Four U.S. Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan
Sat Mar 26,11:01 PM ET By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - A land mine exploded under a vehicle south of Kabul on Saturday, killing four U.S. soldiers in the deadliest incident for American troops in Afghanistan in almost 10 months, the military said.
The blast highlighted the dangers still facing foreign and Afghan troops more than three years after the fall of the Taliban, although there were conflicting accounts about whether the mine was freshly laid or left over from Afghanistan's long wars.
A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the blast. But U.S. spokeswoman Lt. Cindy Moore said investigators suspected the mine was an old charge dislodged by recent rain and snow or that the vehicle had wandered into an unmapped minefield.
"We believe it was an old mine which could have shifted," she said.
The victims were among a group of American and Afghan officials scouting a potential site for a shooting range in Logar Province, 25 miles south of the Afghan capital, when one of their three vehicles hit the mine, Moore said.
The bodies of the four dead were airlifted to the main U.S. base at Bagram, Moore said.
The four were members of Indiana's National Guard, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said. "Obviously, it's just a day of incredible sadness," Daniels said in Indianapolis.
The governor declined to identify the soldiers but said they were from various parts of Indiana. Family members had been notified, he said. More than 1,000 soldiers from Indiana are in Afghanistan helping to train Afghanistan's new national army.
About 17,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan battling a stubborn Taliban-led insurgency focused on the south and east and training the new Afghan army. The U.S. military says its air and ground operations have killed eight suspected militants and four civilians in the past week alone.
According to U.S. Department of Defense statistics, 122 American soldiers have died since American forces invaded to oust the former Taliban government for harboring al-Qaida militants after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Many have been killed in accidents, including strikes on old mines left behind by Soviet troops who occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s or the Afghan factions including the Taliban who fought each other after the Soviets withdrew.
Moore said U.S. troops had first toured the scene of Saturday's incident about a week earlier in search of a site for a training range for the Afghan army.
Gov. Mohammed Aman Hamini said the incident occurred in a desert area crisscrossed by rough tracks.
"It's an old mine. There's no traffic on the route they took, but the Russians used to use it because they were afraid of the main road," Hamini told The Associated Press.
However, Mullah Hakim Latifi, a man who claims to speak for the Taliban, said its fighters detonated the mine by remote control.
"We've said again and again that we would resume our holy war in the spring," Latifi told AP by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location.
Also Saturday, Uruzgan Gov. Jan Mohammed Khan said U.S. forces detained two suspected Taliban militants the day before as they tried to plant a remote-controlled mine on a road in the province.
The blast Saturday was the deadliest incident for the U.S. military since May 29, 2004, when four American special forces soldiers were killed in Zabul province, near the Pakistani border, reportedly by an intentionally laid mine.
The bloodiest incident was an accidental explosion at an arms dump in Ghazni province that killed eight American soldiers in January last year.
Afghan opium cultivation 'falling'
Sunday, March 27, 2005 Posted: 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Opium cultivation has fallen this year because of a government ban and fear of crop eradication squads, according to a report released Sunday by the Afghan government and the United Nations.
But Afghanistan's counternarcotics minister, Habibullah Qaderi, warned that more international aid is needed to destroy the world's largest illegal drug industry. Afghan drug money equals 40 percent of the country's legal national income.
Opium production has boomed since the fall of the Taliban, sparking warnings that the country is becoming a "narco-state" just three years after U.S. forces ousted the Taliban to end its role as a haven for al-Qaida.
"I know it's an illicit economy," Qaderi said. "But for the time being, Afghanistan is trying to recover from all the problems of these so many years."
He said hundreds of millions of dollars pledged by the United States, Britain and the European Union to help farmers switch to legal crops were insufficient to offset the blow eradication posed to the Afghan economy.
"I think we have to do much more than that." Qaderi said at a news conference presenting the report from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.
The report made no precise forecasts, but said that the trend was down in all but five of the country's 34 provinces because farmers had sown fewer opium poppies, which produce the raw material for heroin.
Last year, cultivation reached a record 323,700 acres in 2004 and yielded nearly 90 percent of the world's opium.
Under pressure from the United States and Europe, President Hamid Karzai has called for a "holy war" on drug production, while urging foreign donors to be generous with aid to Afghan farmers so they can switch to legal crops.
Donors are training special police and paramilitary units to destroy crops and laboratories and arrest traffickers, and are also funding a special court and jail for drug lords.
The report said the reinforced ban as well as fear of eradication were the main reasons for the decline. Low opium yields and higher wheat prices were also a factor for farmers interviewed in 225 villages across the country in January, it said.
Afghan officials have forecast that cultivation will drop at least 30 percent this year, though some observers suggest the decline suits wealthy traffickers by forcing up prices depressed by years of glut.
Qaderi declined to predict whether the decrease would continue in 2006.
US steps up war on Afghan opium
Pentagon fears bumper harvest will fund militants and destabilise government
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington Saturday March 26, 2005 The Guardian
The Pentagon, frustrated by the failure of the British-led battle against opium production in Afghanistan, plans to quadruple the spending on its anti-narcotics campaign, and deploy its troops in a full-scale war on the country's drug lords.
"We are seeking to expand our role," a Pentagon spokesman told the Guardian yesterday. "We are going to try to do more."
It believes the drugs trade is a grave threat to US strategic objectives in Afghanistan, and to the government of Hamid Karzai.
The product of rising alarm at the prospect of a bumper opium crop this year, the plans envisage a greatly expanded role for the 17,000 US service personnel in Afghanistan in blocking the cultivation of and trade in opium.
The Pentagon has asked for $257m (£137.5m) emergency funding to step up the war on drugs, four times the amount it sought last year.
The New York Times reported that the US would use military helicopters and cargo planes to transport agents, and would help to plan missions and identify targets.
American troops would provide support to US and Afghan narcotics agents if they were attacked, a senior Pentagon official said.
"We know the military is not the best tool for fighting drugs," the official added. "But this is not about burning crops or destroying labs. Eventually it is about finding a better option for Afghans who have to feed their families."
Until now there have been restrictions on using US forces against the drugs trade, and troops were barred from destroying opium crops or labs unless they stumbled across them in their hunt for al-Qaida or Taliban suspects.
The new plan will almost certainly eclipse British efforts to maintain a leading role in the campaign against narcotics. Last month the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, announced that British aid to Afghanistan's counter-narcotics programme would be doubled to $100m.
But a Foreign Office spokeswoman welcomed an expanded US role yesterday.
"We work closely with the US and all our allies on countering the narcotics trade in Afghanistan, and we welcome any plans to increase efforts to deal with the drugs problem in that country," she said.
The move follows months of campaigning by the Pentagon and some members of Congress for more aggressive action against Afghanistan's drug trade. Members of Congress have repeatedly warned of the threat to the government and the link between traffickers and insurgents.
Britain assumed the lead role after the fall of the Taliban, when the allies carved up responsibilities for reconstruction. But the drugs trade has expanded, and last year Afghanistan was responsible for 87% of the world's heroin and opium.
Earlier this month the UN drug control board said that Afghanistan was on track to produce its biggest crop of opium since the fall of the Taliban: 4,200 tonnes.
In its annual report the International Narcotics Control Board said that the British-led efforts to persuade farmers to switch to other crops had failed, and that poppy cultivation had spread to all 28 districts of Afghanistan.
Taliban commander surrenders in south Afghanistan
KABUL, March 27 (Xinhuanet) -- A senior Taliban commander has given up resistance and surrendered to the Afghan government Saturday, said an official of defense ministry here on Sunday.
"Backing government's amnesty and reconciliation policy, a prominent Taliban commander Mullah Amanullah surrendered to government troops in Deh Chopan district of Zabul province," Zahir Azimi told a press conference.
Another armed Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Rahman was apprehended in the same area that day, added the spokesman.
Under the amnesty and national reconciliation policy initiated by President Hamid Karzai and US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad late last year, a number of low grade Taliban militias returned to their homes.
However, Taliban's elusive chief Mullah Mohammad Omar has timeand again termed the offer as a trick to split his fundamentalist movement and rejected it.
Afghan army has arrested some 50 Taliban insurgents over the past one year, said the spokesman, declining to say whether any key figure was among them.
Northern Afghan warlords hope for ballots not bullets ahead of elections
Sat Mar 26, 9:51 PM ET
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (AFP) - Two of Afghanistan's most powerful northern warlords have laid down their arms to enter politics as the country prepares for its first parliamentary elections.
The militias of ethnic Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostam and his Tajik rival Mohammed Atta have clashed repeatedly in and around Mazar-i-Sharif since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.
But calm has descended on this northern city as both men look to build political powerbases.
"There are always underlying tensions, but no major problems lately. Dostum and Atta wanted to be legitimate," said Captain Tim Rawlinson of the city's British-run Provincial Reconstruction Team, part of NATO's peacekeeping mission in the north.
To stand in the September 18 parliamentary elections, candidates must prove they are not linked to an armed group and although commanders such as Atta and Dostam still have ties to their militias, they have disarmed most of their men as part of a UN-backed disarmament drive.
"They realized that they can't reach their goals by fighting but by being in the political field," Qasi Mohammed Same, director of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
Same added that Mazar residents were war-weary and tired of the constant clashes between the rival militias.
To build popular support both generals need to strive for a veneer of respectability and the international community has made it clear it would take a tougher line with recalcitrant warlords, he said.
A month ahead of the presidential election last October won by President Hamid Karzai, military strongman Ismail Khan was ousted as governor of the western province of Herat amid riots which were quelled by the US military and the fledgling Afghan army.
Since then Karzai has chosen to bring militia commanders such as Atta and Dostam -- both of whom have a history of alleged human rights abuses -- into the political fold, while Khan was appointed to head the Ministry of Energy.
Atta was appointed governor of Balkh province, which includes Mazar-i-Sharif, ahead of last year's election, while Dostam was appointed chief of staff of the high command of Afghanistan's armed forces last month.
Dostam's appointment dismayed human rights groups but political insiders in Kabul said Dostam, who won 10 percent of the vote in the presidential election, was a political force to be reckoned with.
"It's a case of keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Dostam needed to have a role in government because they can't arrest him or get rid of him," a Western diplomat in Kabul said.
Said Noorullah, Dostam's aide in charge of his Uzbek Jumbesh party, told AFP, "We can't say that we have no weapons. But we think we don't need them anymore, because it's no benefit to fight each other."
He added that Dostam was "not a warlord, he's a political guy. And president Karzai knows that he can do a great job."
Dostam has changed sides many times in the past two decades, fighting with the Soviets in the 1980s and later fighting with the mujahedin against Soviet-backed President Najibullah.
Dostam's nomination in the government, to a post that many see as symbolic, could also have been a shrewd political move.
The appointment "calmed the situation here by alleviating the concerns of militia forces who were badly aggrieved that they were excluded from Karzai's first cabinet," the head of a humanitarian aid agency in Mazar told AFP.
In January Dostam narrowly escaped assassination by a suicide bomber outside a mosque in his northern stronghold of Sheberghan, where he had been saying open-air prayers at a Muslim festival.
The bomb gave Dostam's long-term rival Atta an opportunity to bridge the divide between the two men, and he has twice visited Dostam in Sheberghan, first to express his sympathy after the assassination attempt and then in February after the death of Dostam's father.
Despite the peace overtures, however, tensions remain.
There were popular demonstrations in Mazar over land disputes, with local residents accusing Atta of handing out land to his relatives and militia loyalists.
Atta, however, pinned the blame squarely on Dostam saying it was "the general" who had given out land before the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
When the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance took control of Afghanistan in late 2001, backed by a US air campaign, Dostam was appointed as Karzai's envoy to the north soon after the hardline Islamic regime was toppled.
Wapda to sell power to Afghanistan
By Intikhab Amir Dawn
PESHAWAR, March 26: Pakistan will export electric power to Afghanistan and for this purpose a grid station would be set up in Khost city.
An official team comprising senior engineers of Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) recently visited Khost city to conduct a preliminary survey for construction of a 132-kv grid station and developing an internal power distribution network in Khost city.
The Khost grid would be linked through a 100-kilometre transmission line with a 220-kv grid in Domail, district Bannu of NWFP.
A Peshawar-based spokesman for the Tribal Electric Supply Company (Tesco), a subsidiary of Wapda, said that the survey team comprising senior engineers Ziaullah Khan, Chaudhary Mohammed Akhter, Nek Mohammed and Abdul Razzaq Cheema found the project feasible. He said the team also held a meeting with the governor of Khost province, Miraj-ud-Din, and authorities of the electricity department of Khost to discuss details of the project, existing power facilities and electricity requirements of the area.
Cost of the project, which involves establishment of 132-kv grid station, laying of 100-km transmission line and putting in place an internal electricity distribution network in Khost, has been estimated at Rs822.55 million and it would be completed in two years.
The project will also have an extension capacity of six 20-kv feeders to provide electricity to Khost city and its adjacent areas located in the North of Pakistan near the border of North Waziristan Agency.
The spokesman said that with the execution of the project inside Afghanistan, Pakistan will become the fifth country to sell power to Afghanistan. Neighbouring Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Iran are already supplying power to Afghanistan.
Blows that led to detainee's death were common practice, reservist says
Fri Mar 25, 5:36 PM ET By Elise Ackerman, Knight Ridder Newspapers
FORT BLISS, Texas - An Army reservist accused of killing a detainee in Afghanistan told investigators that the blows that caused the man's death were commonly used to deal with uncooperative prisoners and that his superiors approved of the technique.
Other soldiers testified at a hearing here that they were taught to administer the so-called "compliance blows" in an Army course covering non-lethal tactics and that the blows became an accepted way of dealing with detainees who were considered "combative."
The statement from Pfc. Willie Brand and the testimony from his fellow soldiers provide new evidence that prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq may have been the result of interrogation and detention practices adopted for the war on terrorism.
U.S. officials have insisted that abuse at U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq was the work of a few rogue soldiers. But human rights groups have charged that President Bush's February 2002 directive saying the Geneva Conventions didn't apply to members of al-Qaida or Taliban fighters led to pervasive mistreatment, first in Afghanistan and later at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere in Iraq.
Brand's statements were read aloud at a so-called Article 32 hearing intended to determine if he should be court-martialed in the December 2002 deaths of two prisoners at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul in Afghanistan. Among the 11 counts facing Brand is one charge of involuntary manslaughter and one charge of maiming in one death. He also faces multiple charges of maltreatment and assault in the deaths of both prisoners.
Army pathologists said the two detainees, identified as Habibullah and Dilawar, died as a result of repeated kneeings to their legs. The men died Dec. 4, 2002, and Dec. 10, 2002, respectively.
Brand, who's charged with involuntary manslaughter in Dilawar's death, said in a sworn statement read at the hearing that sharply kneeing a suspect in the legs was a common technique used to subdue prisoners. He said he'd used the technique to gain control of more than 20 detainees during his 10-and-a-half months of service in Afghanistan.
Brand, 26, who was assigned to the 377th Military Police Company out of Cincinnati, is the only soldier charged with manslaughter in the deaths. Another soldier from the 377th, Sgt. James Boland, faces assault charges.
But investigators have identified 26 other military police officers and interrogators who they say committed offenses ranging from assault to maltreatment in the case, including a military intelligence officer who later served at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq when abuses took place there.
Army investigators have recommended that the officer, Capt. Carolyn Wood, who was in charge of the Bagram Collection Point when Dilawar and Habibullah died, be charged with maltreatment, conspiracy and making a false official statement in connection with their deaths.
An Army investigation of abuse at Abu Ghraib also criticized Wood, who served with the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, for failing "to implement the necessary checks and balances to prevent detainee abuse" there.
Wood declined to comment through a spokesman at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where she's assigned.
Brand's defense attorney, John P. Galligan, asked to question Wood during the hearing, which ended Wednesday. But the Army Reserve officer chairing the hearing, Col. Stephen Pence, said she couldn't be called because she had invoked her right against self-incrimination.
Pence, who in civilian life is the Republican lieutenant governor of Kentucky, will recommend to the base commander whether Brand should be court-martialed.
Galligan said Brand used the training he'd been given when dealing with the detainees and that the Army command is at least as culpable as his client. Brand "followed the SOP (standard operating procedure) that was in place," Galligan said.
Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Hawkins, who commanded Brand's platoon, said the unit had received two days of training in "peroneal strikes," or knee jabs, during a course at Fort Dix, N.J., before they were deployed.
Spokesmen at Fort Dix said they couldn't confirm what was covered in the course.
According to Army pathologists, Habibullah and Dilawar died after repeated blows to their legs. Both also were shackled to the ceiling for prolonged periods, sometimes with their hands chained at the level of their heads or higher.
Medical examiner Lt. Col. Kathleen Ingwersen said the forced immobility might have contributed to the blood clot that caused the 30-year-old Habibullah's heart to stop. According to an Army investigation, Habibullah was so badly hurt by repeated knee strikes that "even if he survived, both legs would have had to be amputated."
Lt. Col. Elizabeth Rouse, the pathologist who examined Dilawar, 35, testified via telephone that the severe beating might have aggravated a pre-existing heart condition. She said the tissue in Dilawar's legs had been so damaged by repeated blows that "it was essentially crumbling and falling apart."
Brand, who works as a private security guard in civilian life, attended the hearing, in uniform, but didn't speak.
In sworn statements made earlier to Army investigators and read aloud at the hearing, Brand said he'd received training in applying pressure points and control techniques at Fort Dix before being sent to Afghanistan during the summer of 2002.
He said the knee strike "was not procedure but was common practice because it worked."
Brand said he'd been trained to use "minimum force" when a detainee attacked or assaulted a guard. But when he got to Bagram, he said, "the standard changed and we did things differently."
Brand, who was demoted from specialist to private earlier this year, said an outgoing platoon of soldiers at Bagram trained him to use the knee strikes "as a matter of common practice."
Brand said he initially was uncomfortable with the move, which momentarily crushes a nerve in the leg and incapacitates a person with pain. But he said his commanders "saw this stuff and made no move to correct it, so I took it that the practice was tolerated or allowed."
Brand admitted he struck Habibullah four times in the thigh while the detainee was chained to the ceiling of an isolation cell. He said Habibullah had repeatedly tried to remove a hood covering his head by pinching it between his neck and arms.
The first blow didn't have much of an effect. Brand said he then "stabilized" Habibullah by holding his shirt and hitting him hard enough to lift his feet off the ground.
"It was morally wrong," Brand said. "But it was an SOP."
A few hours later, Habibullah, the brother of a former Taliban commander, lost consciousness. He died shortly after midnight on Dec. 4, 2002.
The next day, a part-time taxi driver named Dilawar was brought to the detention facility. According to investigative documents, Dilawar "was resistant to interrogation" and "eventually became combative."
Handcuffed, Dilawar was placed in an isolation cell and "his hands were stretched over his head to maintain him in a standing position." But even in that contorted posture, Dilawar was able to repeatedly mule-kick the door.
According to Brand's statement, he eventually got fed up with Dilawar's behavior and went into his cell, where he kneed him repeatedly in the legs as he hung from the ceiling.
"I told people I had to switch knees because my leg got tired," Brand said in the affidavit.
Army investigators have said that Brand wasn't alone in brutalizing Dilawar. Four interrogators are accused in the documents of kicking Dilawar in the groin and leg during the course of his interrogation, slamming him into walls and a table, forcing him to maintain painful contorted body positions during the interview and forcing water into his mouth until he couldn't breathe.
Other military police officers are accused of assaulting Dilawar and Habibullah in the documents. Spc. Brian Cammack testified at the hearing that another soldier in the platoon bragged that he had kneed Habibullah at least 50 times "and he deserved every one."
It wasn't clear whether charges would be brought against others in the case.
Afghanistan Emerges From Horrors of War As Violence Declines, Children Return to Rebuilt Schools
By DAVID GUTTENFELDER The Associated Press
Mar. 26, 2005 - After a generation of conflict, Afghans are slowly emerging from darkness. In the afterglow of last fall's presidential election, there is hope in Kabul.
Violence in the capital is now rare. Record numbers of children, including girls, are returning to rebuilt schools. U.S. trainers are forging a multiethnic Afghan army. Aid money is flowing in, and relief groups are helping put the health service and other institutions back on their feet.
Still, three years after America invaded Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and the quick fall of the Taliban regime, Kabul remains a city of struggle. It is a place where life is hard, and where many promises have yet to be met.
Afghanistan is the sixth least-developed country in the world, recent U.N. figures say, and many of its people still live among the wreckage of war.
Herders tend flocks of sheep around destroyed tanks and downed aircraft. Children play soccer on the mortar-blasted bottom of an empty Soviet occupation-era swimming pool. Military veterans with amputated limbs beg on the roadside. Gravestones speckle the dusty landscape.
Millions of refugees have returned after long years of exile in Pakistan or Iran. Some are confident enough of the country's stability to sink their savings into roomy new villas, fueling a breakneck construction boom.
But poorer returnees live as if they were still displaced. Across Kabul, they huddle in the cold hallways of abandoned, bullet-pocked government buildings.
Afghanistan's economy is booming thanks to foreign aid and income from illegal drug production. Yet there are not enough jobs in Kabul, whose population has tripled to somewhere between 3 million and 4 million since the hard-line Taliban was driven out. Estimates of unemployment in the city run as high as 50 percent.
Each morning before dawn, thousands of men offer themselves up at day laborer markets, carrying their paintbrushes, wheelbarrows and trowels and hoping to be among the lucky ones chosen to earn $6 and a breakfast of bread and green tea for a day's work.
Some of that work is rebuilding the city's devastated infrastructure. Electricity supplies are improving, but much of the city is still without sewage systems or telephone service. Entrepreneurs with mobile or satellite phones power them from car batteries, selling call time by the minute.
Across the city, workers dig neck-deep trenches looking for damaged power lines, while others give a fresh coat of paint to bomb-damaged mosques. The city's streets are congested with men pushing heavy bricks and building materials on carts among the sport utility vehicles of relief workers, government officials, diplomats and drug profiteers.
Along the garbage-filled Kabul River, hawkers sell eggs, vegetables and livestock by lantern light.
Press Conference Opening Statement
Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan
Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
March 26, 2005 U.S. Navy Lt. Cindy Moore Spokesperson, Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan
Good morning. I am the Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan spokesperson, Navy Lt. Cindy Moore. A Navy Lieutenant is equivalent to an Army, Air Force or Marine Corps captain. I would like to read a brief statement and then I will be glad to take your questions.
This week, several Afghan people were killed or wounded when Coalition forces engaged insurgents. Coalition forces are always concerned for citizens when insurgents take up firing positions in a village. While Coalition forces have killed or captured a number of insurgents during these operations, it is a tragic loss when innocent people are killed or wounded.
The Coalition prefers that all those who oppose the government would participate in a peaceful reintegration process so all Afghans can live a peaceful life without fear of violence or intimidation. This photo shows what’s left of a 122mm rocket lying in front of a mosque in a village near Khowst. The rocket, which was apparently fired at a nearby Coalition base, damaged the building's facade and foundation and blew out windows. This shows the indiscriminate nature of the terrorists who attack not just Coalition forces, but also the people of Afghanistan (The photo is available on our Web site or by e-mail).
During the past week, we flew more than 10 medical evacuation missions by helicopter from all around the country. Three burn victims from Deh Rawod, all children, were flown to Kandahar to receive treatment. A male, who sustained head injuries, was taken to our facilities in Salerno. On Wednesday, three children in Kandahar were taken to the airfield there due to injuries they sustained from playing with a rocket-propelled grenade. All three children are in stable condition. On Tuesday, a boy from the Qalat area, who had an open fracture on his left leg, was taken to Kandahar. He will have the use of both his legs.
Coalition forces are working to prevent possible disasters due to flooding. The PRT at Lashkar Gah has provided supplies such as food, blankets and tents to the Helmand Rural Rehabilitation Department for distribution to needy families.
In another issue related to PRTs, U.S. and NATO troops took another positive step toward NATO’s westward expansion Thursday by examining a potential site for a new PRT at Chakhcharan in Ghor Province.
Lithuania will head the new PRT. Coalition forces are working together with the International Security Assistance Force to provide logistical support to the Lithuanians as they proceed with plans to establish a new PRT at Chaghcharan.
In another PRT related issue, the transfer of authority at the PRT in Herat will take place on March 31. The ceremony to mark the transfer from U.S. to Italian authority will be at noon on Thursday.
We continue to work numerous reconstruction projects through our PRT teams. We continue to work on the roads so that trade can continue to improve throughout the country.
In the city of Khowst, Coalition forces are spending $78,000 on an elementary school. Paktika’s Afghan National Police forces will receive $80,000 in communication equipment. And, Ghazni is receiving $11,000 worth of medical supplies and a generator for a local orphanage.
In Tarin Kowt, the Provincial government center is projected to cost $300,000, while woman’s vocational training in Qalat received $25,000. Kandahar’s AGRA bank construction, which is to repair the damage to the bank, cost half a million dollars.
In Herat, an orphanage received $5,000 in winter clothing and humanitarian assistance. Shindand has received $80,000 for generators and for well and water sanitation. Farah was given $10,000 for a computer lab.
In each of these projects, our PRT works with the affected village and local officials. The Afghan-Coalition partnership has been the key to success.
I will now take your questions. Please give me your name and media organization with your question. Also, I ask that you limit you queries to one question and a follow-up, please.
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