Afghans say 132 Taliban dead, four commanders under siege
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Afghan and US forces have killed 132 Taliban militants and surrounded four of the ousted regime's top commanders after a three-day battle in the south of the country, officials said.
The brother-in-law of fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is one of the key figures under siege in a mountain hideout, the Afghan defence ministry said Thursday. The claim could not be independently confirmed.
"One-hundred-and-thirty-two Taliban were killed," in the operation in a restive area on the borders of Kandahar, Zabul and Uruzgan provinces, defence ministry spokesman Mohammed Nu'man Atifie told AFP.
"If you look at the number of the men they've lost we can say that their backbone is broken," Atifie added. "It has been a great, great success for the government."
Thirty-two rebels were killed when the offensive began early Tuesday and a further 100 insurgents were killed later Tuesday and in the early hours of Wednesday morning in Mian Nisheen district, the spokesman said.
Most of the militant deaths occurred when US warplanes armed with laser-guided bombs and supported by British aircraft pounded suspected Taliban safe havens, US and Afghan officials said.
Around 200 Afghan police and many more Afghan and US-led coalition troops were hunting down surviving pockets of rebels hiding out in valleys in the "black triangle" -- named after the Taliban's distinctive black turbans.
Four Taliban commanders including Mullah Brader, who is related by marriage to the one-eyed Mullah Omar and is also said to be the militia's current deputy, have been ringed by government forces north of Mian Nisheen, Atifie said.
Afghan officials described the onslaught as an attempt to curb a strong resurgence by the fundamentalist Islamic militia before important parliamentary elections in less than three months' time.
Three Afghan policemen were also killed in the operation, Kandahar province police chief Mohammed Ayoob Salangi told AFP. The US military has said that five American soldiers were wounded.
"The Afghan national police are the lead on this. We are supporting what they are doing," said US military spokeswoman Lieutenant Cindy Moore.
A US Air Force U-2 spy plane returning from a mission over Afghanistan crashed during landing late Tuesday at an air base in the United Arab Emirates, according to reports in the Arab sheikhdom and the US military.
The US military would not reveal if the mission was linked to the operation in Afghanistan.
British military spokeswoman Lieutenant Gemma Fullman said British planes equipped with air-to-surface missiles provided close air support during the operation in southern Afghanistan but did not drop any munitions.
The Taliban's usual spokesman was not immediately available to comment.
Many of the rebels targeted by the offensive are thought to have taken part in a daring raid last week on Mian Nisheen in which the rebels took 31 people hostage.
A senior official at the Afghan interior ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the offensive was launched after similar attacks by unusually large groups of militants in recent weeks sparked concern in Kabul.
Police chief Salangi said Afghan forces were searching for the district head of Mian Nisheen because they believed he had collaborated with the Taliban.
Before this week's battles officials said more than 400 people, most of them militants, had died since the start of the year in Taliban-related violence.
The Taliban have waged an insurgency since they were toppled by US-led troops three and a half years ago for refusing to hand over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
G8 ministers reconfirm commitment to help rebuild Afghanistan
Thursday June 23, 7:49 PM
(Kyodo) _ Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight reconfirmed Thursday their commitment to help rebuild Afghanistan at their one-day meeting, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said.
The ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States met with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah at the first session of their gathering.
Afghan Violence Shatters Pakistan Alliance
By PAUL HAVEN, Associated Press / Wed Jun 22, 4:29 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The bombings are more frequent. The battlefield clashes have intensified. Three months of unprecedented bloodshed have shaken confidence in Afghanistan's future, and senior officials are pointing fingers at a familiar foe: Pakistan.
Officials say three Pakistanis' alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate the U.S. ambassador here is evidence that Islamabad is not doing enough to stop terrorism, or is complicit in it.
The rift is bad news for Washington — which counts both countries as essential allies in the war on terrorism.
Afghan officials have charged for weeks that Taliban and al-Qaida agents were slipping in from Pakistan — and that they were behind two deadly suicide bombings, the kidnapping and killing of Afghan security forces, and several major confrontations with the U.S.-led coalition.
Defense Minister Rahim Wardak told The Associated Press last week that rebels were receiving support from "regional powers" rattled by Afghanistan's request for a long-term U.S. and NATO presence.
"There is no doubt that there are countries in this region that have their own designs, and have had from long ago, and they are always trying to exploit the vacuums that have been created here," Wardak said.
He didn't single out any country, but strongly hinted he was referring at least partly to Pakistan.
Officials here say Islamabad is eager to resume its traditional role as regional power broker, and feels threatened by Kabul's warm relations with Pakistan's archrival, India.
Pakistan vehemently denies any involvement in terrorism, saying it has done more than any other country in the fight against al-Qaida. About 70,000 Pakistani troops have fanned out along the border, and Islamabad boasts turning over 700 al-Qaida suspects to the United States.
In Islamabad, Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed expressed outrage at the Afghan statements.
"Let us make it clear that Pakistan as a state is not involved in any unlawful activity on the Afghan soil, and such claims and allegations from the Afghan side must stop," he said. "No Taliban leaders are hiding here."
Ahmed said his government supports Afghan President Hamid Karzai, despite domestic sentiment against the policy.
"We have paid a political price by supporting him, but this support will continue," he said.
Pakistani political analyst Talat Masood said that both countries have a history of blaming each other for their woes, and that the public war of words was a dangerous distraction.
"The more they blame each other publicly, the more their relations are strained and the cooperation gets worse, to the advantage of the militants," he said.
Washington has been forced to walk a tightrope to try not to offend either side. President Bush phoned Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday, according to White House press secretary Scott McClellan. Pakistani and Afghan officials say Musharraf and Karzai also spoke Tuesday.
U.S. military spokesman Col. James Yonts said Monday that foreign militants, backed by networks channeling them money and arms, had come into Afghanistan to try to subvert parliamentary elections slated for September.
He said that for "operational security reasons" he could not identify the networks, nor say who supported them.
Since March, hundreds of people — including at least 29 U.S. troops — have been killed in a surge of violence across the south and east. This month, suicide bombers killed 20 people in a crowded mosque and wounded four U.S. troops in a convoy.
Afghan calls for Pakistan's help in stopping the violence have grown more strident. After the assassination plot against U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was revealed, Kabul officials took the gloves off.
"Some senior members of the Taliban, including some who are involved in killings and are considered terrorists, are in Pakistan," presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin said Tuesday at a Kabul news conference.
Violence is worst near the border, Ludin said.
"Our people are dying, our schools are getting burned, our mosques are getting blown up and our clergy are getting assassinated," he said. "Some provinces of the country, especially in regions that are close to Pakistani soil, are insecure in many ways."
A senior official close to Karzai scoffed at suggestions that rogue elements of Pakistan's intelligence service, InterServices Intelligence, or ISI, might be supporting militants without Musharraf's knowledge.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the issue's sensitivity, said Pakistan had played a major role in keeping Afghanistan's October presidential election safe, sealing the border and going after terrorists. But that cooperation has ended, and Afghan officials say they now think Pakistan was less than sincere.
Ludin said he was not giving up on relations improving, but he offered only cautious optimism.
"Neither Afghanistan nor the international coalition against terrorism will achieve success if we don't get the level of cooperation from Pakistan that we have had in the past," he said. "We are hopeful and we are confident that that (cooperation) will be forthcoming ... but at the moment as far as the situation goes, we still have more work to do."
Munir Ahmad in Islamabad, Pakistan contributed to this report.
Russian foreign minister outlines Afghan threat to regional organization
Interfax, Russia 06/22/2005
Moscow - There is still a drugs and terrorist threat from the territory of Afghanistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said.
"There is both a drugs threat and, unfortunately, also one of terrorism. Our countries are affected by these threats," Lavrov told reporters in Moscow today following a meeting of Collective Security Treaty Organization [CSTO] foreign ministers.
He stressed that the threats from Afghan territory had been the main topic at the CSTO foreign ministers' meeting.
"We discussed how to cooperate more effectively to halt these threats. We will be proposing a plan of measures at Thursday's [23 June] CSTO summit, including setting up a working group to coordinate with Afghan structures," the foreign minister said.
Asked by reporters about problems expected at the meeting, he added: "We mainly focused on the threats of international terrorism and drugs crime. There is a fair amount of evidence of the involvement of a number of Islamic organizations in these threats."
No serious disputes between Islamabad, Kabul: Pak FM
Islamabad, June 22, IRNA
Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri said there were "no serious" disputes between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"But if Afghan government insists so, the differences can be esolved under tripartite dialogue," he told a private TV channel on Wednesday.
Talking to ARY about the telephonic conversation of President General Pervez Musharraf with the US and Afghan presidents on Tuesday, he said President Bush and President Karzai both appreciated the role of Pakistan in the international war on terror.
"That is why we wonder on the statements being made by the former US Ambassador to Afghanistan," he added.
"The Afghans say as to why people are crossing the border, we ask them why they do not arrest those people who cross into their country," Kasuri said.
This is the human psychology that when some problem is created one tries to find the fault with others, the Pakistani official suggested.
Foreign Minister Kasuri pointed out that he recently met President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and top US Senators.
"All of them praised the role of Pakistan," he said.
President Musharraf has sought proofs of Zalmay's allegations: Sherpao
ISLAMABAD, June 23 (Pak Tribune): Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao has said that President General Pervez Musharraf has lodged a strong protest with US and Afghan leaders regarding the statement of Zalmay Khalilzad US ambassador to Afghanistan in which he alleged that Mullah Omar and Osama are present in Pakistan.
Addressing a seminar regarding Human Trafficking organised by International Refugees Organisation and government of Canada, he said President General Pervez Musharraf has sought proofs of Zalmay Khalilzad's allegations in his conversations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and US counterpart George W Bush.
Instead of alleging, Sherpao said Zalmay Khalilzad should have tabled the matter before tripartite commission because US Pakistan and Afghanistan have an agreement of exchanging information about Osama and Mullah Omar, he maintained.
About the matter of protection of strategic assets in Balochistan, he said Pakistan will take every step to protect its strategic assets.
Regarding a query about human trafficking, interior minister said Shelter Houses will be built for affectees of human trafficking in federal as well as provincial capitals.
Speaking on the occasion State Minister for Information Anisa Zeb Tahirkheli said media could play an important role in creating public awareness about menace of human trafficking.
State Minister also said that information ministry could play an important role in highlighting the issue. She stressed upon media to air drama serials in regional languages to highlight the issue.
Secretary Interior Kamal Shah giving statistics of human trafficking said 175 million people including women and children are the victims of human smuggling all around the globe and main reason behind this menace is economic woes.
In order to stop human trafficking, he added FIA has constituted a Human Smuggling Unit, which is working quite efficiently.
Pakistan Seeks U.S. Info on Taliban Chief
By SADAQAT JAN Associated Press Writer, June 22, 2005, 10:59 AM EDT
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan on Wednesday urged the outgoing U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan to share information on the whereabouts of fugitive Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar, days after the envoy said he was "more likely" in Pakistan than in Afghanistan.
Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said Pakistani security forces and intelligence agencies were "playing a proactive role" in the hunt for terror suspects but they have no information on the location of Omar -- among the most wanted terror suspects sought by the United States.
In an interview last week with Afghanistan's independent Ayna Television, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said, "It is more likely that Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders are in Pakistan (than in Afghanistan)."
Sherpao responded: "If he (Khalilzad) has any such information, instead of leveling allegations, he should pass that on to us."
Pakistan was a key supporter of the Taliban militia but switched allegiance after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, backing the U.S.-led coalition's ouster of the hard-line militia from power in Afghanistan late 2001.
But the Afghan government said Tuesday that Pakistan is failing to stop Taliban and al-Qaida militants from infiltrating to launch attacks, and accused it of allowing Taliban leaders to shelter on its soil -- allegations Pakistan denies.
The bilateral tensions prompted a telephone discussion Tuesday between Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai. Musharraf also spoke by phone with President Bush.
Afghanistan claims the infiltration of militants has contributed to a surge in violence. Recent fighting in southern and eastern Afghanistan has left hundreds dead, threatening legislative elections due in September.
Afghan officials said that on Sunday, their intelligence agents captured three Pakistanis armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles who planned to assassinate Khalilzad at a road inauguration in Afghanistan's northeastern Laghman province.
Khalilzad called off his appearance at the event.
He left his post in Kabul this week to become the new U.S. ambassador in Iraq.
Sherpao said that Afghanistan has not officially given Pakistan any details about the three suspects. Asked if Pakistan has sought any information about them, the minister said, "Why should we do it? It's still (just) a media report."
Pakistan has defended its counterterrorism efforts, saying it has deployed 70,000 forces along the Afghan border and has lost hundreds of men in fighting militants.
Taliban generate telephonic parleys
US PRESIDENT George W Bush telephoned President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday to defuse tension between Kabul and Islamabad amidst recent incidents of Taliban related violence in Afghanistan. President Musharraf then rang up his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai reassuring him of Pakistan’s continued support to his Government in the war against terror.
It’s really unfortunate that Afghanistan has once again resorted to mudslinging against Pakistan in recent days. Afghan President has accused Pakistan of not doing enough to check infiltration of terrorists into Afghanistan and the Afghan authorities have claimed the arrest of three Pakistani nationals for allegedly plotting to assassinate former US Ambassador to Kabul Zalmay Khalilzad. Pakistan has, however, rejected the Afghan claims on the basis of its track record of unprecedented contribution in the anti-terror war in Afghanistan. Its role in the war against terrorism has won worldwide appreciation. President Bush and other US officials have also consistently showered praises on President Musharraf and Pakistan on this count. It certainly doesn’t behove Karzai to ignore Pakistan’s sacrifices for the Afghan people and jump into prejudiced conclusions without reason or justification. It’s a matter of record that Pakistan is the one country that had not only provided succour and shelter to four million Afghan refugees, but is also extending maximum cooperation to Afghanistan in the process of its rehabilitation and reconstruction. Pakistan also launched military operations in its Tribal Areas to curb militants and terrorists. Over 700 of them have since been arrested. To blame Pakistan for not doing enough to check the terrorists is thus unjust and unacceptable. It’s rather an insult to Pakistan’s sincerity to fight against terror as well as its rejection of the menace in all its forms and manifestations. The fact is that Pakistan has paid a heavy price for its efforts to banish terrorists in order to ensure Afghanistan’s security and stability. On the contrary, Pakistan has a genuine reason to protest against Afghanistan’s somewhat unfriendly act of allowing not only the establishment of Indian consulates in the Afghan cities along Pakistan’s border, but also of letting them indulge in acts of sabotage, violence and terrorism inside Pakistan. Understandably, President Bush’s telephone to President Musharraf represents the gravity of the situation, but the real problem in Afghanistan is the US occupation of the war ravaged country. The logical and objective answer to the situation, therefore, is that US should withdraw its forces. Taliban’s attacks are part of the resistance to the US occupation of their motherland. The sooner the foreign forces vacate Afghanistan, the quicker will normalcy return to the battered nation.
Nawaz Sharif met Osama three times: former ISI official
Daily Times Monitor
LAHORE: Khalid Khawaja, a former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) official who was dismissed from the service by the late Gen Ziaul Haq because of his outspoken nature, has said former prime minister Nawaz Sharif met Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden thrice in Saudi Arabia.
In an interview to Asia Times Online on Wednesday, he said, “After Gen Zia’s death in a plane crash (1988), elections were announced and there was a possibility that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by Benazir Bhutto would win, which would be a great setback for the cause of the Afghan jihad against the USSR. The situation was discussed and all the mujahideen thought that they should play a role in blocking the PPP from winning the elections. I joined my former DG Hamid Gul and played a role in forming the then Islamic Democratic Alliance consisting of the Pakistan Muslim League and the Jamaat-e-Islami. The PPP won the elections by a thin margin and faced a strong opposition.”
Asian Times Online quoted Khalid as saying that Osama provided him with funds, which he handed over to Nawaz Sharif, then the chief minister of Punjab (and later premier), to dislodge Benazir Bhutto.
“Nawaz Sharif insisted that I arrange a direct meeting with the Osama, which I did in Saudi Arabia. Nawaz met thrice with Osama in Saudi Arabia. The most historic was the meeting in the Green Palace Hotel in Medina between Nawaz Sharif, Osama and myself. Osama asked Nawaz to devote himself to “jihad in Kashmir”. Nawaz immediately said, ‘I love jihad.’ Osama smiled, and then stood up from his chair and went to a nearby pillar and said, ‘Yes, you may love jihad, but your love for jihad is this much.’ He then pointed to a small portion of the pillar. ‘Your love for children is this much,’ he said, pointing to a larger portion of the pillar. ‘And your love for your parents is this much,’ he continued, pointing towards the largest portion. ‘I agree that you love jihad, but this love is the smallest in proportion to your other affections in life.’”
It quoted Khalid as saying these sorts of arguments were beyond Nawaz Sharif’s comprehension and he kept asking him ‘agreed or not’?
“Nawaz Sharif was looking for a Rs 500 million grant from Osama. Though Osama gave a comparatively smaller amount, the landmark thing he secured for Nawaz Sharif was a meeting with the (Saudi) royal family, which gave Nawaz Sharif a lot of political support, and it remained till he was dislodged (as premier) by Gen Pervez Musharraf (in a coup in 1999). Saudi Arabia arranged for his release and his safe exit to Saudi Arabia,” he told Asia Times online.
West set to extend Afghan commitment
By Christopher Adams in London June 21, 2005
Western nations are likely to have to commit troops to Afghanistan for at least 10 years in the struggle to rebuild the country and eradicate its drugs trade, according to British officials.
Speaking before Thursday's meeting between the foreign ministers of the Group of Eight nations in London, a senior British official said the international community would extend its presence in Afghanistan well beyond September's elections.
Nato has been leading an 8,000-strong peacekeeping force since the US ousted the Taliban four years ago. Britain is expected to deploy up to 2,000 troops next year when it takes over the mission on top of the 500 it already has in place.
“We are asking everyone to make a long-term commitment to Afghanistan,” the official said. “We want to emphasise that there is no question of abandonment, the question is of the scale and duration of support and what the Afghans need to do to maintain that level ofsupport. . . We see our commitment to Afghanistan in terms of a decade or more.”
Afghanistan will top the agenda at Thursday's talks, with climate change and Africa, the main topics for next month's G8 summit, not due to be raised formally. Foreign ministers are also expected to discuss Iran and the Middle East peace process.
The talks coincide with a meeting of the Middle East “quartet” the US, United Nations, European Union and Russia to discuss Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. James Wolfensohn, the quartet's special envoy who recently stepped down as president of the World Bank, will put forward proposals on how to ease the Israeli pullout.
Afghanistan has requested a long-term US and Nato presence. Britain, which chairs the G8 this year, has warned of a protracted war against the drugs trade.
“Counter-narcotics is going to be the main theme of the next decade. . . the international forces on the ground will have a role to play in supporting the Afghan authorities in cracking down on the narcotics industry,” the official said.
Details of the British troop deployment have not been decided and the UK's ministry of defence has dismissed as “speculation” reports that they would be sent to the south, one of the main areas for opium cultivation and a frontline in the fight against Taliban-linked insurgents.
* The European Union's efforts to lead the world on climate change suffered a blow on Tuesday as new data showed an increase in greenhouse gas emissions in 2003, due to unusually cold weather, Fiona Harvey reports from London.
Emissions within 15 EU member states increased by 1.3 per cent from 2002, according to the European Environment Agency. This left emissions just 1.7 per cent lower than in 1990.
The UN-brokered Kyoto protocol on climate change requires the EU to cut emissions by about 8 per cent relative to 1990 levels by 2012.
16 names struck off candidate list in Herat
Pajhwok Afghan News 06/22/2005
HERAT CITY - Names of 16 parliamentary election contenders from the western Herat province have temporarily been removed from candidates' list for allegedly possessing weapons, UNAMA election officials said Wednesday.
Public Information Officer for UNAMA in Herat, Ibrahim Ferozish, said: "Their names have been removed temporarily. The election commission will announce a final list of candidates on July 12.
"The candidates can challenge the decision by filing objections with the complaints commission," he said, adding their names had been struck off the list at the request of the Defence Ministry. He wouldn't disclose the names, saying they would stay confidential.
But the affected candidates denied having weapons. They claimed getting clearance from the Disarmament and Reintegration Commission, which is responsible for identifying irresponsible militias and gunmen.
Mohammad Hussein Husseini, one the 16 hopefuls, said: "Four days ago, we were given letters in governor's office in the presence of UNAMA and Defence Ministry representatives. The letters say we are armed commanders, which is a whacking lie."
Another candidate, Ghulam Farooq Majroh, said: "We were told in the governor's office we were armed commanders. I asked for evidence and even expressed readiness to meet officials in Kabul and face court. They should address my problem."
However, Sayed Ishaq Paiman, Defence Ministry advisor on parliamentary affairs, was unaware of the removal of candidates' names from the list. He told Pajhwok Afghan News: "Those - identified by the ministry, national security or UNAMA as having weapons – will have to follow the election rule, otherwise their names will be struck off the list."
Paiman added the ministry, together with the security apparatus, was responsible for identifying those holding weapons and providing information to the election commission.
Candidates who still possess weapons or are affiliated with armed groups are supposed to disarm by July 7 ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for September 18.
Fighting a Hard, Half-Forgotten War
The Washington Post 06/22/2005 By N.C. Aizenman
QALAT - When Spec. Nick Conlon and the other members of his infantry battalion learned they would be deployed to the Afghan province of Zabol this spring, many expected their worst enemy to be boredom. In preparation, Conlon stocked up on more than 20 DVDs, such as "Alien vs. Predator," "X-Men" and "Daredevil."
But in the three months since the battalion set up camp in this isolated, mountainous region of southeastern Afghanistan, Conlon has not had time to watch a single movie. Instead, the battalion has found itself at the center of a heated though somewhat forgotten war that is still underway 3 1/2 years after the extremist Taliban militia was ousted from power.
The Taliban forces, estimated at anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 fighters, cannot hold territory against U.S. forces. But the battalion in Zabol has been attacked more than 10 times since March. During one bloody seven-hour clash in Zabol in May and in a series of pitched firefights across the south and east since then, the Taliban has revealed itself to be a hardy, resilient foe equipped with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.
U.S. and Afghan military leaders contend that most of the battles are products of an aggressive campaign they launched this spring to force Taliban fighters from their hideouts. In Zabol, the fighters appear wary of taking on U.S. troops directly after suffering heavy casualties, but they continue to ambush U.S. patrols with gunfire and improvised explosives -- such as one that claimed the battalion's first fatality, Pfc. Steven C. Tucker, 19, of Grapevine, Tex., on May 21.
Meanwhile, the men of 2nd Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry, have had to drastically adjust their expectations.
"I thought the Taliban had fallen," Conlon marveled recently. "I thought this was going to be a peacekeeping mission."
For most members of the battalion, normally based in Vicenza, Italy, home is now a sprawling camp of sheds set on a baking desert plain on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Qalat. Much of their time is spent stalking the enemy in remote valleys and mountains still largely beyond the government's reach.
The high altitude and rocky terrain can feel unforgiving to a man lugging 50 to 100 pounds of weaponry and gear. But the area also offers views of uncommon beauty. Purple and golden peaks gleam in the distance; rushing streams are flanked by blue flowers and fragrant sage.
It was into just such a scene that a Black Hawk helicopter landed on a recent morning, disgorging a group of soldiers led by Lt. Col. Mark Stammer, the battalion commander. Like most overnight missions, this one was partly a goodwill tour to win local support and partly a hunt for a Taliban leader believed to be moving through the area.
The target that day, a sub-commander known as Abdul Akundzada, was thought to control 40 to 60 fighters and was known for threatening villagers who tried to send their children to government schools, according to battalion officers. A day earlier, one of the U.S. units pursuing Akundzada was ambushed by his men, leading to a firefight.
An Air Force jet was able to find and bombard the Taliban fighters soon after they fled to a hideout in the mountains, killing 12 of them. But Akundzada managed to escape. Stammer thought the Taliban leader might be fleeing north and hoped to intercept him in Badamtoy, a hamlet of half a dozen mud-walled compounds.
He and his men jumped out of a helicopter ready for battle, crouching in a wheat field and training their weapons on potential enemy positions. But Badamtoy's mostly elderly male inhabitants offered no resistance.
Encouraged, Stammer instructed an Afghan interpreter to ask the village elder if the soldiers could rent a compound for the night. Abdul Satar, a man with a long beard and white turban, readily agreed.
As soon as he reached the courtyard, Stammer, a tall, broad-shouldered man who looks like a football coach, took off his helmet and beckoned his host's children to gather around as he pulled donated stuffed animals and pencils from his backpack.
"Where are the girls?" Stammer asked, as a throng of little boys pressed around him. "I want to make sure the girls get these, too."
The women of the household huddled in a dusty corner, peeking out from under the bright red and green scarves with which they traditionally hide their faces from strangers.
"Okay, now let's lay a little love on the grown-ups," Stammer said, and ordered his radio operator to call for an air drop of supplies including blankets and sacks of beans.
Next, he asked the battalion's doctor, Maj. Brian Sleigh, and some of the medics to offer their services. The villagers eagerly lined up. Most had curable ailments -- diarrhea or viral infections in the case of the children, cataracts in some of the men. But Sleigh noted that even if he could arrange for drugs to be delivered, there was no doctor or pharmacist to administer them. Instead Sleigh mostly handed out painkillers.
"I can't cure you, but I can give you something to help with the pain," he said to patient after patient.
By now, Stammer judged the ice sufficiently broken to instruct an interpreter to ask Satar the question on everybody's mind: "Have you seen any Taliban around here?"
"He says the Taliban haven't been through for months," the interpreter responded.
The assertion was nonsense, Stammer said. "But that's okay," he added peaceably. In a region where informing could cost a person his life, Stammer said, a villager who lied about the militia's whereabouts was not necessarily a Taliban supporter.
So Stammer moved on to what he called his "unity" speech. He stressed that the U.S. military was there only to help the Afghan people, and he urged Satar to organize villagers to present their needs to Zabol's governor and vote for an official representative in parliamentary elections scheduled for September.
Satar smiled and nodded. But one of the interpreters said afterward that the elder later confided to him that even this modest proposal was too risky.
"He told me, 'If I do that, I won't stay alive very long,' " the interpreter recounted. "He said, 'You guys are very nice. But you only come around once in a while. The Taliban will come here as soon as you are gone.' "
Within hours of the unit's arrival, the village men were pressing green tea and freshly baked bread on their visitors. Some even started trying on the soldiers' helmets, wrapping their turbans around them to hearty chuckles all around.
Stammer was pleased, but also a touch suspicious.
"Why are these people being so nice to us?" he muttered to the operations officer, Maj. Doug Vincent. "We've been in villages where people wouldn't spit on us if we were on fire in their living room. But these people are being over-the-top nice."
"I don't know, sir," Vincent said. "Do you think maybe they have someone in town and they don't want us to do a cordon and search?"
"Think about that," Stammer said. "Also think about whether they are trying to set up an ambush."
Stammer and his men had ample reason to be wary. Several soldiers on the mission had been on patrol with 14 Afghan policemen on May 3 when they stumbled upon a gathering of 60 to 80 Taliban fighters, triggering one of the most intense battles in Afghanistan since 2001.
As that fight unfolded, the U.S. team of six scouts and a medic, in two armored Humvees, was ordered to keep the enemy from retreating before ground and air reinforcements arrived. The team managed to do it during 2 1/2 hours of relentless fighting, during which no one was killed but one Humvee was hit by a rocket and burst into flames.
Yet even once the battalion's reaction force was flown in, the Taliban fought on for four hours, killing one Afghan policeman and wounding six U.S. soldiers and five Afghan police officers.
In the end, the American and Afghan forces prevailed, killing nearly 40 Taliban fighters and capturing 10. Battalion soldiers who participated said they felt proud to have put their training to use.
But many now carry the sort of memories that often haunt veterans of major wars -- the surprised, all-too-human look on an enemy fighter's face as seen through a rifle scope just before he is blown apart, or the stress of repeatedly driving into hails of rocket fire with no expectation of surviving.
"Afterward, my wife asked me what was going through my head," said Sgt. Michael Ortiz, the medic who was with the ambushed scout team. "I told her, 'Everything. Just every single thing you can imagine.' "
Back in Badamtoy, Stammer and his men were settling in the next morning for a long wait for a helicopter to ferry them back to the base when their banter was interrupted by one of the radio operators. A report had just come through that Akundzada might be in a village called Kawti, just a few miles north.
Stammer instantly switched into battle mode, directing his men to draw up plans for a multi-pronged assault including Afghan security forces and to arrange for Chinook helicopters to transport them to the site.
A few hours before sunset, the group trekked up a hill to board a Chinook. But the new village turned out to like the previous one: a series of humble, mud-walled compounds occupied by passive, if slightly less welcoming, farmers. Akundzada had slipped through their fingers again.
Soon, Stammer was back on the radio, ordering another food drop to win over the people of Kawti while his men searched for smooth ground on which to unroll their sleeping bags.
Ortiz steeled himself for a long night of watching the stars. Like many soldiers who experienced the fierce fight of May 3, he had been unable to sleep for several nights afterward.
Now, Ortiz said, he had no trouble falling asleep indoors. "But not outside. Not where I know someone is out there watching me."
Spanish legislators approve another batallion for Afghanistan
MADRID, June 22, 2005 (AFP) - Spanish legislators on Wednesday approved the sending of a second 500-strong battalion for Afghanistan to help with preparations for legislative elections scheduled for September 18.
Defence Minister Jose Bono said the contingent would be deployed in early July in western Afghanistan for a maximum of 90 days.
Spain already has a 540-strong battalion in the western city of Herat working on reconstruction of the war-ravaged country.
NATO recently announced it was to station 2,000 extra troops in Afghanistan for the election period.
For last year's presidential election Spain had 1,040 troops serving in the country as part of an international security and assistance force overseen by NATO.
Spain's Socialist government which took office last year was, along with the public, opposed to its conservative predecessor's policy of sending troops to Iraq and has adopted a bill which obliges the executive to seek parliament's approval before mandating foreign troop missions.
"Forgotten" Afghan war heats up
The Christian Science Monitor 06/22/2005m By Matthew Clark
Fierce firefights between US-led troops and Taliban-led militants kill scores one day after Afghan, Pakistani officials smooth over differences.
Since being eclipsed in resources and attention by the Iraq war, Afghanistan has repeatedly been called America's "forgotten war."
But a recent spate of attacks by Taliban-led militants – including a deadly firefight Wednesday that left about 40 insurgents and a policeman dead and five US soldiers wounded – may jog a few memories.
The US military said in a statement that the firefight broke out in the Deh Chopan district of Zabul province after Afghan and coalition units were attacked with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, reports AFX News. Two American CH-47 helicopters were damaged during 11 hours of fighting Tuesday at a rebel "safe haven," the military statement said.
General Salim Khan, commander of about 400 Afghan policemen who also took part in the fighting, said some 30 militants were captured, reports Britain's Press Association. "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," according to PA.
"Afghanistan has seen a rapid upswing in violence blamed on the ousted Taliban regime, with more than 100 people killed in a wave of attacks in southern and southeastern Afghanistan in the past week alone," reports AFX.
But Mr. Khan suggests that recent military operations have been successful.
Girls' school torched in Logar
MOHAMMAD AGHA, Logar, June 22 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Unidentified outlaws set a girls' primary school on fire in the Baraki Barak district of the central Logar province on Tuesday night.
Hamidullah and Noor Hasan, the two guards told Pajhwok Afghan News six armed men broke into the school building and sprinkled petrol on the walls and tents. They said the perpetrators tied them to a tree and set the building aflame.
Khwaja Zahiruddin, head master of the school, said two classrooms and tents had completely gutted while rest of the building was partially damaged. About 567 students were enrolled in the school.
Commenting on the arson incident, provincial police chief Nasir Masood said police personnel were patrolling the area when they were informed about the burning of the school. He suspected the two guards had links with the criminals, adding they had been taken into custody to investigate the matter. A school was burned in Abdur Rehman Kot area of the same district a month back.
There are hundreds of Taliban in camps in the mountains. My officers have been spotting them and then the information is used by the American aircraft to bomb them. ... Many of the rebels have started to flee the area.
The Washington Post reports that US troops sent to southern Afghanistan in recent months were not expecting to be as active as they have been.
When Spec. Nick Conlon and the other members of his infantry battalion learned they would be deployed to the Afghan province of Zabol this spring, many expected their worst enemy to be boredom. ... Instead, the battalion has found itself at the center of a heated though somewhat forgotten war that is still underway 3 1/2 years after the extremist Taliban militia was ousted from power.
"The Taliban forces, estimated at anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 fighters, cannot hold territory against US forces," reports the Post, but "the Taliban has revealed itself to be a hardy, resilient foe equipped with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars."
Afghan officials this week have been pointing the finger at Pakistan for failing to prevent militants from coming across the border. Presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin said Tuesday that Pakistan was not doing enough to fight the militants, and said there would never be peace in Afghanistan until the two countries "join hands together to fight terrorism," reports The Associated Press.
Some senior members of the Taliban, including some who are involved in killings and are considered terrorists, are in Pakistan. ... There are obvious signs and proof that these people are coming from Pakistan, and the hard evidence makes it less convincing when we are told all this is happening without the Pakistani government knowing, and without it being able to control it.
Pakistan on Wednesday assured Afghanistan of its continued support and cooperation. "[Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf] assured [Afghan President Hamid Karzai] of Pakistan's continued support and cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Pakistan condemned this menace in all its forms and manifestations," a Pakistani foreign ministry statement said.
Mr. Musharraf telephoned Mr. Karzai after receiving a call from US President George W. Bush, and just hours after Mr. Ludin said militants were getting training in Pakistan.
A senior Afghan official's account of the phone call presents "a bleaker picture of relations between the two countries," according to a Post report.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Afghanistan feared that Pakistan was seeking to destabilize its neighbor as parliamentary elections approach in September and was allowing insurgents linked to the ousted Taliban regime to launch a campaign of violence.
Pakistan vehemently denies such allegations.
The pawns who pay as powers play
By Syed Saleem Shahzad / Asia Times Online / June 22, 2005
KARACHI - In the complex undercurrents that dictate the ebb and flow of Pakistani politics and policy, yesterday's hero can very quickly become today's scoundrel. Just ask Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.
Sheikh Rashid is leader of the Pakistan Muslim League and minister for information in the administration of President General Pervez Musharraf, with whom he enjoys a very cozy relationship.
Sheikh Rashid's world was rocked recently when Kashmiri militant leader Yasin Malik, on a visit to Pakistan, praised Sheikh Rashid's services for the mujahideen fighting in Kashmir and recalled that he used to provide military training to militants.
Sheikh Rashid strongly denied running any such training camp and maintained that he was only running a humanitarian camp for refugees from Jammu & Kashmir.
In an effort to throw some light on these startling revelations, and equally strong denials, Asia Times Online spoke to Khalid Khawaja, a former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) official who was dismissed from the service by the late dictator General Zia ul-Haq because of his outspoken nature.
Khalid subsequently became a close associate of Osama bin Laden, and played an important behind-the-scenes role in both regional and national politics. Before the US attack on Afghanistan in late 2001, he was a part of the back-room diplomacy between the US and the Taliban, which failed miserably.
Asia Times Online: The heroes of the past are the terrorists of the present. Everything changes dramatically, so that someone like Sheikh Rashid, who was once proud to take part in Kashmir's struggle, is now afraid he will be labeled a terrorist if he admits that he ever supported armed struggle in Kashmir. Why? [Sheikh Rashid and Khalid were interviewed together on television and Rashid not only denied that he had ever run a training camp, but also refused to identify Khalid as an old friend.]
Khalid Khawaja: In fact, the issue is terrorism. It is states and governments which sponsor terrorism to begin with, and subjects become the ultimate victims, and then a vicious cycle of terror rotates. In this state-sponsored crime there is no exception, and Pakistan, India, the US and Israel all have the same role.
Many of us call it a battle between East and West, between the Islamic and Judeo-Christian world, but it is neither of these. It is in fact the ruling regimes that want to dictate their will, and then they exploit [people] in various ways. Sometimes in the garb of monarchy, sometimes for democracy, and sometimes for dictatorship.
Ninety percent of people accept to be ruled, but there always remain some elements who refuse to succumb. They fight for freedom and resist till their last. However, in this conflict of two minorities - those who impose their will and those who resist it - the majority remains the sole victim. Yet people talk about Islam versus Christianity or Judaism. The basic theme remains the same. There is a group of people who want to impose their will, whether they happen to be Christian or Muslim, and there is a group of people who want to resist, and there is a silent majority which is trampled in between.
This is exactly the interpretation when we talk about Pakistan and India in the perspective of Kashmir. In fact, Pakistan was never sincere with Kashmiris. It was a selfish military strategic maneuver to bleed India. Whatever was done, it was for "Pakistanism". Meaning to impose Pakistan's strategic agenda in the region. We just used religion and jihad. It was just a ploy to engage Indian forces in Kashmir and keep their financial resources squeezed.
ATol: Did not Pakistan morally support the Kashmiri struggle so that the Muslim population would get its rights?
KK: What are you talking about? Indian Muslims enjoy more rights than Muslims enjoy in Pakistan. There are hundreds of Pakistani people, including army-men, clerics, scholars and common people, who have been missing from their homes for over two years. It is a known fact that they were picked up by intelligence agencies. They were never tried in any court of law. Several of them were killed without any trail. Even the British system of justice during British India days was better, when nobody was kept in detention without trial. We ask, okay, don't give us the rights that free nations have, but at least give us those rights people had during the time of the British Raj.
A few years ago, a Muslim was picked by an Indian intelligence agency. Prominent Muslim leader and scholar Maulana Asad Madani met the governor of the province and protested. The governor said that this kind of interrogation was common in Pakistan, "So why do you protest in India?" Asad Madani reminded the governor in very strong words that this was not Pakistan, but India, and one had to produce a person in court, so eventually the Muslim was produced.
The biggest curse in Pakistan is things done in the name of patriotism. I do not buy this theory. Patriotism is a vague term until it is allied with a proper ideology. I remember Colonel [Syed] Farooq's words [Farooq was a Bangladeshi officer who took part in the killing of Sheikh Mujib Rehman - Bangladesh's founding father - and his family in 1975] when he visited Pakistan in the late 1980s. He said that before the partition of British India  he was a loyal citizen of the East India Company, then Pakistan, and even joined the Pakistan army. Then he became a loyal citizen of Bangladesh, and he said he may become loyal to something else in the future. Therefore, patriotism for a piece of land is nonsense.
ATol: What happened in Afghanistan?
KK: In Afghanistan's case, a similar game was carried out on a massive scale when Muslim youths from all over the world were brought in by Pakistan and the US [to fight against the Soviets in the 1980s]. They were tools for the empires' proxy war. The name of jihad was used. The state religion in those days supported jihad against India [in Kashmir] and the USSR [in Afghanistan]. However, once jihad was established, the states did not have any way to convince Muslims that jihad was only against the USSR and India, and not against the US.
Now, again, it is a question of a state imposing its will. The message is clear: if you are against us, we will kill you and your sympathizers. In this state terrorism, there is no exception, be it Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Pakistan, India, the US or Israel. All are the same.
You talk about terrorism by individuals, but you do not discuss what they were in the past and why they became terrorists. In fact, it is state terrorism which starts it all. A state recruited Muslim fighters all across the world and gathered them in Afghanistan. The US tried to kill them with a cruise missile attack in 1998 [in retaliation for terror attacks on US embassies in Africa]. That terrorism was unaccounted for, yet several innocent women and children were killed by a proven US attack. It had yet to be proven that the 9-11 incident was carried out by Osama, but the US attacked Afghanistan and targeted all. When the reaction came, and helpless people became suicide bombers, they were called terrorists.
I have the example of Ahmed Saeed Khadr's family. The whole family was Canadian, and they came to Afghanistan to take part in the country's rehabilitation. First his 14-year-old son Omar Khadr was arrested in Afghanistan. He was taken to Guantanamo Bay. It is narrated in the US media and all information is available on the world-wide web how he was sexually abused in prison by US soldiers. His second son Abdul Karim was shot in the back by US soldiers, and was paralyzed. Another son, Abdul Rahman, agreed to become a US informer. The stories were published by the US media that despite his services, he was also shabbily treated. Ahmed Saeed Khadr and his family, including his wife, granddaughter and two daughters, took refuge in South Waziristan [in Pakistan]. They were not spared by Pakistani authorities. Ahmed Saeed was brutally killed. His wife and daughters were brought to Islamabad and then set free. They were homeless. Nobody was ready to give them a house for rent.
The families of the worst kind of criminals are not deprived of this basic right. Our government did so. Ahmed Saeed's family demanded his body be handed over. The government of Pakistan even refused that demand. Now just get into the shoes of the victim and think how many options you would have if you faced such consequences.
Now Minister of Information Sheikh Rashid comes on TV every day and proudly announces that we have killed so many foreign militants. This is the same minister who privately ran a similar military training camp in the past and prepared militants. Had he been out of government, he would have been labeled a terrorist, but since he is part of the government agenda, he is okay. In this fight of interests, only pawns are crushed. India and Pakistan fought proxy wars, the victims were innocent Kashmiris who were raped, detained and killed, or those who sacrificed their lives in armed struggle. Now the two countries are friends and the victims are those who sacrificed their lives for armed struggle. Now they are terrorists.
When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets crushed. When two elephants make love, it is again the grass that gets crushed. Whether states fight with each other or make friendships, it is only the tools who became victims.
ATol: Explain how Sheikh Rashid started the training camp.
KK: The story starts in 1986-87, when out of emotion I wrote a letter to General Zia ul-Haq saying that he was a hypocrite and he was only interested in ruling Pakistan, rather than imposing Islamic law in the country. General Zia immediately ordered my dismissal from my basic services in the Pakistan air force, where I was a squadron leader, and from the ISI, where I was deputed at the Afghan desk. I went to Afghanistan and fought side-by-side with the Afghan mujahideen against Soviet troops. There I developed a friendship with Dr Abdullah Azzam [a mentor of bin Laden], Osama bin Laden and Sheikh Abdul Majeed Zindani [another mentor of bin Laden's]. At the same time, I was still in touch with my former organization, the ISI, and its then DG [director general], retired Lieutenant General Hamid Gul.
After General Zia's death in a plane crash , elections were announced and there was a possibility that the Pakistan People's Party [PPP] led by Benazir Bhutto would win, which would be a great setback for the cause of jihad. We discussed this situation, and all the mujahideen thought that they should play a role in blocking the PPP from winning the elections. I joined my former DG Hamid Gul and played a role in forming the then Islamic Democratic Alliance comprising the Pakistan Muslim League and the Jamaat-i-Islami. The PPP won the elections by a thin margin and faced a strong opposition. Osama bin Laden provided me with funds, which I handed over to Nawaz Sharif, then the chief minister of Punjab [and later premier], to dislodge Benazir Bhutto. Nawaz Sharif insisted that I arrange a direct meeting with the "Sheikh", which I did in Saudi Arabia. Nawaz met thrice with Osama in Saudi Arabia.
The most historic was the meeting in the Green Palace Hotel in Medina between Nawaz Sharif, Osama and myself. Osama asked Nawaz to devote himself to "jihad in Kashmir". Nawaz immediately said, "I love jihad." Osama smiled, and then stood up from his chair and went to a nearby pillar and said. "Yes, you may love jihad, but your love for jihad is this much." He then pointed to a small portion of the pillar. "Your love for children is this much," he said, pointing to a larger portion of the pillar. "And your love for your parents is this much," he continued, pointing towards the largest portion. "I agree that you love jihad, but this love is the smallest in proportion to your other affections in life."
These sorts of arguments were beyond Nawaz Sharif's comprehension and he kept asking me. "Manya key nai manya?" [Agreed or not?] He was looking for a Rs500 million [US$8.4 million at today's rate] grant from Osama. Though Osama gave a comparatively smaller amount, the landmark thing he secured for Nawaz Sharif was a meeting with the [Saudi] royal family, which gave Nawaz Sharif a lot of political support, and it remained till he was dislodged [as premier] by General Pervez Musharraf [in a coup in 1999]. Saudi Arabia arranged for his release and his safe exit to Saudi Arabia.
That was a typical situation, when Osama was famed for his generosity, and even politicians like Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, who was president of the National People's Party and president of the Islamic Democratic Alliance, and then interim prime minister, were also after me to arrange meetings with the "Sheikh".
Then Nawaz Sharif introduced me to Sheikh Rashid, and he took me to his Freedom House camp near Fateh Jang Road near Rawalpindi. He asked me to get support from Arabs. I took several of my Arab friends to his training camp, and they provided him with some money, though they were not satisfied with the environment.
The youths were mostly trained to fire AK-47 rifles, but there was no arrangement for the ideological training of youths. That was the point on which the Arabs objected, that it is ideological training that makes a difference between a mercenary and a mujahid. Rashid was the least bothered about ideological training, he was interested in money - Rs50,000 per person. Some money was provided to Rashid, and he claimed that he procured AK-47 guns with that money. How many, I do not remember.
ATol: What you are saying means that it was all a fraud in the name of jihad?
KK: Jihad needs strong justification, and when it is launched it requires piety in character. We as Muslims believe that if a person is wrongly killed it amounts to the killing of entire humanity.
ATol: What do you say about suicide bombers who carry out random attacks?
KK: They are reactionaries whose reactions are illustrations of anger and frustration, but we cannot call it Islam at all. In their behavior, although they are Muslims, they are the same as [Pentagon chief Donald] Rumsfeld, [President George W] Bush and [Vice President Dick] Cheney, who, in reaction to 3,500 killed people in New York, made a full season of killing people in Afghanistan and Iraq. The way the US imposed war on Afghanistan, the real mujahids, like [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar and Osama went into the background, and the leadership is in the hands of those who do not know what jihad is all about. They are just venting their frustration against the US.
Syed Saleem Shahzad, Bureau Chief, Pakistan, Asia Times Online
White House rejects independent Guantanamo probe
Tue Jun 21, 6:59 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The White House rejected calls from opposition Democrats for an independent commission to investigate alleged abuse of detainees at US-run prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"The Department of Defense has taken these issues head on and addressed them," spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters amid growing criticism focused on the detention center at the US naval base at Guantanamo.
The Pentagon "has worked to address these issues and hold people accountable and take steps to prevent abuse from happening again," he said. "People are being held to account, and we think that's the way to go about this.
The head of the Democratic minority in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said early that it was a "disgrace" that the House had not "meaningfully investigated" allegations of abuse.
Pelosi was speaking out in favor of proposed legislation by Democratic Representative Henry Waxman that calls for the creation of a commission on prison abuse in the wake of high-profile controversies.
"The safety of our country depends on our reputation and how we are viewed, especially in the Muslim world," she said. "There are many questions that must be answered."
The Bush administration has grappled with the prison abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib and more recently has denied that detainees at Guantanamo have been abused.
Among questions to be probed during a possible inquiry, Pelosi said, would be how the prison mistreatment was allowed to begin, why it was allowed to continue, and how far up the chain of command the responsibility for allowing the abuse goes.
"Our country's standing in the eyes of the world depends on getting to the bottom of the detainee abuse matter -- a fact that will ultimately force Republicans to stop placing obstacles in the path of a full and independent inquiry," Pelosi said.
Afghanistan shaken by 5.4 quake
Stars and Stripes / Mideast edition, Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Servicemembers and civilians in Afghanistan got a rude awakening Monday morning when a magnitude 5.4 earthquake shook the region around the country’s capital city. The temblor was felt by soldiers and airmen from Bagram Air Base to Kabul, military officials said.
No significant damage was reported to base or civilian infrastructure by Tuesday afternoon, officials said.
“At first I thought something was wrong with my chair or there was a heavy truck going by. I’ve grown accustomed to the ground shaking when there are controlled demolition explosions here, so I did not think much about it. An earthquake was the furthest thing from my mind,” Air Force Tech. Sgt. Johnathan Raford, of the 455th Expeditionary Mission Support Group, was quoted in a military news release about the quake.
Air Force weather teams, who tracked the quake, reported its epicenter was in the Hindu Kush mountains approximately 150 miles northeast of Bagram.
Earthquakes have long been a danger in mountainous Afghanistan. A magnitude 6.6 quake struck in April 2004, killing hundreds and tumbling dozens of mud and brick homes in the Hindu Kush region. A more powerful quake in 1998 killed an estimated 5,000.
Stars and Stripes is a Department of Defense-authorized daily newspaper distributed overseas for the U.S. military community.
Pakistan: Flood risk along Kabul river
ISLAMABAD, 22 June (IRIN) - Lowland parts of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) along the river Kabul, running from Afghanistan into Pakistan, are facing the risk of flooding. The water flow in the river has increased significantly after a massive snowmelt, according to a UN interagency coordinator in the NWFP provincial capital, Peshawar.
"Low-lying areas in the districts of Charsadda, Nowshera and Peshawar are at a high risk of flooding. The provincial government has asked the relevant departments to take appropriate measures and remain vigilant as the water flow in the Kabul [river] is on the increase," Dr Quaid Saeed, said.
The increase in snowmelt has been caused by high seasonal temperatures, according to staff at the national meteorological office in the capital, Islamabad.
"The temperature in the river's catchment areas has shot up significantly over the last three days. The high temperatures are likely to continue for the next few days with more snowmelt adding to the river inflow," Anjum Bari, director of the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), said.
Mountainous parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan received heavy prolonged snowfall during the winter. This is now melting rapidly causing river water levels in the area to rise.
"Though temperatures remained low during April and May, which reduced any large scale flood risk, now they are high. This may cause flooding in low-lying areas," Bari added.
Meanwhile, the meteorological office on Tuesday announced its forecast for monsoon rains, which is crucial for the agriculturally based economy of Pakistan. Meteorologists are expecting a close to normal rainfall this year during the period July to September.
"Starting in the first week of July, on an all Pakistan basis, the monsoon rainfall is likely to remain 15-20 percent below normal during the month of July but it is expected to be above normal during the months of August and September," according to a PMD press statement.
The high seasonal temperatures are expected to abate in coming days.
"Dust and thunderstorms with light rain will ease the intense heat over next 48 hours. However, at least one other hot spell will strike before the start of the monsoon," Muhammad Hanif at the PMD said.
Though health authorities have not confirmed any casualties, local media have reported over a dozen people killed and many others in hospitals suffering from sunstroke and heat exhaustion.
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