weeks, Karzai has made it clear that Afghanistan hopes to become a regional trade hub through transit routes that link ports in Pakistan and Iran with Central Asia. In a visit to Washington in late May, Karzai said roads are a key part of those plans.
"Afghanistan wants to be the hub of trade and transit in that part of the world. Afghanistan's highways and roads will [shorten] journeys by weeks for that part of the world," Karzai said. "The journey from Tashkent [Uzbekistan] to [Pakistan's] port of Karachi will be less than 32 hours -- for cargo, for transportation of goods. The same will be to [the Iranian port city of] Bandar-Abbas. And that is the future we are seeking."
Meanwhile, Rakhmonov also pledged yesterday that Tajikistan would supply Afghanistan with electricity at prices lower than any other country in the region, and help rebuild Afghanistan's energy sector.
Afghanistan currently produces enough electricity for about six percent of its population. But Karzai has said his country has the potential to produce much more by using hydroelectric dams, wind power, and untapped coal resources.
Karzai on Saturday also reiterated Afghanistan's pledge to eradicate opium poppy farming. Both Karzai and Rakhmonov also vowed to improve coordination in combating extremism, terrorism, and drug smuggling.
CIA chief says he has 'excellent idea' where Osama bin Laden is
NEW YORK (AP) - The director of the CIA says he has an "excellent idea'' where Osama bin Laden is hiding, but that the United States' respect for sovereign nations makes it more difficult to capture the al-Qaida chief.
In an interview with Time for the magazine's June 27 issue, Goss was asked about the progress of the hunt for bin Laden.
"When you go to the question of dealing with sanctuaries in sovereign states, you're dealing with a problem of our sense of international obligation, fair play,'' Goss said.
"We have to find a way to work in a conventional world in unconventional ways.''
Asked whether that meant he knew where bin Laden is, Goss responded: "I have an excellent idea where he is. What's the next question?''
Goss did not say where he thinks bin Laden is, nor did he specify what country or countries he was referring to when he spoke of foreign sanctuaries.
But American officials have long said they believed bin Laden was hiding in rugged mountains along the Afghan-Pakistani border. - AP
Afghan police seize three tons of opium, chemicals in two provinces
KABUL, June 19 (AFP) - Afghan police seized nearly four tons (tonnes) of drugs and chemicals during raids in central and eastern parts of the country, the ministry said Sunday.
Over the past four days, counter-narcotics forces in eastern Nangarhar hauled in one ton of opium, 800 kilograms (1,760 pounds) of chemicals and more than 200 litres (52 gallons) of acid used to make heroin, Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Separately, nearly two tons of opium were confiscated in central Bamiyan province while being transported to the southern province of Helmand en route out of the country, it added.
"This is almost three tons of opium that will never be processed into heroin, and that will never find its way onto our streets or the streets of Europe," the statement quoted Mohammad Daud, the deputy interior minister for counter narcotics, as saying.
Afghanistan is the world's top producer of opium, used to make heroin, and is the source of 90 percent of the heroin on the streets of Europe.
President Hamid Karzai said after his inauguration in December last year that he would wage a "jihad", or holy war, on the drugs trade.
35 heroin labs destroyed in Nangarhar province
JALALABAD, June 19 (Pajhwok Afghan News): More than 30 heroin-manufacturing factories were destroyed in Jalalabad, the capital of the eastern Nangarhar province, an eyewitness said on Sunday.
Sharafuddin, a resident of the area, confided to this scribe he had seen for himself foreign and Afghan troops land in Abdulkhel neighbourhood of the Achin district, where the heroin factories are located.
As the troops landed, the witness added, they ringed Alikhel and embarked on a demolition operation, which got under way at 8.00 am and concluded at 4.00 pm.
Achin district's administrative chief Haji Ajab, confirming the operation, told Pajhwok Afghan News: "As far as I know, the troops flew in from Kabul and destroyed up to 35 heroin factories in Alikhel."
Huge drug seizures and demolition of heroin labs notwithstanding, narcotics smuggling continues to haunt the locality, mainly because smugglers hiding in nearby mountains are hard to track down during anti-drug swoops.
Once law-enforcers end their often sterile crackdowns, drug traffickers and smugglers again come down to the area to resume their activities - with wild abandon.
Unsure of a better life, millions of Afghan refugees head back home
PUL-E-CHARKI, Afghanistan (AFP) -- After a quarter century in Pakistan, the prospects awaiting Mohammed Hussain in his home province of Baghlan in northern Afghanistan are pretty bleak. But he is returning anyway.
The 64-year-old head of a family of eight is one of 100 families from the Hari Pul refugee camp in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province who have packed their meager possessions onto brightly painted trucks and made the long trek back home.
"Life in Pakistan was getting difficult. The police would harass us and ask us for money. Jobs were hard to find. There is no water and no shelter in my home village, but it was the only option," Hussain says he squats among veiled women and screaming children.
Hussain and his family are among the poorest people at the Pul-e-Charki encashment center on the outskirts of Kabul, where refugees returning home arrive to receive a small cash benefit from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
For decades Afghans have constituted the world's single largest refugee population. At the height of the country's 25 years of war six million people lived overseas, and 2.1 million Afghans remained displaced in 2004.
Around 3.5 million refugees have returned back in the last three years -- including more than 700,000 last year -- from more than 70 countries across the globe, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Most of those were from neighboring Iran and Pakistan, and the flood of humanity is set to continue, with Iran still hosting just over one million people, mostly Afghans, and Pakistan a further 961,000, also largely from Afghanistan.
The stream of refugees at the center mirrors the different fates of those who fled the Soviet invasion in 1979, the civil war that followed or the subsequent strictures of the hardline Islamic Taliban regime. Similar fears unite them. Will they find a home? Will they find a job? How will they provide for their families?
Both in rural and urban areas there is a "lack of employment" as Afghanistan's war-torn economy struggles to its feet, Jacques Mouchet, country director of UNHCR tells AFP.
"The problem of housing in urban areas is much more acute. There is a lack of infrastructure and social housing that refugees can live in," Mouchet says.
Before returning to her homeland, Hajira Abra Raqeeb, 40, spent eight years in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, where she cleaned houses and washed clothes for wealthy people and worked as a seamstress.
"I wonder what my destiny will be here? How I will feed my five children now that I am too sick to work?" she says, wiping tears from her eyes.
Raqeeb, who sports a nose ring, fled the Taliban after they beat her for trying to work as a cleaner, despite the fact she was the family's only breadwinner because her husband was paralyzed.
The next family in the queue to claim their benefits reflect another side to the influx of returnees.
The women wear neatly pressed clothes, their manicured hands dripping with gold jewellery, but after eight years in Moscow they too are unsure about what the future holds.
"We've got no house to come back to but we hope we'll be able to find teaching jobs again," says 52-year-old Hamida Mohammed Din, who has returned with her sister Freshta and her 17-year-old daughter Miriam to join their brother, a former army officer who has been offered a job at the Afghan Ministry of Defense.
Miriam, who wears tight jeans and a long denim top and has a silver-studded handbag slung over her shoulder, has never worn a veil before.
"It's difficult for girls here but it's only the first few days, so who knows if it will be tougher or not. I'll miss the social life in Moscow," she says.
Some people are optimistic about the future. Mohammed Amin, 43, worked for the Red Cross in Peshawar, Pakistan, where he has lived for over 20 years before coming to work for another charity in Afghanistan.
"I was waiting for an improvement before I returned. Now we have a democratically elected government and we have peace and things are better than they have been for years, so we came back," he says standing in the midst of his 10-person family, the female members of which wear burqas.
Pakistan has ordered the closure by the end of June of all camps in the restive tribal regions of South and North Waziristan, where the military has battled militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
The UN refugee agency said 85 percent of the 38,000 Afghans in the camps had agreed to return to Afghanistan voluntarily, while the rest would be relocated to other camps.
"I don't have land or a house but if we don't go back and rebuild our community then no one else will," he says. "You have to begin to build the future."
Afghans, Uzbeks survey Amo River boundaries
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, June 19 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A joint Afghan-Uzbek team comprising 40 experts has launched a survey to ascertain if the Amo River has really changed its course, leaving blurred nautical boundaries between the neighbours.
Additionally, the surveyors will also determine which country islands on both sides of the river are located in. Isles have formed on either side, but there is no clarity yet which country they belong to.
The surveyors initiated the difficult exercise after residents of riverine areas griped about frequent flooding – reportedly induced by Uzbek ships navigating there. Uzbek officials repudiate the claim, however.
The mighty Central Asian river has been ravaging verdant farmlands and buildings in a string of northern Afghan villages. The 2500-kilometre-long Amo River flows through vast swathes of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan – sharing a 1,800-kilometer border.
Commander Juma Gul Gildi, a member of the survey team, told Pajhwok Afghan News: "Uzbek ships cruising toward Afghanistan make huge waves that damage areas situated close to the river on the Afghan side."
He added: "Now that the survey has formally commenced, we will soon take up all relevant issues including the islands' ownership, causes of flooding and ways of overcoming it."
In order to prevent Uzbek ships from straying into Afghan waters, he continued, the delegates would thoroughly discuss and identify nautical boundaries between the two countries.
Qurban Bhai, a 42-year-old dweller of the Shortipa, complained 50 houses were devastated in the district as the river burst its banks. He insisted the tide rose considerably and the water gushed into residential areas after Uzbek ships sailing in the river made big waves.
But Haider Haka, an Uzbek delegate, waved aside the grumble as unfounded: "Our ships never enter Afghan territory impermissibly; the waves are caused by cargo vessels ferrying goods of Afghan businessmen. We will ban them if Afghan officials formally approach us."
He went on to point out the land erosion and flooding problem existed on the other side as well, but the Uzbek authorities had built embankments and planted saplings to control water overflows.
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