Afghan suspected of killing journalists captured
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan authorities have arrested the leader of a gang accused of killing four journalists in 2001, including two from Reuters, officials said on Sunday.
The suspect, identified as Zar Jan, was arrested after a shootout with police in Sarobi district, 50 km (30 miles) east of the capital, Kabul, on Saturday night, the official said.
"Zar Jan was wounded by several bullets. He will be brought to Kabul today," said the police official, Feraidoon.
The four journalists, including Australian television cameraman Harry Burton and Afghan photographer Azizullah Haidari of Reuters, were killed on Nov. 19, 2001, at Tangi Abrishum, about 90 km (55 miles) east of Kabul. They were both 33.
Spaniard Julio Fuentes of El Mundo and Italian Maria Grazia Cutuli of Corriere della Sera were the other two victims.
The journalists were stopped on the road from Pakistan by a gang of about 12 gunmen while trying to reach Kabul days after the defeated Taliban had withdrawn from the city.
They were shot and killed shortly afterwards.
Authorities have in the past said they had arrested several suspected accomplices of Zar Jan.
One of them, Reza Khan, 29, was sentenced to death last November. He said his gang had been acting on the orders of a Taliban commander.
In a confession broadcast on state television in August last year, Khan admitted killing one of the journalists and identified the leader of his gang as Mahmood Zar Jan.
Zar Jan, who was also wanted on suspicion of armed robbery, kidnapping and other killings, was arrested with four of his gang members, said Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal.
"I believe that with the arrest of this group, especially the leader of this gang, we have achieved a lot and we'll have a lot of decrease in criminal activity," he said.
Two Taliban leaders arrested; rebel fighter killed in clash, Afghan officials say
Sunday June 5, 7:15 PM AP
Security forces have arrested two alleged Taliban leaders, while fighting between suspected rebels and Afghan soldiers near the main north-south highway in southern Afghanistan left at least one insurgent dead, officials said Sunday.
Six other suspected Taliban rebels were captured in the fighting Saturday in Zabul province, said Afghan army commander Gen. Muslim Amid.
He said Afghan troops had tightened security along the highway after a string of deadly rebel attacks.
Intelligence officials arrested the two Taliban leaders as they were driving in western Farah province on Saturday, said Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammed Zaher Azimi.
One is Mullah Abdul Rahim _ a deputy for a key Taliban commander said to be close to the militia's fugitive leader, Mullah Omar _ Azimi said. The other is a regional Taliban leader, Haji Sultan, he said.
The Taliban and other insurgents have stepped up attacks following a winter lull in fighting. Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces have hit back hard, killing more than 200 rebels since March, according to Afghan and American officials.
Afghanistan regrets Koran abuse, welcomes US investigation
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan regrets the desecration of the Koran at the US' Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba and welcomes a US investigation into abuse of the Muslim holy book, the Afghan foreign minister said.
The US military on Saturday admitted that guards at Guantanamo mishandled the Koran, including cases in which a copy of the holy book was kicked.
"The fact that there has been investigation, the fact that this issue has been taken seriously, we welcome it," Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said Sunday.
"Also, we regret the fact that those abuses have taken place," he told reporters in Kabul.
Abdullah said he hoped "concrete measures are taken to prevent this action from taking place" in future but did not call for any punishment of those involved.
The news of the Koran abuse, first reported in the US magazine Newsweek last month, sparked violent riots across Afghanistan which left at least 15 people dead and more than 120 hurt.
Amid demonstrations across the Muslim world, the US-based magazine retracted its report after its source on the abuse expressed doubts.
Abdullah criticized the magazine, saying: "I think that the fact that such news unfortunately led to violence in Afghanistan and to too many killings, it's a very unfortunate situation".
Hundreds of suspected militants are being held as "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay and in detention centers inside Afghanistan, where an 18,000-strong US-led coalition is hunting militants three and half years after the ouster of the hardline Taliban regime.
U.S. Confirms Urine Touched Quran at Gitmo
Associated Press / June 4, 2005 By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer
WASHINGTON - U.S. military officials say no guard at the Guantanamo Bay prison for terror suspects flushed a detainee's Quran down the toilet, but they disclosed that a Muslim holy book was splashed with urine. In other newly disclosed incidents, a detainee's Quran was deliberately kicked and another's was stepped on.
On March 25, a detainee complained to guards that "urine came through an air vent" and splashed on him and his Quran. A guard admitted he was at fault, but a report released Friday evening offering new details about Quran mishandling incidents did not make clear whether the guard intended the result.
In another confirmed incident, water balloons thrown by prison guards caused an unspecified number of Qurans to get wet, and in a confirmed but ambiguous case, a two-word obscenity was written in English on the inside cover of a Quran.
The findings, released after normal business hours Friday evening and after the major TV networks had aired their evening news programs, are among the results of an investigation last month by Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, the commander of the detention center in Cuba. A Newsweek magazine report — later retracted — that a U.S. soldier had flushed one Guantanamo Bay detainee's Quran down a toilet triggered the investigation.
The story stirred worldwide controversy, and the Bush administration blamed it for deadly demonstrations in Afghanistan.
Hood said in a written statement released with the new details that his investigation "revealed a consistent, documented policy of respectful handling of the Quran dating back almost 2 1/2 years."
Lawrence Di Rita, chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, did not address the confirmed incidents of mishandling the Muslim holy book. Reached while traveling with Rumsfeld in Asia, he said U.S. Southern Command policy calls for "serious, respectful and appropriate" handling of the Quran.
"The Hood inquiry would appear to affirm that policy," Di Rita said.
Hood said that of nine mishandling cases that were studied in detail by reviewing thousands of pages of written records, five were confirmed. He could not determine conclusively whether the other four took place.
In one of the unconfirmed cases, a detainee in April 2003 complained to FBI and other interrogators that guards "constantly defile the Quran." The detainee alleged that in one instance a female military guard threw a Quran into a bag of wet towels to anger another detainee, and he also alleged that another guard said the Quran belonged in the toilet and that guards were ordered to do these things.
Hood said he found no other record of this detainee mentioning any Quran mishandling. The detainee has since been released.
In the March incident, as described in the report, the guard had left his observation post to go outside to urinate. The wind blew his urine through an air vent into the cell block. The guard's supervisor reprimanded him and assigned him to gate guard duty, where he had no contact with detainees, for the rest of his assignment at Guantanamo Bay.
In another of the confirmed cases, a contract interrogator stepped on a detainee's Quran in July 2003 and then apologized. "The interrogator was later terminated for a pattern of unacceptable behavior, an inability to follow direct guidance and poor leadership," the Hood report said.
Hood also said his investigation found 15 cases of detainees mishandling their own Qurans. "These included using a Quran as a pillow, ripping pages out of the Quran, attempting to flush a Quran down the toilet and urinating on the Quran," Hood's report said. It offered no possible explanation for the detainees' motives.
In the most recent of those 15 cases, a detainee on Feb. 18 allegedly ripped up his Quran and handed it to a guard, stating that he had given up on being a Muslim. Several guards witnessed this, Hood reported.
Last week, Hood disclosed he had confirmed five cases of mishandling of the Quran, but he refused to provide details. Allegations of Quran desecration at Guantanamo Bay have led to anti-American passions in many Muslim nations, although Pentagon officials have insisted that the problems were relatively minor and that U.S. commanders have gone to great lengths to enable detainees to practice their religion in captivity.
Hood said last week he found no credible evidence that a Quran was ever flushed down a toilet. He said a prisoner who was reported to have complained to an FBI agent in 2002 that a military guard threw a Quran in the toilet has since told Hood's investigators that he never witnessed any form of Quran desecration.
Other prisoners who were returned to their home countries after serving time at Guantanamo Bay as terror suspects have alleged Quran desecration by U.S. guards, and some have said a Quran was placed in a toilet.
There are about 540 detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Some have been there more than three years without being charged with a crime. Most were captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 and were sent to Guantanamo Bay in hope of extracting useful intelligence about the al-Qaida terrorist network.
US Guantanamo guard kicked Koran
Saturday, 4 June, 2005 BBC News
The US has given details of how guards mishandled copies of the Koran at its Guantanamo Bay prison, including a case of one copy being deliberately kicked.
It was part of an inquiry sparked by a magazine report, later retracted, that a Koran was flushed down a toilet.
The US listed five incidents of mishandling at the Cuban facility, including the splashing of urine and water on copies of the Koran.
The report said most of the cases were accidental or unintentional.
It also said that there were a number of cases where detainees had desecrated the Koran by ripping pages, urinating on it and trying to flush it down a toilet.
Brig Gen Jay Hood, commander at Guantanamo, said in his report: "We defined mishandling as touching, holding or the treatment of a Koran in a manner inconsistent with policy or procedure.
He confirmed that five of these alleged mishandling incidents by US guards did take place.
In one instance, a guard was said to have urinated near an air vent.
The wind allegedly blew his urine through the vent, soiling one detainee and his Koran.
According to the report, the guard was reprimanded and sanctioned, and the inmate was given a new uniform and Koran.
Other Korans became wet after night-shift guards had thrown balloons filled with water into a cell block, the report found.
In a third case, an interrogator reportedly apologised to a detainee after stepping on his Koran.
In a fourth incident, a soldier deliberately kicked Islam's holy book.
Finally, a prisoner found a "two-word obscenity" in English written in his copy of the Koran.
Gen Hood concluded that the words might have been written by a guard or by the detainee himself.
He said: "When one considers the many thousands of times detainees have been moved and cells have been searched since detention operations first began here in January 2002, I think one can only conclude that respect for detainee religious beliefs was embedded in the culture of [Guantanamo Bay's task force]."
Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita said there had also been 15 cases of "mishandling and outright desecration by detainees".
The report said these included "using the Koran as a pillow, ripping pages out of the Koran, attempting to flush a Koran down the toilet and urinating on the Koran".
The earlier report in Newsweek magazine of the Koran being flushed down a toilet by guards had sparked protests across the Muslim world.
In Afghanistan, riots resulted in the deaths of at least 15 people.
Thousands rallied in Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Lebanon and Malaysia, demanding apologies from the US and punishment for those involved.
The magazine withdrew its story after saying it could no longer corroborate the report.
The inmate who made the original allegation about the Koran being flushed down the toilet had retracted it, said Gen Hood.
The White House rounded on the magazine, saying its report had done "lasting damage" to the US image in the Muslim world.
Despite Years of U.S. Pressure, Taliban Fight On in Jagged Hills
By CARLOTTA GALL / The New York Times / June 4, 2005
GAZEK KULA, Afghanistan - For weeks, sightings of Taliban fighters were being reported all over the rugged mountains here. But when Staff Sgt. Patrick Brannan and his team of scouts drove into a nearby village to investigate a complaint of a beating, they had no idea that they were stumbling into the biggest battle of their lives.
On May 3, joined by 10 local policemen and an interpreter, the scouts turned up at a kind of Taliban convention - of some 60 to 80 fighters - and were greeted by rockets and gunfire. The sergeant called for reinforcements and was told to keep the Taliban engaged until they arrived. "I've only got six men," he remembers saying.
For the next two and a half hours, he and his small squad, who had a year of experience in Iraq, cut off a Taliban escape. Nearly 40 Taliban and one Afghan policeman were killed. "It's not supposed to be like that here," said Capt. Mike Adamski, a battalion intelligence officer. "It's the hardest fight I saw, even after Iraq."
During the last six months, American and Afghan officials have predicted the collapse of the Taliban, the hard-line Islamists thrown out of power by American forces in 2001, citing their failure to disrupt the presidential election last October and a lack of activity last winter.
But the intensity of the fighting here in Zabul Province, and in parts of adjoining Kandahar and Uruzgan Provinces - roughly 100 square miles of mountain valleys in all - reveals the Taliban to be still a vibrant fighting force supplied with money, men and weapons.
The May 3 battle was part of an almost forgotten war in the most remote corners of Afghanistan, a strange and dangerous campaign that is part cat-and-mouse game against Taliban forces and part public relations blitz to win over wary villagers still largely sympathetic to the Taliban.
An Afghan informer, who did not want his name used for fear of retribution, has told American forces that the Taliban ranks have been rapidly replenished by recruits who slipped in from Pakistan. For every one of the Taliban killed on May 3, judging by his account, another has arrived to take his place.
With a ready source of men, and apparently plentiful weapons, the Taliban may not be able to hold ground, but they can continue their insurgency indefinitely, attacking the fledgling Afghan government, scaring away aid groups and leaving the province ungovernable, some Afghan and American officials say.
Still, the former commander of United States forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno, described the insurgency as in decline in an interview on April 26 and predicted that a government amnesty offer would fatally split the Taliban in coming months.
In April and May, in a new push to flush out and end the insurgency, American forces began probing the final bastions of Taliban control in this unforgiving landscape. They have succeeded in provoking some of the heaviest combat in Afghanistan in the last three years, killing more than 60 Taliban fighters in April and May, by one United States military estimate.
After a winter lull, the Second Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry, which arrived at the Lagman base in Zabul from its base in Vicenza, Italy, found its new post hopping with activity, Capt. Jonathan Hopkins, the battalion adjutant, and others said.
Suspected Taliban fighters burned the district headquarters in Khak-e-Iran in mid-March. An American platoon was ambushed in the Deychopan district on April 15. United States Special Forces were in a sizable fight in the Argandab district on April 18, killing eight men suspected of being Taliban and capturing a mid-level commander. Two Taliban commanders led attacks on the police station at Saigaz, the seat of the Argandab district, on April 21 and 22.
"There are three to four healthy cells, with 30 to 60 fighters in each; that's 120 to 240 people altogether," said Captain Adamski, estimating the total Taliban strength in the area, though accounts from local people indicated higher numbers.
In the battle on May 3, the 60 to 80 Taliban fighters encountered by Sergeant Brannan and his scouts were well armed and well prepared, with weapons caches and foxholes dotting an orchard where the heaviest fighting took place. The Taliban fought to within 150 yards of American positions and later hit one of two armored Humvees with a volley of rocket-propelled grenades that set it on fire, Sergeant Brannan said. Specialist Joseph Leatham, in the turret, kept firing as the vehicle burned, allowing his comrades to get out alive.
When the first American helicopter arrived as reinforcement, it came under fire and was forced to veer away. "I had one magazine left," Sergeant Brannan said. "I had enough for another 15 to 20 minutes."
In all, the battle lasted seven hours. Ten Taliban fighters were captured, and five Afghan policemen and six American soldiers were wounded. The Afghan informer, who walked for three hours to see the American troops when he heard in late May that they were in Gazek Kula, said a local Taliban commander, Mullah Abdullah, had led the Taliban in the fight. The mullah escaped with his deputy, Sangaryar, by jumping in the river and floating downstream, the informer said.
After the battle, he said, the Taliban sent out word that local men should help bury the dead. Mullah Abdullah and his deputy were there as they buried 19 bodies, 14 of them representing the commander's entire fighting unit.
But news of the fight traveled fast, and dozens more fighters crossed from Pakistan to shore up the Taliban ranks, the informer said. Mullah Abdullah now had a new force of 40 men. Three other leading Taliban commanders in the province - Mullah Muhammad Alam, Mullah Ahmadullah and Mullah Hedayatullah - had more than 200 fighters between them, with more reserves in Pakistan, he said.
The informer said that he knew Mullah Abdullah well and that the mullah had been a guest in his house. But in late April the mullah and his men detained him, accusing him of spying for the Americans. They seized his satellite phone and rifle and threatened to kill him, but let him go because of shared tribal links.
Sgt. First Class Kyle Shuttlesworth, 45, a veteran soldier who is counting the days to retirement, said that the American forces here had tracked many men infiltrating from Pakistan, but that since they crossed unarmed, the Americans had no cause to detain them. "We are trying to work out where they get their weapons," he said.
Some in the area accused Pakistan of fueling the insurgency. Though ostensibly an American ally, Pakistan is viewed with suspicion here by some American military and Afghan officials for its failure to stem the flow of Taliban recruits.
"The Taliban will be finished when there is no foreign interference," said Mullah Zafar Khan, the Deychopan district chief. He blamed mullahs and others in Pakistan for inveigling young people into join the fight. "Pakistan is giving them the wrong information and telling them to go and do jihad," he said. The governor of the province, Delbar Jan Arman, said the answer was to unite the local tribes and strengthen the government, since the Taliban were profiting from a power vacuum. "The reason is not that the Taliban are strong," he said. "The government is not so strong in these areas."
Sergeant Shuttlesworth said part of the American strategy was to engage the local people. Distributing aid and providing jobs in reconstruction projects were paying dividends in the next district, he said, with many people coming forward to offer intelligence on the Taliban.
The soldiers have to learn to switch from aggression to friendliness, he said, "like turning off and on a light switch." It is a slow and tricky job. At Gazek Kula, the American forces at first encountered a wary, silent population that shut itself indoors and turned out the lights.
After bunking in a deserted farmhouse, Sergeant Shuttlesworth and the unit's commander, First Lt. Joshua Hyland, still pale from his recent desk job, chatted with villagers for hours the next day in the small bazaar, joking with children, who at first would not accept even a cookie.
"The Taliban are not here, so there will be no fighting," Sergeant Shuttlesworth told the villagers. "We are here to talk to the people, see if you have enough food, if the children are healthy. We are here for a few days, not to harass the people."
The villagers said the Taliban passed through every so often and demanded food. "The Taliban come only for one night," Wali Muhammad, 33, a wheat trader, said. "They are not a security problem."
Others complained that the Taliban had gathered them in the bazaar and warned them not to run a school, support the government or accept foreign aid. The children said the Taliban had warned them that school would turn them into infidels.
"Twenty days ago there were 10 Taliban in this room," a former policeman, Abdul Matin, 40, told the Americans sitting on the floor over a glass of tea in his home.
They came in a group of 100, he said, and spread out around the village. They had satellite phones and plenty of money, offering one man $2,000 to work as an informer. They were gone before dawn and have not been back since, Mr. Matin said.
"The people support the Taliban because they don't loot and they respect the women," he said. But he added, "The whole district wants to help the Americans, because our country is destroyed."
Lieutenant Hyland urged the villagers to vote in the parliamentary elections scheduled for Sept. 18 and elect someone honest. "Power for the people comes through democracy," he said. "It has to start with the strength of the people, even if it is dangerous for you."
American units have encountered Taliban every few days since the May 3 battle, Sergeant Shuttlesworth said. The battalion suffered its first fatality on May 21, when Pfc. Steven C. Tucker, 19, of Grapevine, Tex., was killed by a roadside explosion in the south. It is there that insurgents cross on their way from Pakistan to join up with the Taliban in the mountains.
[On Friday, Two United States soldiers were killed and one was wounded in a bomb blast in southeast Afghanistan, the American military said Saturday, Reuters reported. They were in a convoy in Paktika province, near the Pakistani border, when their vehicle was hit.]
The American forces keep probing, hoping to lure the Taliban out of the craggy mountain passes. On a recent five-hour trek, Sergeant Shuttlesworth took his men, along with 10 local police officers, down the narrow river valley near here, trying once again to tempt the Taliban into revealing themselves.
"We are the bait," he told the local police chief. "Are you ready to fight?"
Afghan candidate list published
Sunday, 5 June, 2005, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK BBC News
Election organisers in Afghanistan have published a preliminary list of candidates for the upcoming parliamentary and local elections.
An official said 6070 people, including 582 women, had registered for elections due to take place on 18 September.
Candidates must be over 25 and present the signatures of 300 supporters.
Correspondents say organising the polls will be challenging due to the number of candidates and local rivalries.
Would-be legislators must resign top government positions and officially declare they are not involved with illegal armed groups.
Seventy seats in the parliament will be allocated to women.
The final candidate list will be published in July.
The website of the joint electoral management body conducting the polls said that 2480 people, 336 of them women, have registered to run for the 240-member lower house of parliament, known as Wolesi Jirga.
Many of the 70 or so political parties which have registered so far are run by former mujahideen who fought the Soviets in the 1980s and the Taleban in the 1990s.
Correspondents say the election is a milestone in Afghanistan's path to democracy.
Despite threats by Taleban insurgents to disrupt the presidential election and the violent deaths of 12 electoral workers, last year's vote was a success.
The vote for the Wolesi Jirga and for provincial assemblies should have taken place at the same time as the presidential elections, but security fears and logistical problems led to a delay.
But this time, observers have expressed concern that local rivalries between tribal leaders will hamper policing operations.
Afghan election battle lines take shape
By Robert Birsel Sun Jun 5, 7:28 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's election battle lines are taking shape with several prominent politicians, including President Hamid Karzai's main challenger in a presidential poll last October, registering to run for parliament.
A U.N.-Afghan election commission published preliminary candidate lists this weekend, posting names in all provincial capitals and on its Web site for scrutiny.
In all, 2,884 people, 342 of them women, have signed up to run for the 249-seat lower house, known as the Wolesi Jirga, a commission official said on Sunday.
"We have reports from around the country that a large number of people came to see the lists," the commission's chief of operations, Richard Atwood, told a news conference.
The Sept. 18 election is the next big step on Afghanistan's difficult path to stability but worry about security has mounted after a wave of clashes between Taliban insurgents and U.S. forces.
The government says the enemies of Afghanistan want to disrupt the vote.
But the election will require a big security operation not only to prevent rebel violence but also to stop intimidation by regional strongmen vying for power in Afghanistan's fledgling democracy as it emerges from 25 years of conflict.
Candidates must be Afghan and over 25. People who have been convicted of crimes against humanity or who belong to non-official armed forces are barred. People in top government jobs must resign if they want to run.
Anyone can challenge a candidate until Thursday, Atwood said.
The main election issues are expected to be security and government efforts to end the Taliban insurgency, frustration over slow reconstruction, U.S. relations and the role of Islam.
But in a country riven by ethnic and geographic divisions, personality, patronage and power are going to be key.
Among the hopefuls are several ethnic minority "mujahideen," or holy warriors, who defeated the Soviets in the 1980s and helped the United States rout the Taliban in 2001 for sheltering Osama bin Laden.
Mujahideen leaders took main ministries after the Taliban's fall, but Karzai has slowly sought to replace them with Western-leaning technocrats, mostly from his dominant Pashtun community, whose hands are seen as not bloodied by war.
Among hopeful candidates is Yunus Qanuni, runner-up in the presidential race.
An ethnic Tajik from the Panjsher Valley, the heart of opposition to Soviet occupation and Taliban rule, Qanuni is a former education minister in Karzai's interim government.
He has formed a 12-party alliance that he said will seek to make parliament an opposition stronghold holding Karzai's government to account.
Also on the list is former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, a conservative ethnic Tajik cleric.
Others include Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, a former commander from the Shi'ite Muslim Hazara community, and Abdul Rabb Rasoul Sayyaf, a conservative Pashtun and Karzai supporter.
Former Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, who was detained by U.S. forces in 2001 and released two years later, has also registered.
The most prominent leader not eyeing parliament is Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a Tajik commander who Karzai ditched as vice president and defense minister after the presidential election.
Provincial council elections will also be held on Sept. 18 and 3,186 people have registered for them, 240 of them women. Five provincial seats reserved for women will be left vacant because insufficient numbers registered.
Afghanistan sets July deadline for parliamentary candidates to lay down guns
Sun Jun 5, 6:29 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's electoral commission set a July 1 deadline for candidates in the country's first post-Taliban parliamentary election to sever their links with armed militias.
Authorities would "provide those candidates, who are willing to completely disarm and sever links with non-official military forces of armed groups, the necessary weapons collection facilities to do so before a final deadline of July 1," Sultan Baheen, spokesman for the UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body told reporters in Kabul on Sunday.
Afghanistan's electoral law prohibits any candidate with links to armed militias from standing for parliament or provincial councils. However, establishing exactly which candidates command armed men will be difficult.
After 23 years of war Afghanistan remains awash with arms and United Nations disarmament officials estimate that there are 131,000 armed men linked with illegal militias across the country.
Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission has only three weeks to look over objections from the public on the eligibility of candidates.
Afghan citizens aged 18 can stand for parliament while the age limit for provincial councils polls is 25 years.
The newly-established independent Electoral Complaints Commission has just 37 investigators nationwide to look into complaints.
Candidates for the September 18 vote are also barred from standing if they hold government office.
Hazrat Ali, a well-known warlord in Nangahar province stepped down from his position as provincial police commander last month in order to stand for the parliamentary election.
Afghanistan has established a body made up of officials from the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Interior, the United Nations as well as US and NATO troops to look into who commands illegal militias.
Lists of candidates went up in provincial election offices all over Afghanistan on Saturday with the names of the 6,070 people standing for the lower house Wolesi Jirga and provincial council elections, so that the general public can raise complaints and objections.
Complaints can be filed anonymously through drop boxes or by email.
"We are confident we can protect the anonymity of candidates," Richard Atwood, chief logistics officer of the JEMB told reporters.
During Afghanistan's October presidential vote warlords Abdul Rashid Dostam and Mohammed Mohaqeq stood for election, drawing flak from human rights groups and the Afghan public.
The two men were not barred from standing because they had not been convicted of any crime in a court of law despite having long records of rights abuses.
AFGHANISTAN: UN counter-narcotics chief sees signs of hope in poppy eradication
03 Jun 2005 08:06:10 GMT
KABUL, 2 June (IRIN) - Poppy farmers have demonstrated restraint in the cultivation of the lucrative cash crop and the country has made progress in the interdiction of drug supplies in Afghanistan, Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said on Wednesday at the end of his two day visit to the world's largest poppy growing country.
"We have seen progress in interdiction - some very excellent arrests in the country and outside the country," Costa told IRIN in the capital, Kabul.
Leading poppy growing provinces such as Helmand in the south and Nangarhar in the east have shown a significant reduction in cultivation because farmers have refrained from growing the crop and the eradication efforts of the government, he added. But he was not happy about the eradication efforts in the southern Kandahar province.
"In Kandahar we have had the opposite business. I believe the honesty and integrity of those in charge of the operation is to be examined," said Costa. The head of the UN counter-narcotics agency said that despite the reduction in cultivation and the eradication of poppy fields production might still be significant this year. This was due to better weather conditions following heavier winter rainfall and quite a lot of snow after several years of drought.
"I believe we will not represent a historical record but cannot say if it will be lower or higher than last year," he noted. According to a UNODC report, Afghanistan produced 4,200 mt of opium in 2004, accounting for 87 percent of the world illicit drug supply.
Costa's visit follows criticism by US officials who blamed the Afghan government, mainly president Hamid Karzai, for not doing more on counter-narcotics efforts. Karzai rejected the criticism, saying his government had worked hard to eradicate poppy fields. Instead he blamed the western countries for their lack of support. The Afghan president expected at least a 30 percent reduction in the poppy production in 2005.
"The Afghan people have done their job. Now the international community must come and provide alternative livelihoods to the Afghan people, that they have not done so far," he said in a recent interview with CNN.
Meanwhile, Costa said, eradication efforts could be counterproductive in a fledgling democracy if there were no economic alternatives available to farmers.
"Farmers are the weakest links in the chain. Poverty renders them vulnerable and therefore, their plea for a better life has to be addressed," the UNODC director said. Costa said investing in the judicial system and an improvement in the rule of law was more important than other aspects in fighting against narcotics in post-war Afghanistan.
"The Afghan society is a prisoner of a past where every warlord is still a law onto himself and many officials are corrupt," he said. "In addition to eradicating drug crops, the Afghan government has to impose the rule of law."
To display more serious intent in counter-narcotics efforts, Kabul announced in late May that the country's Afghan Special Narcotics Force (ASNF) had stepped-up operations and destroyed significant amounts of opium poppies in just two major operations.
ASNF's major operation was in Afghanistan's largest drug bazaar in the village of Bahram Shah in southern Helmand province, which borders Pakistan. According to the Afghan ministry of the interior, more than 20 mt of opium was seized in this operation alone.
Though there has been a reduction in cultivation this year, farmers complain they are still awaiting assistance with the establishment of alternative livelihoods. According to the UNODC, alternative livelihood programmes must operate hand-in-hand with large-scale rural development programmes in an effort to eliminate poppy cultivation.
Costa warned that alternative livelihood programmes could not progress until security was boosted in the troubled country where tens of aid workers had been killed in insurgent attacks in the last few months alone. The head of the UN anti-drug agency invited NATO to play a more prominent role in ensuring stability and security in Afghanistan.
U.S. security pledge buoys Afghanistan
By FARHAN BOKHARI The Japan Times: June 5, 2005
ISLAMABAD -- The latest U.S. promise to enhance Afghanistan's security in the years to come raises more questions than it answers for the the war-ravaged country, although the so-called declaration of strategic partnership signed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington has certainly pleased the Afghan government.
Karzai claims that Afghanistan now has a U.S. commitment for a partnership extending beyond the central Asian country's elections on Sept. 18, which are supposed to mark the end of the international community's engagement with Afghanistan, according to the Bonn agreement in 2001.
Under that agreement, the international community was to take Afghanistan toward economic rehabilitation so that it could consolidate itself with an elected government. Judged by Western standards, Afghanistan has arrived at the point where a representative democracy is around the corner, but stability and continuity remain in question as the country has yet to be rehabilitated economically and faces an intense security challenge amid doubts about whether its government can survive.
Afghanistan is nearly a failed state -- where the writ of government vanishes and tribalism dominates society. The latest U.S. promise of support does little to acknowledge the need to shift priorities toward the Central Asian country. Rather than more military deployments to tackle the so-called terrorist threat, Afghanistan needs economic commitments.
More than three years after the New York terrorist attacks catapulted the United States into a "war on terror," Afghanistan faces challenges that are peculiar to its internal conditions.
The recent Newsweek report (later retracted) that U.S. troops had desecrated the Quran in front of Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, sparked protests in Afghanistan, too, underscoring the reality that Afghanistan's character cannot be divorced from currents that influence other Islamic countries.
Karzai, widely believed to have been propped up by the U.S., took the unusual step of speaking out on the issue. Some analysts believe his demand that the U.S. place American troops in Afghanistan under the control of the Kabul government was intended to placate public anger.
Profound questions remain over the extent to which the U.S. and other Western industrialized nations can extend more economic support that benefits the grass-roots population. Afghanistan's relative improvement in prosperity the past three years has been limited largely to urban centers such as the capital. The majority of the population lives in surroundings that are a reminder of past conflict.
It is not surprising that in the past few years Afghanistan has witnessed the re-emergence of its infamous poppy and drug culture. Across large rural tracts, many Afghans find it convenient to join this culture, having lost out on opportunities to turn to alternative employment. As in any other similarly distressed country, at the end of the day, Afghans desperate to see higher incomes indeed turn to desperate measures.
In the long run, there are two outlooks for Afghanistan:
It can continue on its present trajectory and become a state with only a semblance of government, a center for militant activity with little prospect for stability. While the strategic partnership with the U.S. heralds an era in which the pursuit of militants will remain active, the already diluted public good will toward the U.S. is likely to weaken further.
It can find a route toward increasing stability and prosperity, backed by the U.S.-led international community pushing a progressive reform agenda.
The writing on the wall so far gives few clues to the future.
Farhan Bokhari is a freelance journalist based in the Pakistani capital.
Laghman governor discusses democracy, disarmament
June 4, 2005 Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jerad Myers Coalition Joint Task Force Phoenix Public Affairs
MEHTAR LAM, Afghanistan – Encouraging the democratic process in Afghanistan has become an important part of the mission of U.S. forces deployed to train Afghan National Army units in the eastern provinces of the country.
Embedded trainers from Coalition Joint Task Force Phoenix accompanied their Afghan Army counterparts to a provincial shura in Laghman Province on May 27. More than 200 religious leaders, elders, and Afghan government officials attended the meeting hosted by Shah Mahmood Sapi, governor of Laghman Province.
“Everyone must participate in the fall elections,” Sapi said. “To ensure our security, our citizens should hand over their weapons or turn in those who have them to provincial authorities.”
Provincial and district leaders offered presentations that outline the upcoming parliamentary elections. The security situation has some citizens around the provincial capital, Mehtar Lam, concerned for their safety.
“Your army (the ANA) stands ready to confront those desiring to harm the democratic elections,” said Brig. Gen Aminullah, the commander of Central Corps’ 2nd Brigade. “I ask your assistance to turn in your weapons and join our democratic future.”
Aminullah also detailed the Afghan government’s new disarmament program to the community leaders. The Tahkim-e Sohl, or “Strengthening Peace,” program provides an opportunity for Taliban to lay down their weapons and reintegrate into society, accept the country’s new Constitution and live in peace.
The upcoming parliamentary elections, slated for September, will provide the Afghan people with the opportunity to select their representative leaders for the first time in the country’s history. This round of voting will follow last October’s successful presidential election.
“A coalition of more than 30 countries here in Mehtar Lam wants to help Afghanistan,” Provincial Reconstruction Team Commander Maj. Sam Agag said. “We hope to assist you, not govern you, on your way to democracy.”
The call to disarm in the name of democracy hit home. Shortly after the meeting, two of Laghman Province’s most prominent Tahkim-e Sohl candidates met with Sapi and Aminullah to discuss the opportunity to rejoin their Afghan community. No specific timeline was set to hand over weapons, but points of contact were established to coordinate the surrender of arms.
“This is excellent news,” said CJTF Phoenix embedded trainer Maj. Dean Perez. “This is a win-win situation for everyone. The disarmament of these individuals could really aid security in this area.”
Afghan Army Chief of Operations to visit United States
June 4, 2005 Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
By U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Victoria Meyer Office of Military Cooperation-Afghanistan Public Affairs
KABUL, Afghanistan – The chief of operations of the Afghan National Army’s General Staff, Lt. Gen. Sher Karimi, will represent his nation as he travels to the United States this week to attend a conference on U.S. special operations forces in Tampa, Fla.
Karimi will attend the U.S. Special Operations Command’s Special Operations Forces Week which begins June 6, followed by a Special Operations Command Symposium. He will also take a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the Pentagon and the headquarters of MPRI, the organization that provides mentors to the ANA and the Afghan Ministry of Defense.
Special Operations Command’s SOF Week is an annual event in which senior special operations leaders meet with industry representatives to discuss how industry products can better fit the needs of the SOF mission.
Almost 80 countries, including many from Southwest Asia, the Horn of Africa, Southeast Asia and Europe, were invited to send military representatives to attend the conference this year. Karimi said he hopes to take what he learns at the conference and apply it in his own work within the ANA.
According to U.S. Army Lt. Col. Peter With, a plans officer with the Office of Military Cooperation – Afghanistan and Karimi’s escort during the U.S. visit, the general’s attendance at the conference will play a vital role in developing future special operations capabilities for the Afghan military.
Karimi said one of the topics he is looking forward to at the conference will be how to combat terrorism.
“Terrorism is a subject today, a problem today, a challenge today and one nation, one army, one unit cannot do it by himself,” he said. “To be successful against terrorism, you have to be well-trained, specially trained, particularly to fight against terrorism in the cities, and must have good intelligence training.”
This is not Karimi’s first visit the United States. In his 38 years of military service, he has completed many military training courses in the U.S., including the Infantry Officer Advanced course, Ranger course, Airborne training and the Special Forces Qualification course.
Karimi is scheduled to return to Afghanistan June 16.
Election Rules Called Unfair
Some candidates for the country’s first democratic legislative election are warning that voters may be shortchanged.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Wahidullah Amani in Kabul (ARR No. 175, 03-Jun-05)
Months before the nation is due to pick its first democratically elected legislature, there’s concern that rules governing the vote will render the outcome unfair.
Some analysts and candidates are especially upset by the rules stipulating that the candidate’s party affiliation will not appear on the ballot and that 68 seats in the national assembly have already seen set aside for women.
The September 18 election will fill 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house. The number of seats from each of Afghanistan's 34 provinces will be allocated on the basis of population.
Kabul, the most populous province, will have 33 deputies. Panjshir, Nimrooz and Nooristan, the nation's more sparsely populated provinces, will have only two each.
Nationwide, nearly 3,000 candidates have registered to seek seats in the Wolesi Jirga. The Joint Electoral Management Body, JEMB, reports that 338 of those candidates, or more than 10 per cent, are women.
So what happens if the top female candidate in Panjshir, with just two delegates, finishes tenth?
She would win a legislative seat, while nine male candidates ahead of her are eliminated, according to the JEMB rules. If the top vote getter in such a case is a man, the two-women-per-province rule would be waived, board spokesman Sultan Ahmad Bahin told IWPR.
"This isn't democracy," said Sayed Mohammad Amin Arif, acting head the National Unity Movement, Hezb-e-Tahrik-e-Wahadat-e-Milli.
Arif and others also pointed out that more than 60 parties, ranging from the far left to extremely conservative Islamic parties, are fielding candidates.
Yet voters will see only lists of candidates' names. And since a majority of Afghans cannot read, the names will be accompanied by arbitrarily assigned symbols, such as tires and toothbrushes.
"Nobody will know what a candidate stands for because the party affiliation won't be listed on the ballot," said Arif.
Abdul Raqib Jawid Kohistani said his Hezb-e-Nahzat-e-Azadi wa Democracy-e-Afghanistan party, Freedom and Democracy Movement of Afghanistan, repeatedly asked the election board to show candidates' party affiliation on the ballots.
“We and several other parties asked the commission to choose a more equitable system, but they didn’t agree," he told IWPR.
“It's not a legitimate system," said Jawid Kohistani. "It benefits the gangs and drug smugglers because they have enough money to get the votes.”
Independent candidates such as Shukria Barekzai defended the no-party rule, however, on the grounds that it was used during the presidential election last year and voters were familiar with it.
Ten Wolesi Jirga seats are also reserved for Kuchis, the country's nomadic minority. Each province will have at least one polling station where Kuchis will select their own candidates. Three of the ten must be women.
Voters on election day will also choose representatives to their provincial councils, which will vary in size from nine to 29 members depending on population. Twenty-five per cent of each council is to be made up of women.
While the election board was pleased with the female turnout of national legislative candidates, proportionally fewer women stood for election to the regional bodies, said Bahin.
In some provinces, there were no women candidates at all, so some seats in those councils will remain unfilled, he said.
There are more than 3,000 candidates for the provincial councils, but only 279 of them are women.
Wahidullah Amani is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.
Afghan FM says efforts underway to secure release of Italian
(AFP) 5 June 2005 Khaleej Times
KABUL - Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said on Sunday his government was doing everything possible to secure release of an Italian aid worker who was kidnapped almost three weeks ago.
“We’re doing everything in our hands, whatever possible to bring to an end the case peacefully,” the minister told reporters in Kabul.
“I’m optimistic that this situation will come to a peaceful end.”
Abdullah’s statement came as Pope Benedict XVI Sunday appealed for the release of Clementina Cantoni.
“I add my appeal to that of the presidents of Italy and Afghanistan, and of the Italian and Afghan people, to release the Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni,” said the pope after giving the traditional Angelus blessing to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
Cantoni, 32, who works for aid group CARE International, was snatched at gunpoint on May 16 while driving in capital’s Qala-i-Musa district.
The aid worker had managed a project which provides food and income-generating activities for 11,000 widows and their children since September 2003.
Widows who found work and had been given food for their families were due to hold a demonstration in Kabul Sunday to call for her release.
Cantoni’s kidnappers, who are thought to be from criminal gangs, released a video last week showing her alive and flanked by two armed men.
Pope Benedict XVI appeals for release of Italian hostage in Afghanistan
Sun Jun 5, 7:01 AM ET
VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Pope Benedict XVI called for the release of Italian hostage Clementina Cantoni, who was kidnapped last month in the Afghan capital Kabul.
"I add my appeal to that of the presidents of Italy and Afghanistan, and of the Italian and Afghan people, to release the Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni," the pope said Sunday after giving the traditional Angelus blessing to the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square.
The pontiff said he hoped that the hostage's painful experience would lead to finding "a peaceful and fraternal accord between individuals and nations."
Cantoni, 32, who works for aid group CARE International, had managed a project which provides food and income-generating activities for 11,000 widows and their children since September 2003.
Her kidnappers released a video last week showing her alive and flanked by two armed men.
The Afghan interior ministry said Saturday that a helpline set up to collect information on her capture had been deluged with calls.
The ministry statement gave no details on how the search for the hostage or negotiations for Cantoni's release were progressing, but Afghan officials said Friday they remained optimistic.
Afghan helpline flooded with calls for release of Italian hostage
Sun Jun 5, 2:22 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghans have deluged a telephone helpline set up to collect information that could lead to the release of an Italian aid worker abducted almost three weeks ago, the interior ministry said.
"The Afghan public has been very helpful and supportive thus far in the efforts to free Clementina (Cantoni)," Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said in a statement on Saturday.
"We have received hundreds of calls at the helpline that was set up shortly after Clementinas abduction, and the police are following up on all leads."
The statement gave no details on how the search for the hostage or negotiations for Cantoni's release were progressing, but Afghan officials said Friday they remained optimistic.
Cantoni, 32, who works for aid group CARE International, had managed a project which provides food and income-generating activities for 11,000 widows and their children since September 2003.
Widows who have been found work and given food for their families were due to hold a demonstration Sunday to call for her release.
Cantoni's kidnappers released a video last week showing her alive and flanked by two armed men.
Training a New Wave of Afghan Photographers
Weekend Edition - Saturday, June 4, 2005 NPR
Last month, a group of college photography students produced their first contact sheets, the blueprints for burgeoning artistic careers. But these students are unique in that they are also inaugurating a four-year photography program at Kabul University in Afghanistan.
Afghan-American photographer Masood Kamandy was living in New York City last year when he learned that the university did not have a formal photography course. Working with the school and the Visual Arts Foundation, Kamandy began the fledgling department this past March, raising funds partly by organizing an auction of photos at Christie's.
Kamandy, who is in Kabul now working with the students, tells Scott Simon in an interview that the project has given him a deeper understanding of Afghan people. "It's a part of me that I've always wondered about, being Afghan-American... [the students] are really working hard at it. They are really inspiring."
GIs in Afghanistan wage `forgotten' war
By Kim Barker Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent
Sgt. Ben Crowley looks through the scope of his rifle at the suspicious white bag lying in the middle of the dusty road. He sees no wires poking out, nothing that screams bomb. He moves closer, his gun pointed at the bag. Four vehicles, filled with U.S. and Afghan soldiers, wait behind him.
But no one is nervous. The bag is what it seems--full of dirt and gravel and nothing else. It is a typical moment in a typical day near a typical base in the middle of nowhere, Afghanistan. Little happens throughout this day. No bombs, no rockets, no gunfire. Just hordes of children demanding chocolate and pens.
Crowley walks back to his Humvee, which will break down within the hour, the third time in a week. As usual, his rifle has no bullet in the chamber. He is not locked and loaded. Crowley does not see the point, because most attacks here involve roadside bombs, not guerrilla ambushes.
" Iraq is like a war," said Crowley, 28, of Greensboro, N.C. "This is like a summer camp."
Sometimes war is not hell. It is simply waiting. But the war in Afghanistan is not really a summer camp, unless summer camp involves swallowing pounds of dust every day, hiking with guns and searching for an alleged Taliban sympathizer named Mohammad Wali. And in this war, soldiers die. On Friday, two were killed by a roadside bomb east of where Crowley and his platoon had patrolled the day before.
But the war in Afghanistan is different from the war in Iraq.
The soldiers here sometimes joke that Afghanistan is the forgotten war, but that is not considered funny. Some letters addressed to the base chaplain, generic ones sent to support U.S. troops, even thank the soldiers here for what they have done for the Iraqi people.
"When I told some of my friends back home I was going to Afghanistan, one was like, `We're still over there? We have troops over there?'" said Sgt. Michael Kennicker, 25, of Greenwood, Neb. "To me, it is forgotten, it really is."
When Sgt. Herman Sarantes was deployed to Iraq, his family, friends and acquaintances mailed him three or four packages a week. In Afghanistan, he said, he receives mail only from his wife and parents. And a letter can take six weeks to arrive.
These soldiers all serve in the engineers platoon in the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade. Most in the battalion also have served in Iraq. A few have pulled triple duty--first Afghanistan, then Iraq, now Afghanistan again. They are among about 16,700 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan, helping rebuild the country and fighting insurgents, who sometimes go for months without attacking.
Danger always lurking
Combat here is sporadic but fierce, mostly along the Pakistan border. Roadside bombs are the most common weapon; the two U.S. soldiers killed by one Friday belonged to a unit getting ready to go home. Life might seem calmer in Afghanistan than Iraq, but this is a war.
"The soldiers are still in danger every day of their lives," said Sgt. 1st Class Rick Scavetta, a coalition spokesman.
Civilians are also at risk. In the past two weeks, three bombs have exploded, targeting Afghan demining groups in the southwest. A suicide bomber killed 19 people Wednesday at a Kandahar mosque.
Life for the engineers platoon has been more peaceful. Their battalion is stationed in Orgun-E, one of the larger of a dozen or so U.S.-led coalition bases along the border with Pakistan and in southern Afghanistan.
Everything is slower here in Paktika province. The Humvees tool along at 10 m.p.h. on Highway 141--really a narrow, bumpy dirt trail. There are no paved roads; some are just dried-out creek beds. The mail takes so long to arrive because it has to be sent by helicopter or "jingle truck," a local truck with dangling, clanging chains. Short patrols take a long time.
"Oh, it's going to be a long, boring day," said Sgt. 1st Class William Porter, 36, the platoon leader, at the beginning of a recent patrol. Fifteen U.S. soldiers and 12 Afghan troops planned to visit people in five villages. Porter brought along two books: "The Complete Guide to Investing in Rental Properties" and "Own Your Own Corporation."
The most exciting moment on this patrol is a tossup--maybe the bag in the middle of the road, or a generator that sounds like an automatic rifle, or an unexploded mortar shell found decorating an Afghan's home.
The Afghan soldiers find out more information than the U.S. soldiers; they grab the mortar and they learn that a nearby gang of thieves is still active.
But "exciting" is not the point. And boredom is good, the soldiers say.
"Suits me just fine," Crowley said. "If I never have to fire my weapon again, I'll be happy."
Paktika province has long been considered a Taliban haven, but that is changing. When set up shortly after the fall of the Taliban in December 2001, the Orgun-E base faced weekly rocket attacks. By last year, the attacks were monthly.
Since this unit arrived in late February, no rockets have been fired at the base. A few roadside bombs have been found nearby, but villagers reported all of them and none exploded. The bomb that killed the two soldiers from another unit was a rarity. The three soldiers killed from this unit died in a helicopter crash, not combat.
Progress against militants
In recent weeks, the Paktika governor finally planted an Afghan flag in the lawless land of Bermel, the only district that had not yet pledged support to the government. The new Bermel police chief replaced a man whose head was cut off by insurgents last year.
Many people seem to be moving on. The police chief of another nearby district is a former Taliban member who recently rejoined the government.
"Paktika early on was a Taliban stronghold, and now it is not," said Lt. Col. Tim McGuire, the battalion commander. "There are isolated bands, but the vast majority of the people support the government."
But the minority is not just going away. Insurgents are still planting bombs to kill U.S. soldiers. Fighting also broke out last week in Bermel, between soldiers and insurgents trying to cross the Pakistani border. Some people simply shoot bad looks at the soldiers. In a nearby district, someone posted "night letters," warnings that Afghans who support the U.S. will be killed. When the governor travels to different districts, not everyone claps.
"Some of the guys around here weren't too happy about having the governor," said Sarantes, 28, of Miami. "We ask them, `Who's the president?' They say they don't know. We ask, `Who's Hamid Karzai?' They say, `He's your president, not ours.'"
Some Afghans allege abuse, they worry about American soldiers searching their homes.
In Iraq, the engineers' platoon, which specializes in demolition, blew up bombs and weapons caches and sometimes doors. Here it works like an infantry platoon, checking roads, visiting villages and providing security.
"Here, it's more hearts and minds," Sarantes said. "Pretty much we have to put our weapons away and see how people are doing."
That means drinking a lot of tea and listening to people complain about a lack of roads and schools. It means Crowley showing kids that he can wiggle his ears and later play "Dixie" on his harmonica. It means pens, chocolates and peppermints.
Most Afghans encountered on the patrol say they are happy to see the Americans. Only one girl sobs and says she is scared. The U.S. soldiers let the Afghan troops take the lead; the Afghans walk first, they talk first, they search first, if necessary. U.S. soldiers follow. The goal is to train the Afghan soldiers to handle their country's security.
At one point, Sarantes walks up the main road of Orgun, the village closest to the base. He asks a shopkeeper whether he has heard anything about the three jingle-truck robberies on Highway 141. Daoud, the shopkeeper, who like many Afghans has only one name, says he knows nothing.
Sarantes asks Daoud what he knows about a roadside bomb found before it exploded. Again, Daoud says he knows nothing.
"If we see mines or something, we'll let you know," Daoud promises him. "But if you want tea, we'll give you tea now."
Later, Sarantes and Kennicker will ask men in other villages whether they know. They will ask about Mohammad Wali, who is on the so-called black list of Taliban sympathizers and insurgents.
The U.S. soldiers will learn little. But they will drink many cups of tea, and they will be told repeatedly that Afghans only want peace, and that nobody here wants to fight anymore.
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