Rice in Afghanistan for talks on democracy
Thu Mar 17, 2005 7:40 AM GMT By Saul Hudson
KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has discussed deepening democracy in Afghanistan during a one-day visit there and how to stop the landlocked Central Asian nation from becoming a narcotics state.
Rice met Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah shortly after arriving in Kabul from Islamabad.
She was due to meet President Hamid Karzai, who was handpicked by Washington to head a transitional government after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban for harbouring Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities.
The Bush administration sees Afghanistan as a foreign policy success. After throwing out the Taliban, it set the country on the path to its first democratic presidential election in 2004, which Karzai easily won.
Some 18,000 U.S.-led troops are still stationed in the country fighting a lingering Taliban-inspired insurgency, and Karzai remains a target for bin Laden's al Qaeda network. Bin Laden himself is believed to be somewhere in the country still.
Speaking on the eve of Rice's visit, top U.S. military official Air Force General Richard Myers described the overall security situation as "exceptionally good," however.
Rice was greeted on Thursday by a girl's soccer team at the airport before her motorcade of around a dozen vehicles set off through the Afghan capital's muddy streets to the national museum to meet women from relief agencies, rights groups and political circles.
"It's very exciting to see what's happened there -- the presidential elections (and) they're getting ready for parliamentary elections," Rice told reporters this week.
Ahead of the trip, Rice said her talks would include problems Afghanistan continues to face "in the war on terror and, of course, on the counter-narcotics side as well".
She is on a six-country Asian tour that has already taken her to India and Pakistan. She will return to Islamabad later on Thursday for more talks with the Pakistani leadership, then will move on to Japan, South Korea and China.
She can seldom have seen any place physically bleaker than Kabul, with its bombed-out and bullet-pocked buildings, and hovels crammed on hills surrounding the downtown area.
Afghan military stood guard along the bumpy route that was lined in parts by hundreds of passive onlookers, men clad in traditional long shirts and baggy trousers and women covered from head-to-toe in blue burqas.
A State Department report this month warned that Afghanistan was "on the verge of becoming a narcotics state" and its heroin trade was "an enormous threat to world stability".
Afghanistan has become the heroin supplier to the world, and the trade in opium -- the base product for making heroin and morphine -- is estimated to account for up to 60 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
Rice will reassure the Afghan people the United States will not abandon them as it did after helping them eject Soviet forces in the 1990s, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said in Washington ahead of the visit.
There is some expectation that Afghanistan will grant the United States military base rights as the government wants to build a long-term strategic relationship with Washington.
The commander of the led troops in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Barno, told a news conference on Wednesday the international community should keep up the momentum of support to help Afghans secure peace and stability.
"If this was ten mile race for Afghanistan, we're about at mile three right now."
Afghanistan is still bedevilled by regional warlords, as well as drug runners, who many ordinary Afghans fear more than the Islamist militants.
Warlords and their private armies are involved in rape, murder and human trafficking, according to a U.S.-based Human Rights Watch report last week, which criticised Western peacekeeping forces for not deploying widely enough to police the provinces.
While generally welcome in Afghanistan, U.S. forces have also been accused of abuse. The military said on Wednesday at least two dozen detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan died at the hands of U.S. forces in confirmed or suspected cases of criminal homicide.
US's Rice to talk democracy, drugs in Afghanistan
Thursday March 17, 2:43 PM AFP
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Afghanistan, a flagship for American efforts to promote democracy in the Islamic world, for talks with President Hamid Karzai on reconstruction and the fight against drugs.
The top US official landed Thursday at Kabul International Airport in a US Air Force C-130 Hercules transport aircraft from the Pakistani capital Islamabad on her first ever trip to the war-shattered nation.
"It's very exciting to see what's happened there -- the presidential elections, they're getting ready for parliamentary elections," Rice earlier told reporters at the beginning of a six-nation Asian tour.
Rice immediately headed to the Kabul Museum, which rises from the bombed-out rubble in the west of the capital, to view the handful of exhibits left intact by the ravages of the fundamentalist Taliban regime.
She then met a group of Afghan women, who are still fighting for equal rights despite being able to vote for the first time in last October's presidential vote, for a roundtable talk on democracy.
Rice is set to meet with US-backed President Karzai, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, and top American diplomats and military officials later Thursday.
She said she would also touch on the central Asian's state drugs trade. Afghanistan now pumps out almost 90 percent of the world's heroin and the UN and the US state department have warned that it teeters on the brink of becoming a "narco-state."
Talks would focus on the problems that Afghans "continue to face, continuing in the war on terror, and of course on the counternarcotics side as well," Rice earlier told reporters.
Washington recently prioritised the issue in Afghanistan, earmarking 780 million dollars for opium poppy eradication, alternative livelihoods and rebuilding the justice system over the next year.
US policy had focused on the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda diehards, toppled by American-led and Afghan forces at the end of 2001 for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
While the United States remains mired in violence in Iraq, Rice's visit will be an opportunity for the US to advertise its comparative success in bringing democracy to Afghanistan.
A US-led coalition of some 18,000 troops is still trying to suppress the Taliban-led insurgency in the south and southeast but attacks have tailed off in recent months and they failed to disrupt the all-important elections.
As two landmine blasts Wednesday killed a US soldier and five civilians in western Afghanistan, US military chief General Richard Myers said ahead of Rice's visit that security in the country was "very good".
However, Myers said there was a rising awareness that the drugs trade "poses a very serious threat to stability".
Rice will return late Thursday to key US ally Pakistan for talks with her counterpart Khurshid Kasuri. She held meetings late Wednesday with Pakistan's military ruler President Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.
Earlier Wednesday, India and the United States agreed during Rice's flying visit to New Delhi to strengthen cooperation in defence and energy, ignoring differences over US arms sales to Pakistan and plans by India to buy gas from Iran.
Rice's whistlestop Asian tour will also take in China, Japan and South Korea.
US Considering Permanent Bases in Afghanistan, General Says
By Michael Kitchen / Islamabad / 16 March 2005 Voice of America (VOA News)
The top U.S. military officer says the Department of Defense is studying the possibility of setting up permanent U.S. bases in Afghanistan.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers told reporters in Kabul that the United States enjoys good relations in Afghanistan and Central Asia. He said he will soon make a recommendation to President Bush about building permanent U.S. bases in Afghanistan.
"At this point we are in discussions with the Afghan government in terms of our long-term relationship, remembering that for the moment, the coalition has work to do here, the United States has work to do here, and that is where our focus is right now," he said.
The U.S. military has kept about 18,000 soldiers in Afghanistan since defeating that country's former Taleban government in 2001. It also has forces deployed in neighboring Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Earlier this year, Senator John McCain called for Washington to make its military presence in Afghanistan a permanent one.
Reactions from Afghanistan's neighbors to such a move would likely be mixed.
Retired Pakistani Lieutenant General Talat Masood says officials in Islamabad probably would be happy to see a permanent U.S. presence, which they believe would provide support in the event of hostilities with rival India.
"Pakistan, to be honest with you, I think they will not mind that," he said, "because they may think that is it is a good way to countervail India, provided they [Pakistan] themselves have good relations with the U.S."
But he adds that right-wing elements in Pakistan, along with some of the country's religious political parties, might see U.S. bases as a sign that Washington seeks to dominate the region.
He adds that Iran, Afghanistan's neighbor to the west, would also be upset.
Iran sees the United States as one of its enemies, and President Bush has criticized it as being part of an "axis of evil."
General Masood says a U.S. decision to keep bases in Afghanistan could be partly out of a desire to contain Iran and monitor its forces. He says the United States also wants to keep as many bases near the Middle East as possible to ensure stability in the region, which has vital petroleum reserves.
General Myers' comments came as the U.S. military announced one of its military policemen was killed and four were wounded in a landmine blast in western Afghanistan. An Afghan soldier was also killed in a separate landmine explosion.
US General Says Afghan Security Situation 'Very Good'
Wed Mar 16, 2:59 AM ET By Simon Cameron-Moore
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's overall security situation was described as "exceptionally good" by the United States' top military commander on Wednesday, although he said the Taliban, al Qaeda and drug lords still posed a threat.
Speaking on the eve of a visit to Kabul by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Air Force General Richard Myers gave an upbeat assessment of Afghanistan's progress since the Taliban were ousted in late 2001.
"Every trend line in Afghanistan is going up, and going up at a great rate," Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at Kabul's international airport.
"Security is very good throughout the country, exceptionally good," said Myers, flanked by the commander of the 18,000 U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Barno.
In remarks likely to be echoed by Rice, the two generals spoke triumphantly about the advent of democracy in Afghanistan after a quarter century of conflict and repressive governments.
They said dealing with the drug threat was the next major challenge, as Afghanistan had become the heroin supplier to the world in the past three years.
Meantime, Myers said a militancy threat lingered and there would be no let up in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.
"There is still some hard core Taliban that has to be dealt with eventually," said Myers, adding that a reconciliation program to be launched by President Hamid Karzai would help.
"Al Qaeda still poses a risk. This is still a target for al Qaeda," he said, praising Pakistan for putting thousands of troops into tribal areas along the border to help squeeze out the threat.
Myers said the Taliban appeared in disarray after their failure to disrupt the election won by Karzai in October.
Karzai, who has survived two assassination attempts, was handpicked by Washington to head a transitional government after the Taliban's fall.
Afghanistan's new constitution was written a year ago, and more than 10.5 million Afghans registered to vote. Over eight million actually voted in the presidential election.
A parliamentary election is due to take place, and mid-September is the proposed date for the poll.
Other tangible signs of progress the generals did not mention were the record numbers of children in school and the near eradication of polio, plus a budding media.
But nor did they mention the role of the warlords in human rights abuses, or the insecurity and economic depredation that still bedevil the country.
Unemployment is chronic, housing bad, public health facilities are grossly inadequate and infrastructure requirements are massive for the Central Asian nation of 28 million.
But generals stressed the need for the international community to stick by Afghanistan during its rehabilitation.
"The one significant risk is maintaining the momentum of success in Afghanistan," said Barno.
"If this was ten mile race for Afghanistan, we're about at mile three right now."
US military chief urges world not to forget Afghanistan
Wed Mar 16, 4:42 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The world must not turn its back on Afghanistan if the war-ravaged country is to maintain the progress it has made since the fall of the Taliban more than three years ago, the top US commander said.
General Richard Myers, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters before a visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that security in Afghanistan was now "exceptionally good".
But Afghanistan, which held its first ever presidential election last year, is still at risk from drug lords and militants linked to the ousted Islamic rulers and the task of reconstruction is huge, Myers added on Wednesday.
"Much progress has been made, but the international community writ large is going to have to stay involved in Afghanistan as it continues to grow and mature and develop," he told a press conference at Kabul Airport.
Caught in a morass of violence in Iraq, the United States has been keen to trumpet its relative success in bringing democracy to Afghanistan, where it leads a coalition of some 18,000 troops.
Rice's short visit on Thursday will come three months after US Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attended the inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Myers said the successful October presidential election had dealt a blow to the Taliban, with the ultra-Islamic militants "essentially in disarray" since then.
"Security is very good throughout the country, exceptionally good," added the general, who arrived in Afghanistan Tuesday and met Karzai, Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
On Tuesday one US soldier was killed and four injured in a mine blast near a US base at Shindand near the Iranian border. It was unclear if the mine was planted deliberately or left over from a previous conflict.
Both Myers and the commander of the US-led forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Barno, said Afghanistan could slide backward without continued international support.
The burgeoning narcotics industry still poses a serious threat to stability, as do hardcore elements of the Taliban who continue to attack US-led and Afghan forces, as well as civilian targets, Myers said.
The country is the world's number one producer of opium, which is used to make heroin, and saw a 64 percent jump in cultivation last year.
However Myers said a government-backed reconciliation drive would likely bring the majority of Taliban fighters back into normal life.
Barno echoed his comments on the situation as a whole, saying: "If this was a 10-mile race for Afghanistan, the country's about at mile three right now, which means that there's a lot of miles yet to go and it's going to take great support to get to that finish line."
The fundamentalist Taliban was toppled by US and Afghan forces at the end of 2001 after the regime refused to hand over Osama bin Laden in the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Afghan court sentences four to death for deadly attacks on U.S. security firm, NATO peacekeepers
By STEPHEN GRAHAM
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) An Afghan court on Wednesday sentenced four people to death for organizing two deadly attacks on foreign security forces in the capital last year, a senior judge said, blaming both blasts on Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.
The Primary National Security Court convicted three Afghans and one Tajik for the Aug. 29 car bombing at a U.S. security firm as well as a suicide attack on international peacekeepers, Judge Abdul Baset Bakhtyari told The Associated Press.
``They are charged with the suicide attack and terrorist activities in Afghanistan and they are sentenced to death,'' Bakhtyari said in a brief telephone interview after the closed-door court session. He didn't detail the precise charges against the men or say if they had appealed.
Three Americans were among at least seven people killed in the attack on the office of Dyncorp, a U.S. contractor which provides bodyguards for President Hamid Karzai and helps train Afghanistan's fledgling national police.
Two months later, a man laden with hand grenades blew himself up on a shopping street near a group of Icelandic soldiers, injuring three of them and killing an American woman and an Afghan girl who were passing by.
Bakhtyari said the court had concluded that the four accused had organized the attacks on the orders of a Tunisian called Attaullah Arab. ``Attaullah Arab is an active member of the al-Qaida network, and the leader of this group, which he sent to Afghanistan for terror and suicide attacks, was from Tajikistan,'' Bakhtyari said.
Two men sentenced to 20 years each in prison for the rape of a young girl
Pajhwok Afghan News 03/16/2005
KABUL – Two people were sentenced to 20 years in prison by the homeland and external security court, on March 16, for the rape of a 12 year-old girl from Kunduz six months ago. The two men, Enzer Gul, a 59 year old from Panjshir who lived in Kunduz, and Jawed, 22 was a resident of Baghlan. Correspondents say Enzer Gul who has two wives had abducted Rahima from Fatema Zahra School in Kunduz province, in the month of September, and Jawed had become an accomplice.
According to Judge Abdul Baset Bakhtiari, homeland and external security court, Enzer Gul, Jawed and two others with the rape-victim Rahima were arrested from a house after a three week criminal investigation was conducted by the Pul-e-Khumri police. During the hearing, Bakhtiari said the two men had forced Rahima to drink alcohol and later raped.
Rahima's parents were present at the hearing. Abdul Karim, her father, covering his eyes with a white handkerchief and wiping the tears rolling down from his eyes, told Pajhwok Afghan News: "These abductors have taken my little girl and have raped her, which religion can accept it?"
He also said that he received death threats from commanders and gun men. Rahima a fourth grade student said she was on her way back home from school when Enzer Gul suffocated her with a medicated handkerchief and she became unconscious.
Later she was taken to Pul e Khomri under 'Chaddari', and was kept in a house. Rahima said: "They had told me they would kill me if I raised my voice." Rahima added that she was later taken to Charikar, the provincial center of Parwan and later to Kabul.
Prosecutor from the special prosecution department for the homeland and external security court, Mohammad Zaher Naem told Pajhwok Afghan News that the forensic evidence conclusively proved that Rahima was raped.
New political and security appointments by President Karzai
Pajhwok Afghan News 03/16/2005 By Mustafa Basharat
KABUL – Senior political leaders representing different political groups have been appointed to senior positions by President Hamid Karzai. The move is being viewed as one in keeping with the attempts at national reconciliation. President Karzai has also shifted several of the security commanders in the provinces, a move seen as an assertion of control by the central government.
Hazrat Sebghatullah Mujadidi, a former President of the first Islamic Republic government of Afghanistan has been appointed as the chairman of the new "national peace commission".
A source said that the statement issued by President Karzai making this appointment stated that "in order to maintain a national peace and stability and to give participation to all sections to rebuild the country, we appointed him (Mujadidi) to this position". Mujadidi was the leader of the organization named Nejat-e-milli during the time of the 'jehad' against the Soviets
Lieutenant Gen Suhaila Siddiq, a serving General in the Afghan National Army has been appointed to the post of advisor in health affairs to the President. Lieutenant Gen. Suhaila Siddiq was health minister in the transitional government of Hamid Karzai.
Mohammad Karim Khalili, the second vice president has been appointed as the chairman of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration(DDR) commission and Masoom Stanakzai, the previous communication minister has been appointed as the deputy to this commission and advisor to the President as well. According to the statement on these appointments, this is expected to speed up the DDR process in the country.
The President has also changed the security commanders of six provinces - Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Balkh, Kunar and Badakhshan. A source in the Presidential palace told Pajhwok Afghan News on phone that Major General Mohammed Akram Khakrezwal had been appointed security commander of Kabul, Babajan, the previous commander of Kabul appointed as commander of Herat, Lieutenant General Khan Mohammad appointed to Balkh, Abdul Ghafar to Kunar, Lieutenant General Mohammed Ayub to Kandahar and Brigadier General Maulana Shahjahan as security commander of Badakshan.
In additional the president has made several more security related appointments. Yunus Noorzai has been appointed as head of traffic and highway security, Doctor Humayun as assistant to Governor of Kandahar, Abdullah Popal as head of the provincial department of the Interior Ministry, Mohmd Ayub as Head of the 6th Border Brigade of Herat. Haji Mohammed Anas, the previous Deputy Governor of Kandahar is now the administrative assistance of the Interior Ministry and Abdul Ghafar has been appointed as head of the criminal branch of security police of Kandahar.
Afghan Roadside Blast Wounds at Least 25
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A roadside explosion rocked the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Thursday, wounding at least 25 people, while Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice made her first visit to the country, far north of the blast site, police said.
A bomb blast hit a taxi carrying four women and two children and injured others sitting in a nearby restaurant in the downtown Ahazrat Jibaba area of the city, said deputy provincial police chief Gen. Salim Khan.
Rice was in the capital, Kabul, about 280 miles to the north.
American and Romanian forces based in Kandahar cordoned off the busy commercial area, which is crowded with shops and restaurants. The shoes and turbans of the wounded were scattered on the bloodstained street. The taxi, a three-wheeled tuk-tuk and two motorbikes were badly damaged by the blast.
Khan said at least 25 people were wounded in all, many of the them seriously, and they had been taken to hospital for treatment.
The explosion came as Rice made her first visit to Afghanistan during a six-country tour of Asia and held talks with President Hamid Karzai. Their discussions were expected to focus on the war against terrorism and fighting the booming Afghan narcotics trade.
The United States has about 17,000 forces hunting al-Qaida and Taliban rebels in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Kandahar was the main stronghold of the hardline Taliban regime before it was ousted in a U.S.-led offensive in late 2001.
Naimat Khan, who was sitting inside roadside restaurant when the blast happened, said he helped put wounded people in passing vehicles and sent them to hospital.
"Many people sitting outside were seriously wounded," he told The Associated Press. "Some people were covered in blood. I saw one man with his hand cut off from his body."
Police said the blast went off as the taxi traveled down the street, taking the women and children to a Muslim shrine. All six passengers were badly hurt.
Afghan soldier killed by mine at site of crashed airliner
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) An Afghan soldier helping recover bodies from an airliner which hit a mountaintop last month was killed when he set off a mine at the mountaintop crash site, officials said Wednesday. A second soldier was injured when the mine exploded on Tuesday morning, NATO's security force in Afghanistan said.
Deep snow and fear of old ordnance has hampered efforts to retrieve the remains of at least 104 people killed when the Boeing 737 crashed east of the capital, Kabul, during a snowstorm on Feb. 3, the country's worst air disaster.
The plane came down near a disused observation post left over from Afghanistan's long wars, raising concern that the areas might be mined. A NATO statement said the explosion occurred about 400 meters (yards) from a landing zone that had earlier been checked by explosives experts.
Bad weather meant a Spanish helicopter was only able to evacuate the injured soldier and the body of his dead comrade on Wednesday, the statement said. So far, the bodies of only 16 victims of the crash have been identified and returned to relatives.
DNA samples have been sent to Italy and Turkey for analysis to try to identify other remains collected from the site. Most of the victims were Afghans, though there were also more than 20 foreigners among the passengers and crew, including included nine Turks, six Americans, four Russians and three Italians.
US soldier, five Afghans die in Afghan landmine blasts
Wed Mar 16,11:40 AM ET World - AFP
KABUL (AFP) - Two separate landmine blasts in western Afghanistan killed a US soldier and at least five civilians, a day before US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was due to visit.
The explosions were both near the major US base at Shindand, an old Russian airport littered with landmines from the previous 25 years of war, although officials did not rule out the possibility that militants planted the devices.
Four other US soldiers from a military police unit were also wounded in the first blast early Wednesday and six Afghan civilians were hurt when the second explosion tore through a minibus hours later, officials said Wednesday.
One US soldier sustained a severe back injury, one is currently in stable condition and two were treated and returned to duty, a US military statement said.
US military spokesman Major Steve Wollman told AFP that both explosions went off in quick succession early on Wednesday although an earlier statement said the first blast had occurred Tuesday.
"We are still trying to determine whether it was an old mine or one that was recently placed," Wollman said, referring to the blast that killed the soldier.
Three US soldiers have now been killed in Afghanistan this year, with the previous two dying in combat. At least 29 US soldiers were killed in combat in the war-torn country in 2004.
The Afghan victims were travelling in a minibus when the landmine detonated near Shindand airfield, Mohammadullah Afzali, spokesman for the provincial governor of Herat told AFP.
"Five Afghans were killed and six others wounded. Coalition forces evacuated three wounded to a coalition base in Kandahar," Wollman said, adding that the others were taken to a local hospital.
Shindand is located near the Iranian border, some 120 kilometers (74 miles) south of the main western city of Herat.
Afzali did not rule out the possibility that the blast was the result of a recently laid mine. "It could have been planted by the enemies of Afghanistan," he added.
The latest deaths come a day after officials said an Afghan soldier was killed and another wounded while searching for bodies from a plane which crashed into a mountain outside Kabul last month.
Afghanistan remains peppered with landmines after a decade-long fight against Soviet occupation in the 1980s, a civil war in the early 1990s, the US invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent insurgency by the ousted Taliban regime.
Rice, who is currently in Islamabad as part of a whirlwind Asian tour, is due to make a short trip to Afghanistan's capital Kabul on Thursday and will return the same day to Pakistan.
The US-led coalition has more than 18,000 soldiers in Afghanistan hunting Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, who continue to wage attacks on military and civilian targets.
Hours after the landmine blasts General Richard Myers, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Kabul that security in Afghanistan was now "very good throughout the country, exceptionally good".
The ultra-Islamic Taliban was toppled by US-led and Afghan forces at the end of 2001 after the regime refused to hand over Osama bin Laden in the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
However the US is due to pull its troops out of western Afghanistan this summer and move them to the Taliban heartland in the country's south and east.
US reports 26 deaths among detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan since 2002
Wed Mar 16, 5:06 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - At least 26 people arrested by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have been killed since 2002, in what military investigators suspect were acts of criminal homicide.
The number is far higher than the six prisoner deaths caused by abuse the Pentagon reported to the US Congress last week, prompting a Human Rights Watch adviser to describe it as "astounding" and indicative of the "overall failure to take seriously the abuses that have occurred."
The New York Times said the new figures, provided by the US Army and Navy after repeated inquiries, include 18 cases that have been concluded and recommended for prosecution, and eight cases under investigation as confirmed or suspected homicides.
The prisoner deaths, at least four of which involve Central Intelligence Agency personnel, took place in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002. Only one death occurred at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison.
The killings took place both inside and outside detention areas, Army spokesman Joseph Curtin told Wednesday's edition of the newspaper, adding that the army was investigating each death.
"Simply put, detainee abuse is not tolerated, and the Army will hold soldiers accountable. We are taking action to prosecute those suspected of abuse while taking steps now to train soldiers how to avoid such situations in the future," said Curtin.
Two wounded as Afghan opium farmers clash with anti-drug police
KABUL, March 16 (AFP) - Two Afghan farmers were wounded Wednesday when a clash erupted during a police campaign to eradicate opium poppy crops in the eastern province of Nangarhar, police said. The pair were wounded as they resisted police who tried to destroy their crops in Spinghar district, outside the provincial capital Jalalabad, deputy police commander Amir Khan Lewal told AFP by telephone.
"We had to abort our mission after the clash," he said. Nangarhar, one of Afghanistan's top drug producing areas, was the scene of a series of raids by the counter-narcotics forces. In a raid last week they seized 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of heroin and over two tonnes of dry opium.
Afghanistan grows almost 90 percent of the world's supply of the opium used to make heroin, according to UN reports. President Hamid Karzai declared a "jihad" or a holy war on drugs shortly after being elected president in October last year.
U.S.-trained counter-narcotics force raids Afghan drug labs
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) U.S.-trained commandos raided drug factories in eastern Afghanistan Tuesday, destroying more than two tons of opium and heroin as part of a crackdown on the world's largest illegal narcotics industry, the government said.
Traveling by helicopter, Afghan forces destroyed several drug-refining laboratories in a village called Gul Baghak in Nangarhar province, near the border with Pakistan, the Interior Ministry said in an e-mailed statement.
They found 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of heroin, 2.2 tons of opium, as well as liquid containing opium and a haul of chemicals, the ministry said. The unit ``photographed the drugs as evidence and then set fire to the drugs to destroy them.''
No one was hurt, according to the statement, which did not mention any arrests. The raids were carried out by a crack unit within Afghanistan's fledgling counter-narcotics police. The unit is being trained by U.S. personnel including the Drug Enforcement Agency. Britain and France are training other special units.
Afghanistan last year supplied more than 90 percent of the world's opium, the raw material for heroin, sparking warnings that the country is turning into a narco-state just three years after the fall of the Taliban. Under pressure from the United States and Europe, who are funding a crackdown on smugglers and an aid program to wean farmers off opium poppies, President Hamid Karzai has vowed to eliminate the trade, though officials warn that it could take years to succeed.
Police seize 15 kilograms of heroin, two tonnes opium in eastern Afghanistan
KABUL, March 15 (AFP) - Afghan counter-narcotics forces have destroyed 15 kilograms of heroin and more than two tons of opium in a series of raids in eastern Nangarhar province, the government said Tuesday. In a press released, the Interior Ministry said the operation yielded 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of heroin, 2200 kilograms of dry opium, 1750 liters of liquid that contained opium, as well as almost 2,000 litres of other chemicals.
The US-trained anti-drug police conducted the raids in Achin, Shinwar and Dar-i-Noor districts -- the country's top drug growing regions -- in the province which borders Pakistan last week. "The National Interdiction Unit used helicopters to travel to a landing zone near the suspected labs. They then hiked several kilometers to the drug labs which were located in the village of Gul Baghak in three separate compounds." the press release said.
There were no casualties, it added. Local officials earlier told AFP that at least four men were arrested in the raids last week but the release gave no further details and officials could not be reached for comment. Afghanistan grows 87 percent of the world's supply of the opium used to make heroin, according to UN reports.
The country saw a 64 percent leap in opium production in 2004 and has also branched into heroin refining over the last year, but the Afghan government backed by the international community is taking a harder line on the issue. President Hamid Karzai declared a "jihad" or a holy war or on drugs shortly after being elected president in October last year.
Two child-trafficking gangs captured, Kandahar officials say
Pajhwok Afghan News 03/16/2005
KANDAHAR - Afghan Intelligence officers in the southern province of Kandahar Wednesday say they have arrested two armed gangs who are allegedly involved in child abductions. Experts say the number of child abductions have increased in Kandahar. In late January, a child was kidnapped from the city and was killed in spite of an offer of a ransom paid by his family. And earlier two other children who were kidnapped were found with their hearts and eyes pulled out.
On March 07th, 'thousands' of Kandahar citizens staged an angry march to protest against the increase in child abductions in the city. According to eyewitnesses, nearly ten people were wounded in the demonstration. Correspondents say the demonstrators threw stones at the governor's office and they retaliated by firing shots in the air to disperse the crowds.
The provincial head of Kandahar intelligence, Sanam Gul, told Pajhwok Afghan News, Tuesday that the ringleader of one of the gangs was called Ahmadullah, AKA Kory and another was Niek Mohammad. He added that six people were arrested from Kory's gang, but refused to elaborate on the Nieko's group.
He also said that two PK auto-rifles, four Kalashnikovs, eight pistols and thousands of rounds of weapons and hand grenades were seized with the gangs. The people of Kandahar have pleaded with the provincial authorities to deal with child abductions.
"We know this is the power of the march which was organized recently that made the government to pay attention to its responsibilities," Javid, 24, a resident of Kandahar told Pajhwok. Sanam Gul said the two gangs were involved in kidnapping of the two children who were killed later. Both gangs are being questioned and will be sentanced after the hearing, he said.
Law on forced marriages still widely flouted
KABUL, 16 March (IRIN) - Standing out from the crowd in a queue of women waiting outside the Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs to submit their complaints, Turgul Khan looks a little confused.
The 22-year-old resident of Jilgah in the central province of Wardak is seeking help and advice from the ministry's legal department as his family is under pressure from relatives to marry off his 13-year-old sister and he's not happy about it.
Although the legal age for marriage in Afghanistan is 16 for females and 18 for males, many people, particularly in rural areas, either ignore the law or claim they are not aware of it.
Turgul said that when he was six he accidently shot and killed his uncle's daughter while playing with a loaded rifle. His uncle forgave him. "But now, after 16 years, he wants my sister to marry his son, saying that in the past I killed his daughter," Turgul told IRIN. "But my sister does not want that and neither do I."
The practice of resolving conflicts between families by giving daughters or sisters to the agrieved party remains common in Afghanistan, local human rights groups have said.
"If the laws say that we should do that, than neither my sister nor I have a problem with that, but if the law does not approve it, we will not do that," Turgul said. He maintained that his uncle, who was formerly a judge during the Taliban regime, was a powerful man in his community, while his family was poor.
Initially, the young man went to the district head asking him to resolve the issue, but he reportedly supported the claim of his relative.
The case of Turgul's sister illustrates the continuing problem of forced marriages in the country. "Child marriage is a serious issue in Afghanistan because it has a very negative impact on society," Dr Suraya Subehrang, deputy minister of women's affairs, told IRIN earlier.
According to the women's ministry and women's NGOs, approximately 57 percent of Afghan girls get married before the age of 16.
The practice of forced marriages is carried out for many different reasons, including giving a female in marriage as repayment for a debt, or to resolve a feud. Many Afghan families determine whom a daughter should marry without her consent. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) estimates that up to 80 percent of all marriages in Afghanistan are conducted without the consent of the parties involved.
Tradition and an improper interpretation of religious rules lie behind the many and varied abuses of women's rights in the country, including forced marriages, Baryalai Sabir Barya, a legal adviser with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), told IRIN, adding that illiteracy and a lack of education were also contributing to the problem.
Iran Exports Over US$205 MLN Worth of Foodstuffs Since March
Tuesday March 15, 9:00 AM IRNA
TEHRAN, March 15 Asia Pulse - Over US$205 million worth of foodstuffs has been exported from the country since the start of the current Iranian calendar year 1383 (started March 20, 2004), Iran`s Customs Administration announced here Monday.
According to the report, the exported figure registered an increase of 11 per cent compared to the same period in the preceding year.
The foodstuffs were exported to Afghanistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and various Central Asian countries.
Over US$24 million worth of confectionery was exported from Iran during the same period which indicated a rise of 66.5 per cent as against the corresponding period in its previous year.
Symbol of pro-Taliban resistance silenced
Asia Times Online; 15 March 2005 By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - With the killing of Abdullah Mehsud, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee and Taliban commander of Pakistani origin involved in the kidnapping and killing of Chinese engineers last year, a powerful chapter in the pro-Taliban resistance in Pakistan's tribal areas is over.
The 28-year-old one-legged fighter, who emerged as a key figure after the death of commander Nek Mohammed last June, succumbed to his injuries in North Waziristan's Shawal region last Friday and was buried in an unknown place, well-placed tribal sources in North Waziristan confirmed to Asia Times Online.
Abdullah's real identity was Mohammed Alam Mehsud. He fought alongside the Taliban for many years and lost his right leg in late 1999, since which time he has used an artificial limb. His spirit as a guerrilla leader was undiminished, though, and he pitched himself against US-led forces when they attacked Afghanistan in late 2001. He was subsequently captured and sent to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, but was released early last year after the Pentagon said he was no longer a threat to the US and had no intelligence value. As soon as returned, he joined up with Nek to fight Pakistani forces in the tribal areas.
Initial information gathered from different sources suggests a bloody shootout took place on March 5 at Deogar Saidgi, North Waziristan, between the fighters of Abdullah and security agencies. Abdullah was severely injured, but while 11 of his comrades, including four Arabs, two tribals and five other fighters from different Pakistani cities were arrested, Abdullah refused to surrender and managed to escape to the difficult
terrain of Shawal, where on Friday he died.
Asia Times Online contacted the director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations of the Pakistan armed forces, Major General Shaukat Sultan, but he admitted to no knowledge of the incident. Abdullah was largely isolated, both politically and physically, at his hideout in South Waziristan after most of the renegade Wazir tribes struck a deal with the federal government soon after pro-Taliban Pakistani tribal leader Nek was killed in a laser-guided missile attack.
The Wazir tribes removed all Arab families from their areas and allowed Pakistani troops to establish checkpoints in the area. Abdullah, however, remained committed to foreign fighters and kept providing them sanctuary. It is believed that most of the foreign fighters who stayed with Abdullah were of Central Asian origin, including Tahir Yuldevish of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Abdullah's commitment, however, was repaid with a lot of military operations, until he was forced to leave his sanctuaries in South Waziristan and moved to North Waziristan to take refuge in the isolated and rugged terrain of the Shawal.
Abdullah's fighting forces were gradually depleted, and when he died only a few loyalists were around him to lay him in rest. Most of his followers have scattered to different locations, been killed or arrested. With Abdullah's case now closed, the final leg of operations is now pending in North Waziristan. On Sunday, about 700 Pakistani troops conducted house-to-house searches in Mana, Shawal. Six suspects were arrested from among the Zalikhail tribals, but no foreigners.
North Waziristan's Shawal is reckoned as one of the most inhospitable terrains in the region. Before the partition of British India in 1947, the area was a hot-bed of anti-colonial activity led by Mirza Ali Khan, alias
In September last year, the Pakistan army conducted an operation in Shawal after a tipoff that Osama bin Laden and his deputy Dr Aiman al-Zawahiri were holed up there. It is largely believed that bin Laden's and Zawahiri's video tape released on al-Jazeera TV on October 2003 was filmed in the Shawal area because of the specific vegetation in the background. Tribals in North Waziristan now believe that Abdullah's killing will finally put an end to conflict in the troubled tribal belt, at least for the next several months. Syed Saleem Shahzad, Bureau Chief, Pakistan, Asia Times Online.
Mud slide destroys 40 homes in Kabul
Pajhwok Afghan News 03/16/2005
KABUL - A mud slide at Kotal-e-Khairkhana north of the capital Kabul on Tuesday night destroyed 40 houses but resulted in no casualties, officials said Wednesday. many people in this area had lived here all their life. Standing besides what was left of his house, Mohammad Naim said he had lived at this house for 50 years, and a crack in the mountain side that had appeared three years ago had gradually got bigger.
"It was 11 O'clock in the night when I heard some rumbling noises and I got out of my house immediately." He added that some families living on the out skirts of the mountain had earlier evacuated their houses. Sixty year-old Sayed Mohammed, who was also made homeless after the disaster said he built his house at this location because it seemed most suitable and he asked the government to provide him with a house.
The Mayor of Kabul, Ghulam Sakhi Nurzad who visited the site said the reason for the mud slide was because of the lack of reinforcement and barricading on the sides of the mountain, and the recent rains and snow had added to the slide. He said the Afghan Red Crescent Society and the government department dealing with natural disasters will provide temporary dwellings in Kabul, for the people made homeless by this accident.
India, U.S. hit snags over Iran, arms to Pakistan
Reuters 03/16/2005 By Saul Hudson and Sanjeev Miglani
NEW DELHI - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's bid to promote closer ties with India hit potentially serious snags on Wednesday over a pipeline from Iran and the possible sale of F-16s to Pakistan. As Rice arrived in Islamabad, India said Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf would visit next month for a cricket match between the national teams, his first trip to India in four years and a potential boost for a slow-moving peace process.
Rice told her hosts that Washington -- seeking to apply pressure on Iran over what it says is a secret nuclear weapons programme -- was concerned over plans for a $4 billion gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan to energy-hungry India.
"We have communicated to the Indian government our concerns about the gas pipeline cooperation between Iran and India," she told reporters after meeting Foreign Minister Natwar Singh. Rice, who was on the opening leg of her first trip to Asia as secretary of state, said U.S. relations with both India and Pakistan had never been better and this had helped the neighbours in their year-old peace process.
Rice later flew to the Pakistani capital Islamabad from Delhi where she called on Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and was to hold talks with Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terror, before a brief visit on Thursday to Afghanistan to meet U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai.
An Indian government official said Musharraf would attend a cricket match in New Delhi on April 17, a move which could add momentum to peace efforts between the Southasian rivals. "More important than the match, I would like to meet the Indian leadership," Musharraf said on Tuesday. "I know...there is a desire on their side also. I look forward to making this meeting a little more concrete to move the process forward."
Indo-Pakistani tensions have eased since the two sides began talks last year aimed at ending half a century of enmity. But New Delhi has opposed U.S. arms sales to Pakistan including F-16 fighters, saying these were aimed against India, while Pakistan has expressed concern about any move by Washington to sell Patriot anti-missile systems to India.
"We did express our concern on certain matters on the defence issue as to how it might create some complications," Indian Foreign Minister Singh told a joint news conference with Rice. "Our views on F-16s are well known."
Washington is considering selling F-16s to India as well. Rice said the question of arms sales, including F-16s, had come up, but she did not expect any announcement on the subject. A move to sell fighters to India and Pakistan would be a major policy shift for the United States and a final step towards tacit acceptance of both nations' possession of nuclear weapons.
Washington halted deliveries of F-16s to Pakistan in 1990 after a U.S. law barred military exports to Islamabad which was suspected of possessing a nuclear device. India and Pakistan both conducted nuclear test blasts in 1998.
The United States is now signalling its willingness to discuss civilian nuclear energy cooperation with India, which is struggling to cope with the energy demands of a booming economy. Washington wants to begin talks on how India can meet its energy demands, including through possible U.S.-Indian cooperation in civilian nuclear power, said a senior State Department official who asked not be named.
U.S. President George W. Bush accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, bracketing it with North Korea and pre-war Iraq in a so-called axis of evil. Tehran says its nuclear programme is intended only to generate electricity.
India, which has ancient ties with Iran, said it was talking with Tehran about a pipeline to meet its huge energy needs despite U.S. concerns. "We have no problem of any kind with Iran," Singh said. "The energy requirements of India are growing exponentially in the years to come as we become more and more industrialised."
Indian Oil Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar said India needed Iranian gas as it was a relatively cheap source of energy. Aiyar acknowledged, however, that the Iran project faced obstacles including lingering concerns over the safety of a pipeline running through nuclear rival Pakistan.
"I don't think the path is going to be smooth. The security community of India has a less rosy picture about Pakistan. Apprehensions are still there," he said. In her talks with Musharraf, Rice is expected to prod him gently to strengthen democracy. The general, who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1999, broke a pledge to give up his top army post by the end of last year.
While Rice will urge reforms, she will balance that pressure with support for an ally after Musharraf sided with the United States and against militants following the Sept. 11 attacks. In Pakistan, nuclear proliferation will also loom large as the Bush administration presses Musharraf to ensure a Pakistani-run black market for nuclear technology that was revealed in 2003 has been rolled up. (With additional reporting by the WASHINGTON bureau and Himangshu Watts)
Afghan women highlight need for girls education
Source: ActionAid 14 Mar 2005
As human rights activists in Afghanistan, they have faced persecution and hardship to bring improvements to the lives of the women in their country. From March 12 - 17, these three women are in the UK to speak about the human rights and social issues that women face in Afghanistan today.
They say education is one of the biggest problems in the country. There are very few schools, and those there are, are overcrowded. Many makeshift schools are held in the open air but the extremes of heat and cold, along with widespread malnourishment, create a difficult environment for learning.
Girls find it particularly difficult to access education: they are expected to do household chores instead; safety is a problem; and there is no culture of appreciation for female education.
Negotiations are under way regarding the privatisation of education in Afghanistan but the three Afghan women say that this will hurt rather than help Afghan children. Most parents will be unable to afford tuition fees, and girls will be the first to lose out.
The following women are available for interviews from Sat 12 March -- Thur 17 March:
Hulan Khatibi, executive director of WASSA, Women's Activities and Social Services Association. She runs shelters for destitute women, which offer training and education. She also founded Afghanistan's first radio station for women, which broadcasts vital information of relevance and interest to women.
Marina Nawabi, policy director, ActionAid Afghanistan. She learnt English in clandestine groups that met in a different location every night in order to evade punishment by the Taliban, including execution.
Mary Akrami, Director of AWSDC, Afghan Women Skills Development Centre, which helps women learn their rights and build up their skills.
The women have rarely travelled but are looking forward to sharing their unique insight with the UK press and public.
They arrive from America, where they have lobbied policy makers on Capitol Hill, at the World Bank, the State Department, and the UN for greater aid for women's projects. In the UK they will be meeting Afghan groups and MPs. They are being assisted by development agency, ActionAid, which works in Africa, Asia and Latin America to tackle poverty and injustice.
ICRC holds war-surgery seminarNews No. 05/24
Source: International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 16 Mar 2005
Geneva, 16 March 2005 - More than 35 surgeons and nurses will attend an ICRC-organized seminar on war surgery in Geneva between 18 and 20 March. The seminar will bring together medical staff from various parts of the world, including war-affected countries such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia.
ICRC medical specialists will familiarize participants with appropriate surgical and anaesthesia techniques, and teach them how to manage wounds and care for patients in the difficult conditions of a war zone. They will also acquaint them with the rules of international humanitarian law governing access to medical care in time of war. The main objective of the seminar is to prepare qualified surgeons and nurses for field missions with the ICRC.
In addition to its own war-surgery activities, the ICRC teaches medical staff in conflict regions the techniques of caring for the wounded. "In Afghanistan, for example, the ICRC has been helping eight hospitals to provide proper care for war casualties," said Dr Chris Giannou, the ICRC's chief surgeon. "At the height of a crisis it might be necessary to send ICRC surgeons directly to the war zone, as is the case in Darfur at the moment. But in the long term it is just as important that local surgeons and hospitals acquire the necessary capacity to handle war wounds."
In 2004, the ICRC regularly supported 50 hospitals and more than 300 other health-care facilities around the world. ICRC-supported hospitals in conflict regions admitted nearly 255,000 patients and performed 82,500 surgical interventions. The ICRC currently employs 11 surgical teams – each comprising a surgeon, an anaesthetist and an operating-theatre nurse – in parts of Africa and Asia affected by armed conflicts.
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