Two US soldiers killed in Afghanistan blast
KABUL (AFP) - Two US soldiers were killed in a bomb blast in Afghanistan, the military said, capping a bloody week in which more than 60 people died in a wave of violence, including a mosque bombing that was the country's worst attack in two years.
The two soldiers were killed and a third wounded in insurgency-wracked southeastern Paktika province when an improvised bomb exploded as their vehicle was passing, the US military said in a statement Saturday.
An Afghan interpreter was also wounded in the blast.
The wounded were evacuated to a US military base at Salerno in neighbouring Khost province, the statement said.
Nearly 150 US troops have been killed in Afghanistan in a US-led operation launched in late 2001 that toppled the former Taliban regime after it failed to hand over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, wanted for the 9/11 attacks in Washington and New York.
Friday's attack came two days after a suicide bombing at a mosque in the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar pushed the death toll past 60 in a week of ambushes and bombings across a swathe of restive southern and southeastern Afghanistan.
Remnants of the ousted Taliban regime have been flexing their muscles in attacks on both US and pro-government targets designed to halt reconstruction and undermine the country's progress towards September parliamentary elections, analysts said.
In Wednesday's blast at the Kandahar mosque, a suicide bomber identified as a foreign Al-Qaeda operative killed 21 people including the Kabul police chief during a mourning service for pro-government cleric Maulvi Abdullah Fayyaz.
Fayyaz was gunned down in Kandahar last weekend after speaking out against the one-eyed fugitive leader of the ousted Taliban regime, Mullah Mohammed Omar.
The suicide attack was the worst bombing in Afghanistan in more than two years and rocked the southern town, which had been the stronghold of the hardline Islamic regime.
Three years after their fall, remnants of the Taliban continue to wage a hit-and-run guerrilla campaign across the south using crude homemade bombs and setting up ambushes in which rebels often bear the brunt of the casualties.
In Paktika on Monday up to nine Taliban rebels were killed in a US airstrike, and four Afghan policemen and a further seven insurgents died in an assault on a police station.
On Friday a pro-government Afghan commander was killed by militants in southern Helmand province and four others were killed in series of ambushes on Uruzgan-Kandahar road.
Meanwhile two Afghan mine clearance workers were killed hours after Wednesday's blast in Kandahar in the neighbouring province of Helmand, prompting the United Nations to suspend demining work across southern Afghanistan.
And the week began on May 29 with 12 civilians being gunned down in the eastern province of Kunar and another killed by a freshly planted landmine in southern Kandahar province.
Last month the country was swept by the worst anti-US protests since the fall of the Taliban and an Italian aid worker was abducted by armed men in the Afghan capital and is still being held hostage.
A US-led coalition of over 18,000 soldiers remains in the country hunting down remnants of the Taliban and other Islamic militants who are unable to mount an all-out assault on US and Afghan forces but continue to wage effective guerrilla revolt.
Instability is also being fuelled by the Afghan government's war on the opium industry which produces 90 percent of the world's supply as well as growing discontent about the slow pace of reconstruction in the war-torn country.
Five killed in suspected Taliban attacks in southern Afghanistan
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, June 3 (AFP) - Suspected Taliban rebels have killed at least five people in four separate gun and explosives attacks in southern Afghanistan, officials said Friday.
A remote-controlled bomb killed a local militia commander in the provincial capital of Lashkargah in Helmand on Friday, Helmand's intelligence chief Amanullah Jan told AFP.
In another attack the same day a government driver was killed and his assistant badly injured when rebels ambushed their vehicle in neighboring Zabul province, said local police commander Qaim Jan.
The previous day, suspected Taliban gunmen killed a truck driver and another man and torched their oil tanker on the road between central Uruzgan province and Kandahar, the birthplace of the fundamentalist Islamic movement.
The tanker had been transporting fuel for US forces, local military commander General Muslim Hamid told AFP.
Earlier the insurgents had stopped a taxi on the same road and killed an Afghan soldier, wounding four passengers in a shootout.
The rebels "took control of the road for several hours", Uruzgan governor Jan Mohammad Khan said.
Hamid said the rebels had left by the time Afghan security forces arrived.
Violence has spiralled in recent weeks after a winter lull in fighting, with repeated attacks on Afghan security forces and the US-led coalition troops who toppled the Taliban in late 2001.
The latest attacks came after a suicide bomb attack Wednesday killed at least 21 people and wounded more than 50 in a Kandahar mosque.
Afghan commander killed by Taliban roadside bomb
Fri Jun 3, 7:14 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The commander of a pro-government Afghan militia force was killed by a roadside bomb on Friday in an attack blamed on Taliban insurgents.
It was the latest in a wave of bomb attacks that have killed and wounded dozens of people in Afghanistan in the past few months.
Shadi Khan, the former chief of Deshu district police in the southern Helmand province, was killed and two of his bodyguards were wounded when his car was hit by the blast, said Haji Mohammad Wali, spokesman for the provincial governor.
He blamed Taliban insurgents but drug running and tribal and factional rivalry are known to have caused violence in the province in the past.
Two Afghan deminers were killed and five wounded by a roadside bomb in Helmand on Wednesday. They were the fifth deminers to be killed in two weeks.
Twenty people, including the police chief of the capital, Kabul, were killed by a suicide bomber in nearby Kandahar province on Wednesday. The Kandahar governor blamed the al Qaeda militant network.
In a separate attack, an energy official in Zabul province, also in the south, was killed in a Taliban ambush on Thursday night as he was transporting electrical equipment, a provincial official said.
Taliban fighters have been waging an insurgency since U.S.-led forces ousted the militia in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Government officials have blamed enemies of Afghanistan intent on disrupting a Sept. 18 parliamentary election for the recent bomb attacks.
Land mine explosion kills Afghan soldier, wounds two in southern Afghanistan
Associated Press / June 3, 2005
A vehicle carrying three Afghan soldiers hit a land mine on a dirt road in a remote area of southern Afghanistan on Friday, killing an officer and wounding two others, a senior intelligence official said.
Amanullah Jan, intelligence chief in the Helmand province said the incident occurred in Shajoi district, 180 kilometers (112 miles) west of Kandahar.
"We believe it is the work of Taliban," Jan said, although he did not offer any evidence.
Separately, Taliban militants searched a passenger bus after stopping it a remote area of southwestern Oruzgan province Thursday, and took away an Afghan soldier after finding an identity card in his pocket.
The bullet-riddled body of this soldier was later found on a road, said Jan Mohammed Khan, the governor of Oruzgan. He said they dispatched soldiers to the area to trace and arrest the Taliban militants after getting information about the killing, but "so far we have made no arrests."
The Taliban, whose government was ousted as a result of U.S.-led attacks in late 2001, have recently stepped up their attacks against Afghan and coalition forces, undermining assertions from Afghan officials that security has improved in Afghanistan significantly.
One killed, five arrested in hunt for militants behind Afghan mosque blast
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Afghan security forces have killed a man and arrested five as they step up a hunt for militants behind the Kandahar mosque bombing that left 21 dead this week, officials said.
Police shot dead one man who refused to stop his motorcycle at a checkpoint Friday night, as security forces combed the southern city for the suspected al-Qaeda perpetrators behind the country's worst bomb attack in two years.
"We've arrested five people in connection with the bombing," Niaz Mohammed Sarhadi, district chief of Panjwayi, told AFP on Saturday. One of the captured men was wounded as he attempted to escape through a police checkpoint, he added.
Wednesday's bomb blast killed 21 people and wounded more than 50 as mourners gathered for the funeral of a Muslim cleric who was gunned down after speaking out against the former Taliban regime.
The visiting Kabul police chief, General Akram Khakriazwall, was among those killed in the attack, blamed by security officials on al-Qaeda militants.
Dozens of police, soldiers from the US-trained National Army and intelligence agents have launched a search for the militants involved, said an official in the provincial intelligence department who asked not to be named.
The offical said the suicide bomber was part of a five-member team of Al-Qaeda-linked militants who had entered Kandahar to carry out attacks on government and US targets.
"We've intelligence reports that he was not alone," the official said. "They were five people. One of them blew himself up, and we're searching for the others."
Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies have stepped up attacks over recent months after a winter lull in fighting, killing at least 62 people over the past week in bomb attacks and ambushes across southern and eastern Afghanistan.
An 18,000-strong US-led coalition force remains in Afghanistan to hunt down remnants of the militia, more than three years after they were ousted by a US-led military campaign following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Al-Qaeda claims shooting down US jet
By Janullah Hashimzada
KABUL, June 4 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The alleged terror network al-Qaeda has claimed shooting down an F-16 with a US-made stinger missile in the Shinkai area of Afghanistan southern Khost province.
A video compact disk (CD) received to Pajhwok Afghan News on 31 May shows al-Qaeda commander Abdul Hadi Iraqi holding a stinger - the most deadly weapon against fighter jets - and pointing at a (US) jet.
Hadi was al-Qaeda's war correspondent in Takhar province and Bagram areas during the Taliban rule.
The stinger hits the jet but it is unclear whether it comes down or not. However, they claimed the jet had been downed.
Through the video, al-Qaeda rejected the US claims regarding the killing of its leader Abu al hiasam Alyamani in a missile attack. US's ABC television had claimed the man was killed in a missile attack in the Khost province near Pak-Afghan border.
The source privy to this news agency claimed they (the US authorities) released the 'false' news regarding the killing of Alyamani to cover up the shooting down of the jet and the casualties.
The one and a half hour duration video shows Abdul Hadi Iraqi along with other Arab fighters holding small and heavy arms and moving in a mountainous area of Khost province.
They have also been shown shifting the arms including RPG -7 rockets and heavy machine guns to their hideouts on camels. The Arab warriors with Abdul Hadi sitting beside them are preparing and sipping tea as well.
Abdul Hadi Iraqi is among al-Qaeda elements who is wanted to United States and also carries head money.
Trading burqas for camouflage
By Kim Barker / Chicago Tribune / June 3, 2005
Faozia Mirakai grinned widely and held her gun as if she might drop it. But if threatened, she said, she could be a killer.
Mirakai wore a green camouflage uniform and tan boots. The young woman punched her fists into the air alongside the Afghan men training to be anti-drug officers. She walked with a slight swagger. She jumped with the men, tried to do one-armed push-ups with them and marched with them. She made faces at the men and joked around.
"Don't try to hit me," Mirakai said, pointing a Czech rifle in their direction.
In most countries, the sight of a female police officer would hardly be interesting. But this is Afghanistan, where women were banned from working for years. Many women still are forced to stay at home. Many still wear burqas, which cover everything, even a woman's eyes.
A woman such as Mirakai, brandishing a gun and wearing only a camouflage cap over her hair, is a shocking sight here. She did not cover her face or her chin-length brown hair while training in the streets of Kabul. The other woman on the training course did, wearing a black sleeve over her head and dark sunglasses. Wahida Raufi feared what might happen if someone saw her.
"I do not want to be recognized," admitted Raufi, 25.
Raufi and Mirakai graduated from the anti-drug police course Wednesday after six weeks of training. Ten other women already work for Afghanistan's counternarcotics police. They wear flak vests, ride in helicopters and carry guns and handcuffs, just like the men.
They say they are prepared to arrest criminals and fire their weapons.
"If enemies try to shoot me, I will fire first," says Mirakai, who probably will attend the police academy before starting as an anti-drug officer. "I will kill them, before they kill me."
These women are in some way symbols, a tentative effort at the equality between the sexes guaranteed by the new Afghan Constitution. There are, after all, 118 male anti-drug officers, officials say.
But the women also are a part of the country's fight against the growing drug trade.
Since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, opium poppies have blossomed into one of the largest challenges to the country's stability. In early March, the State Department warned that Afghanistan is in danger of becoming a narcotics state. Opium, heroin and marijuana move easily throughout the country.
Women used as mules
Male police officers cannot search women or women's rooms because of Islamic rules and cultural traditions. Drug traffickers know that. They've started hiding drugs and weapons with women.
"It's really embarrassing if a man touches the clothes of another man's wife, or of any woman," says Gen. Mohammad Asif Jabarkhil, who is in charge of the operations unit of the Afghan counternarcotics police. "It's a shameful thing."
Police have arrested more than 20 women who have hidden drugs under their burqas, Jabarkhil says. The women tape the drugs around their bellies or hide them in cooking pots or purses.
The female anti-drug officers now are being sent on raids, where they search the women and interrogate them. Eventually they may work undercover, where they could pass largely unnoticed under burqas.
"The women can do things that the men can't do," says Ricky Chambers, regional program director for the Blackwater Training Center, a division of the North Carolina-based Blackwater USA global security company that trains the Afghan anti-narcotics police.
Two of the female officers are married, older women who gained police experience before the rise of the Taliban. But most are young, in their late teens and 20s. Some of those young women stayed in Afghanistan during the Taliban's rule. They attended hidden schools, or they wove carpets at home, or they just sat. Others fled to Pakistan or Iran.
The younger women were recruited to be police officers from high school or by relatives. Two, including Mirakai, were the daughters of police officers.
Several women struggled through training. They complained about the heavy guns and intense exercise. A few still speak in whispers, as if they're afraid that somebody might hear them.
"In the beginning, it was so hard for me, to be dressed like this, to carry a gun," said Sgt. Meena Akrami, 19, in her camouflage. "Before the shooting exam, I was about to cry."
She passed, though. Another woman was even named an honors student in her class, for her marksmanship and other skills.
The women now speak with conviction of their duty to Afghanistan and to stop drugs from ruining it.
Maj. Habiba Sultani, 40, helped find about 150 pounds of marijuana in a raid on the outskirts of Kabul. She found guns and ammunition hidden in women's storage boxes on another raid in Logar province.
"They didn't want me to search them," Sultani said. "They thought I was a man. But I explained to them I was a woman."
Mirakai looks forward to such raids. Her ID card says she's 16; most likely, she's older. In Afghanistan, plagued by years of conflict, many people do not know their age.
Training draws notice
A recent day of training began with a march through the streets of Kabul. Mirakai and Raufi lingered at the rear, keeping in step with the trainer's calls of "left, left, left, right, left." They marched over rubble, past goats and into a playground, where children stopped to watch. Women in burqas, mostly widows, walked by on their way to a literacy class, full of thoughts about a country where women can carry guns.
"I'd be very happy to join the police," said Maryam Sima, 50. "But they would look at me and say, `No. You are too old.'"
Mirakai decided she wanted to be a police officer while she was a child, watching her father get ready for work. She even tried on his uniform.
Her family moved to Pakistan when the Taliban took over and returned a month after the Taliban fled. Last fall her father, Ghulamhazrat Mirakai, graduated from the first training course for anti-drug officers.
Now he works for the counternarcotics police and helps with training. His neighbors know he is a policeman, but they have no idea what his daughter does.
"We don't want anybody to know she's going to be a police officer," he says. "It's still not safe for her."
Ghulamhazrat Mirakai, about 42, rides his bike to work, carrying his daughter on the back. She wears a head scarf and the typical long clothes of an Afghan woman.
He watches his daughter as she trains. He corrects her mistakes, like when Faozia punches with her palms facing up instead of down. "You made a mistake again," her father tells her.
"It's so hard," she responds.
But behind her back, he tells strangers how proud he is.
"When I see her in the column of boys, I think she's one of them," he says. "She looks tough and strong, like a man."
Construction of Tajikistan-Afghanistan bridge delayed for security reasons
DUSHANBE, June 1 (AFP) - Construction of a bridge linking Tajikistan and Afghanistan, paid for by the United States, has been delayed for security reasons, the Tajik ministry of foreign affairs said Wednesday.
The work on the bridge, which was supposed to begin on Thursday, will now start "around June 12," due to the need to boost security measures on the frontier with Afghanistan, Tajik officials said.
The bridge, 670 meters (2,200 feet) long, will cross the Pyandzh River, which separates the two Central Asian countries. The US will cover the cost now estimated at about 50 million dollars (40 million euros) and the work will be done by the American army.
Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai are expected to take part in a ceremony laying the first stone for the bridge, which will replace a barge system. The bridge, which is scheduled to be completed in April 2007, is expected to carry more than 1,000 vehicles a day across the river border.
Afghanistan's War on Narcotics
e-Ariana.com 06/05/2005 By Hekmat Karzai
Two days after his inauguration last December, Afghanistan's first popularly elected President, Hamid Karzai, convened a national conference on narcotics. He told the gathering of government officials and regional leaders that drug production and trafficking pose a greater threat to the long-term stability of Afghanistan than the Taliban and Al Qaida, and that the future of Afghanistan would depend on how it deals with this menace.
Afghanistan, the United States, Europe and the entire international community all have an enormous stake in halting the deadly drug trade. Particularly since 9/11, the nexus between drugs and terrorism has been cast in stark relief. Drug traffickers and terrorists may employ many of the same methods, frequently enter into opportunistic alliances, and pose many of the same threats to international political, economic and financial systems and they both sow the seeds of crime, insecurity and despair. In addition it destroys democracy and freedom wherever they are active.
The Government of Afghanistan welcomes the involvement of the U.S. and NATO in this campaign. But it is essential that the war on narcotics be conducted in a manner respectful of Afghanistan's natural environment and keep the people of Afghanistan as the most important allies in this long term fight.
We appreciate that U.S. officials, both military and civilian, recognize this crucial reality. In particular, we appreciate the receptiveness that our international partners and friends are showing to our argument that aerial spraying is not viable in the current situation.
Developing an Afghan solution to the narcotics threat is crucial for the political and economic stability of our country, and for the entire region.
Our Government has mobilized religious institutions and councils to issue strong edicts against cultivation of illegal drugs. In Islam, those who cultivate poppies or engage in any form of drug activity are considered criminals. Invoking these traditional values is an important element of our national counter-narcotics strategy.
Recently, the Afghan government established a Ministry of Counter Narcotics, whose mandate is to improve coordination among the various eradication and interdiction and Alternative Livelihoods initiatives. In February, the Government launched its Counter Narcotics Implementation Plan, founded upon eight main pillars: building institutions; public information; alternative livelihoods; interdiction and law enforcement; criminal justice; eradication; demand reduction and treatment of addicts; and regional cooperation.
The plan envisages bodies at the provincial level cooperating with the Central Government to devise strategies to support rural development while ensuring compliance with the ban on poppy cultivation. In each province the Government plans to establish District Development Councils, Provincial Development Shuras (traditional Afghan bodies for resolving community problems) and Provincial Development Committees. The new Ministry will be in charge of coordinating all efforts carried out through the Afghan Government's counter narcotics strategy, with the support of the United Kingdom, the U.S. and the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC).
A new Counter Narcotics Trust Fund has already been created. The fund's top priority for 2005 will be support for alternative livelihoods – an absolutely essential aspect of our national strategy. As the illicit narcotics industry now accounts for 50 percent of economic activity, there is a growing need for strong governmental support to provide for alternative livelihood. We are also seeking a major increase in assistance from the international community for this vital need.
The plan also calls for tough new criminal justice provisions, including expansion of the Afghan Special Narcotics Force. The Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan will be expanded to over 750 officers by the end of 2005, with an effective presence in all major opium producing provinces and expanded training in intelligence and investigations functions with the support of the UK, which has taken the leading role on counter-narcotics in the international coalition.
We have also seen good cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).Italy and other international donors are helping us develop a more effective criminal justice system.
A new law on money laundering was adopted late last year, and new measures on freezing and confiscating assets will be in placed this year. A new court in Kabul with jurisdiction over major drug trafficking cases throughout Afghanistan is being developed.
These measures have produced tangible results. This February, UNODC and the Ministry of Counter Narcotics held a rapid assessment survey of poppy cultivation and eradication, looking at 225 villages and 198 districts throughout the country. The survey revealed a decrease in opium poppy cultivation in the majority of the 34 provinces.
Afghanistan is determined to strongly follow the course that it has successfully embarked upon since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, an effort that would not have succeeded without the full involvement of the United States. However, our Government needs continued support for alternative livelihood from the international community and cooperation of our neighbours in defeating the narcotics threat.
The writer is the First Secretary at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC and a Fellow at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service.
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