Laura Bush hails women's education on Afghanistan visit
KABUL (AFP) - US First Lady Laura Bush flew to Afghanistan to praise the country's women, who are struggling for the right to education more than three years after the fall of the repressive Taliban.
The former schoolteacher and librarian unveiled a series of multi-million dollar US-funded projects to promote women's learning, saying they would help secure the war-scarred nation's path to democracy.
Bush's lightning visit to the capital Kabul came hours after a suicide bomb attack in eastern Afghanistan, underlining the continuing threat posed by the hardline Islamic Taliban which was overthrown by US-led forces in late 2001.
"It's an extraordinary privilege to celebrate the incredible progress made by the Afghan people over the last few years, with women now being teachers, doctors, businesswomen and ministers," she told a gathering of Afghan women at Kabul University.
"The terror when they were denied their rights by tyranny has been replaced by a young democracy with equal rights." The Taliban, who ruled most of Afghanistan with an iron fundamentalist hand from 1996 to late 2001, outlawed education for women and forced them to wear all-covering burqas.
The first lady, whose husband has never visited Afghanistan, was warmly welcomed by around 400 women including teachers and officials as she opened an all-female dormitory project.
Young girls in green, gold and red traditional dress clutched bouquets of flowers for the first lady while she spoke to members of the crowd.
Laura Bush announced a 17.7 million dollar grant for a new American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, 3.5 million dollars for the international elementary school of Afghanistan and five million dollars for a women's teacher training institute.
"These are more than just development projects, they celebrate the bond between the US and Afghan people. They are symbols of our shared hopes and dreams for the future," she said. "That dream is a prosperous, peaceful and fair Afghanistan."
In many traditional Afghan families, parents or husbands still refuse to allow their daughters or spouses to go to school unless they have all-female teaching staff and are equipped with separate dormitories.
Arzoo Anghistani, a female student from the southern city of Kandahar which was the birthplace of the Taliban, said Bush's visit was "beneficial." "Things have to change in Afghanistan and education is the biggest problem because here they do not let Afghan women study," said the 16-year-old, adding that she was due to spend a year studying in the United States.
Eighteen-year-old Anosha Noori, a computer operator for a Kabul company, said conditions were improving for women. "Before, Afghan women could not work or even drive, especially under the Taliban," she said.
Bush's visit was only announced only hours before she arrived at Bagram Air Base, the US headquarters in Afghanistan. She flew by US military helicopter to the university under tight security.
Her visit coincided with a trip by Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky to convene the sixth formal meeting of the US-Afghan Women's Council.
Bush was also meeting President Hamid Karzai. Before returning to Washington she was to dine with US troops, who are leading a 18,000-strong coalition hunting down Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.
Her visit comes less than two weeks after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited to hail Afghanistan's progress towards democracy. But the country remains racked by violence. Four hours before Bush's arrival a suspected suicide bomb exploded outside the governor's office in the eastern city of Jalalabad.
Four US soldiers died in a landmine blast in the southeastern province of Logar on Saturday, although it was not known if the device was an old one or recently planted by militants.
On Tuesday four Afghan border police died in a Taliban ambush in western Farah province, while two US soldiers and six Afghan troops were wounded in separate incidents. A bomb in eastern Kabul on Monday injured a Canadian travelling in a diplomatic car along with three other people.
One dead in Afghanistan 'suicide bomb', Taliban kill four police
by Waheedullah Massoud
KABUL, March 30 (AFP) - A suspected suicide bomb rocked a city in eastern Afghanistan, while an ambush by Taliban militants in the west of the country left four policemen dead, officials said Wednesday.
The blast ripped through a Toyota taxi parked outside the governor's office in Jalalabad early Wednesday, leaving a man who was in the vehicle "in pieces", said Abdul Rehman, the police chief of Nangarhar province.
The Taliban attack on the border police happened on Tuesday in the western province of Farah, which is normally relatively free of violence by the ousted fundamentalist militia.
The car bombing came hours before US First Lady Laura Bush was due to arrive on a lightning visit to Kabul. She was expected to stay in the capital and was not going to Jalalabad or Farah.
There has been a recent rise in violence linked to Taliban against Afghan police and soldiers, US-led troops and foreigners, coinciding with the end of Afghanistan's harshest winter in a decade.
"We can say that the person was a suicide bomber because he was in the car with explosives," police chief Rehman said after the blast in Jalalabad. The man was carrying an Afghan identity card but authorities were unable to confirm his nationality as "usually foreigners carry out suicide attacks, not Afghans".
"He has been turned into pieces and the car has been destroyed. Only his face is in one piece. The foreign security forces have taken a sample of his body to check his identity," Rehman added.
A security official from a foreign non-governmental organization who passed the site minutes after the blast said two civilians were killed. Police were not able to confirm this.
The four Afghan policemen died when their patrol was ambushed by suspected Taliban in Anar Darah district, around 700 kilometers (437 miles) west of Kabul, Farah provincial governor Assadullah Falah told AFP. "Farah border police were ambushed by terrorists as they were in a patrol and four police were martyred on Tuesday," Falah said.
In a separate incident Tuesday in the same province one suspected Taliban insurgent was killed, another was wounded and four were arrested with eight AK-47 rifles, interior ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said. No group has claimed responsibility for the Farah or Jalalabad attacks. Afghan and foreign forces have been on guard following recent bloodshed.
Officials said Tuesday that six Afghan soldiers were wounded by a roadside bomb in the eastern province of Kunar, while two US soldiers were wounded in an attack in south-central Uruzgan province. A bomb in eastern Kabul on Monday injured a Canadian man travelling in a diplomatic car along with three other people.
Hours before US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Kabul on March 17 militants set off a bomb which killed five people in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. US-led attacks ousted the Taliban regime in late 2001 when it refused to hand over Osama bin Laden following the September 11 attacks.
US scatters bases to control Eurasia
By Ramtanu Maitra / Asia Times Online / March 30, 2005
The United States is beefing up its military presence in Afghanistan, at the same time encircling Iran. Washington will set up nine new bases in Afghanistan in the provinces of Helmand, Herat, Nimrouz, Balkh, Khost and Paktia.
Reports also make it clear that the decision to set up new US military bases was made during Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's visit to Kabul last December. Subsequently, Afghan President Hamid Karzai accepted the Pentagon diktat. Not that Karzai had a choice: US intelligence is of the view that he will not be able to hold on to his throne beyond June unless the US Army can speed up training of a large number of Afghan army recruits and protect Kabul. Even today, the inner core of Karzai's security is run by the US State Department with personnel provided by private US contractors.
Admittedly, Afghanistan is far from stable, even after four years of US presence. Still, the establishment of a rash of bases would seem to be overkill. Indeed, according to observers, the base expansion could be part of a US global military plan calling for small but flexible bases that make it easy to ferry supplies and can be used in due time as a springboard to assert a presence far beyond Afghanistan.
Afghanistan under control?
On February 23, according to the official Bakhter News Agency, 196 American military instructors arrived in Kabul. These instructors are scheduled to be in Afghanistan until the end of 2006. According to General H Head, commander of the US Phoenix Joint Working Force, the objective of the team is to expedite the educational and training programs of Afghan army personnel. The plan to protect Karzai and the new-found "democracy" in Afghanistan rests on the creation of a well-trained 70,000-man Afghan National Army (ANA) by the end of 2006. As of now, 20,000 ANA personnel help out 17,000-plus US troops and some 5,000-plus North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops currently based in Afghanistan.
In addition, on February 28, in a move to bring a large number of militiamen into the ANA quickly, Karzai appointed General Abdur Rashid Dostum, a regional Uzbek-Afghan warlord of disrepute, as his personal military chief of staff. The list of what is wrong with Dostum is too long for this article, but he is important to Karzai and the Pentagon.
Dostum has at least 30,000 militiamen, members of his Jumbush-e-Milli, under him. A quick change of their uniforms would increase the ANA by 30,000 at a minimal cost. Moreover, Dostum's men do not need military training (what they do need is some understanding of and respect for law and order). Another important factor that comes into play with this union is the Pentagon-Karzai plan to counter the other major north Afghan ethnic grouping, the Tajik-Afghans.
Since the presidential election took place in Afghanistan last October, Washington has conveyed repeatedly that the poison fangs of al-Qaeda have been uprooted and the Taliban is split. There was also reliable news suggesting that a section of Taliban leaders have accepted the leadership of two fellow Pashtuns, Karzai and US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, and are making their way into the Kabul government.
With al-Qaeda defanged and the Taliban split, one would tend to believe that the Afghan situation is well under control. But then, how does one explain that a bomb went off in the southern city of Kandahar, killing five people on March 17, the very day US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice landed in Kabul on her first visit to Afghanistan? And why has Karzai pushed back the dates for Afghanistan's historical parliamentary elections, originally planned for 2004, and then to May 2005, now to September 2005?
One thing that is certainly not under control, and is surely the source of many threats to the region, is opium production. During the US occupation, opium production grew at a much faster rate than Washington's, and Karzai's, enemies weakened. In 2003, US-occupied Afghanistan produced 4,200 tons of opium. In 2004, US-occupied and semi-democratic Afghanistan produced a record 4,950 tons, breaking the all-time high of 4,600 tons produced under the Taliban in the year 2000.
Though the problem is known to the world, the Pentagon refuses to deal with it. It is not the military's job to eradicate poppy fields, says the Pentagon. Indeed, it would antagonize the warlords who remain the mainstays of the Pentagon in Afghanistan, say observers.
Back on the base
When all is said and done, one cannot but wonder why the new military bases are being set up. Given that al-Qaeda is only a shadow of the past, the Taliban leaders are queuing up to join the Kabul government, and the US military is not interested in tackling the opium explosion, why are the bases needed?
A ray of light was shed on this question during the recent trip to Afghanistan by five US senators, led by John McCain. On February 22, McCain, accompanied by Senators Hillary Clinton, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham and Russ Feingold, held talks with Karzai.
After the talks, McCain, the No 2 Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was committed to a "strategic partnership that we believe must endure for many, many years". McCain told reporters in Kabul that America's strategic partnership with Afghanistan should include "permanent bases" for US military forces. A spokesman for the Afghan president told news reporters that establishing permanent US bases required approval from the yet-to-be-created Afghan parliament.
Later, perhaps realizing that the image that Washington would like to project of Afghanistan is that of a sovereign nation, McCain's office amended his comments with a clarification: "The US will need to remain in Afghanistan to help the country rid itself of the last vestiges of Taliban and al-Qaeda." His office also indicated that what McCain meant was that the US needs to make a long-term commitment, not necessarily "permanent" bases.
On March 16, General Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no decision had been reached on whether to seek permanent bases on Afghan soil. "But clearly we've developed good relationships and good partnerships in this part of the world, not only in Afghanistan," he added, also mentioning existing US bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
A military pattern
But this is mere word play. Media reports coming out of the South Asian subcontinent point to a US intent that goes beyond bringing Afghanistan under control, to playing a determining role in the vast Eurasian region. In fact, one can argue that the landing of US troops in Afghanistan in the winter of 2001 was a deliberate policy to set up forward bases at the crossroads of three major areas: the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. Not only is the area energy-rich, but it is also the meeting point of three growing powers - China, India and Russia.
On February 23, the day after McCain called for "permanent bases" in Afghanistan, a senior political analyst and chief editor of the Kabul Journal, Mohammad Hassan Wulasmal, said, "The US wants to dominate Iran, Uzbekistan and China by using Afghanistan as a military base."
Other recent developments cohere with a US Air Force strategy to expand its operational scope across Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea region - with its vital oil reserves and natural resources: Central Asia, all of Iran, the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the northern Arabian Sea up to Yemen's Socotra Islands. This may also provide the US a commanding position in relation to Pakistan, India and the western fringes of China.
The base set up at Manas outside Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan - where, according to Central Asian reports, about 3,000 US troops are based - looks to be part of the same military pattern. It embodies a major commitment to maintain not just air operations over Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, but also a robust military presence in the region well after the war.
Prior to setting up the Manas Air Base, the US paid off the Uzbek government handsomely to set up an air base in Qarshi Hanabad. Qarshi Hanabad holds about 1,500 US soldiers, and agreements have been made for the use of Tajik and Kazakh airfields for military operations. Even neutral Turkmenistan has granted permission for military overflights. Ostensibly, the leaders of these Central Asian nations are providing military facilities to the US to help them eradicate the Islamic and other sorts of terrorists that threaten their nations.
These developments, particularly setting up bases in Manas and Qarshi Hanabad, are not an attempt by the US to find an exit strategy for Afghanistan, but the opposite: establishing a military presence.
On February 28, Asia Times Online pointed out that construction work had begun on a new NATO base in Herat, western Afghanistan (US digs in deeper in Afghanistan ). Another Asia Times Online article said US officials had confirmed that they would like more military bases in the country, in addition to the use of bases in Pakistan (see The remaking of al-Qaeda , February 25).
Last December, US Army spokesman Major Mark McCann said the United States was building four military bases in Afghanistan that would only be used by the Afghan National Army. On that occasion, McCann stated, "We are building a base in Herat. It is true." McCann added that Herat was one of four bases being built; the others were in the southern province of Kandahar, the southeastern city of Gardez in Paktia province, and Mazar-i-Sharif, the northern city controlling the main route to central Afghanistan.
The US already has three operational bases inside Afghanistan; the main logistical center for the US-led coalition in Afghanistan is Bagram Air Field north of Kabul - known by US military forces as "BAF". Observers point out that Bagram is not a full-fledged air base.
Other key US-run logistical centers in Afghanistan include Kandahar Air Field, or "KAF", in southern Afghanistan and Shindand Air Field in the western province of Herat. Shindand is about 100 kilometers from the border with Iran, a location that makes it controversial. Moreover, according to the US-based think-tank Global Security, Shindand is the largest air base in Afghanistan.
The US is spending US$83 million to upgrade its bases at Bagram and Kandahar. Both are being equipped with new runways. US Brigadier General Jim Hunt, the commander of US air operations in Afghanistan, said at a news conference in Kabul Monday, "We are continuously improving runways, taxiways, navigation aids, airfield lighting, billeting and other facilities to support our demanding mission."
The proximity of Shindand to Iran could give Tehran cause for concern, says Paul Beaver, an independent defense analyst based in London. Beaver points out that with US ships in the Persian Gulf and Shindand sitting next to Iran, Tehran has a reason to claim that Washington is in the process of encircling Iran. But the US plays down the potential of Shindand, saying it will not remain with the US for long. Still, it has not been lost on Iranian strategists that the base in the province of Herat is a link in a formidable chain of new facilities the US is in the process of drawing around their country.
Shindand is not Tehran's only worry. In Pakistan, the Pervez Musharraf government has allowed the commercial airport at Jacobabad, about 420km north of Karachi and 420km southeast of Kandahar, as one of three Pakistani bases used by US and allied forces to support their campaign in Afghanistan. The other bases are at Dalbandin and Pasni. Under the terms of an agreement with Pakistan, the allied forces can use these bases for search and rescue missions, but are not permitted to use them to stage attacks on Taliban targets. Both Jacobabad and Pasni bases have been sealed off and a five-kilometer cordon set up around the bases by Pakistani security forces.
Reports of increased US operations in Pakistan go back to March 2004, when two air bases - Dalbandin and Shahbaz - in Pakistan were the focus for extensive movements to provide logistical support for Special Forces and intelligence operations. Shahbaz Air Base near Jacobabad appeared to be the key to the United States' 2004 spring offensive. At Jacobabad, C-17 transports were reportedly involved in the daily deliveries of supplies. A report in the Pakistani newspaper the Daily Times on March 10, 2004, claimed that the air base was under US control, with an inner ring of facilities off limits to Pakistan's military.
Ramtanu Maitra writes for a number of international journals and is a regular contributor to the Washington-based EIR and the New Delhi-based Indian Defence Review. He also writes for Aakrosh, India's defense-tied quarterly journal.
National Military Academy of Afghanistan Opens Gates to Future Leaders
Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan
Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
March 30, 2005
By Maj. Rick Peat and Lt. Col. Frederick Rice Office of Military Cooperation-Afghanistan Public Affairs
KABUL, Afghanistan – Although the Afghan National Army is only about three years young, its leaders have shown wisdom and foresight in creating a national military academy early in the process.
Established to develop the future leaders of their army and of their nation, the new National Military Academy of Afghanistan celebrated its opening March 22.
The ceremony was attended by Afghan government ministers, senior U.S. and Afghan military officers, special guests from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point including Dean of Academics Brig. Gen. Daniel Kaufman, and numerous ambassadors and other dignitaries.
Speaking at the ceremony were Maj. Gen. Mohammad Sharif, NMAA commander; Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghanistan minister of defense; and Professor Abdul Karim Khalili, second vice president of Afghanistan.
“The role of this academy is vital for the future of Afghanistan, because this academy will produce loyal, professional and true leaders for Afghanistan’s future without any ethnic, language and tribal distinction,” said Wardak. “These young cadets will be trained in the spirit of national unity and strong military character upon which we can be proud among the respective nations of the world.”
Khalili emphasized the reputation the ANA has built among the people of Afghanistan.
“The people of Afghanistan appreciate and strongly support the good work of their integrated national army, which represents the true face of the Afghan nation,” he said.
West Point and NMAA officials exchanged gifts. Kaufman presented a West Point saber mounted in a display case, while Sharif offered a hand-carved wooden plaque of the NMAA sleeve insignia encased in a presentation box.
Sharif confidently vowed success during his address at the ceremony, “Through this podium I promise to Defense Minister Wardak that we will do our best at teaching the cadets to international standards and in the spirit of national unity.”
The first class of cadets completed seven weeks of basic training March 17 and began their first day of academic classes the day after the academy’s opening.
The cadets represent all of the major ethnic groups of Afghanistan and traveled from every corner of the country, across rugged and undeveloped terrain and through blizzard-like conditions, to report to the academy. One cadet was more than 20 days late due to his travel troubles, but was welcomed and immediately integrated into the program.
Modeled after West Point, the Academy is a four-year, degree-granting institution that will commission its cadets as second lieutenants in the Afghan National Army. Graduates will earn an engineering degree with an emphasis on civil, mechanical, systems or electrical engineering.
The curriculum focuses on engineering because “our country is war-struck and devastated,” said Sharif. “We are in the process of rehabilitating it. We need more engineers because we need reconstruction.”
Planning for the academy began more than 18 months ago, when Army Maj. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, chief of the Office of Military Cooperation-Afghanistan at the time, and senior Afghan Ministry of Defense leaders agreed upon the need to establish a military academy.
OMC-A was ready to assist and quickly enlisted the help of the U.S. Military Academy.
Military Academy Study Team Chief Col. Barney Forsythe and Maj. Gen. Mohammad Juma Nassar, MOD general staff working group director, submitted the initial plan for the academy to the MOD and the OMC-A chief in November 2003.
West Point staff and faculty members then began the planning process, deploying to Afghanistan for several months at a time to write policy, develop admissions standards and determine the curriculum. They completed all steps hand-in-hand with their Afghan counterparts, ensuring all programs were adapted to meet Afghan standards and culture.
“Our environments (U.S. and Afghan) are different,” said Sharif. “Planners considered all cultural aspects and did not impose anything on us. While the academy will be similar to West Point, it will not be the same.”
The most significant challenges involved the logistical requirements of setting up the academy from scratch.
“They didn’t have so much as a paper clip on hand to get the academy started,” said Col. Chris King, a geography professor at West Point. “You have to find every little thing you need, things you take for granted.”
To fill their faculty positions, the MOD identified 1,023 potential academic professors who possessed the necessary advanced degrees. Military Academy Implementation Team Chief Col. James Wilhite and West Point faculty and OMC-A members Col. Ray Winkle, Col. Gary Krahn and Dr. Larry Butler then narrowed the list to 200 candidates with the desired qualifications to teach everything from world history to physics to chemistry to psychology.
The team eventually hired 30 professors to form the academic faculty.
By the end of November 2004, 353 cadet candidates had completed the competitive entrance exam. The MOD, in conjunction with OMC-A staff, then conducted personal interviews of the prospective cadets. The top 120 young men were offered a place in the first class.
Forsythe, who laid the groundwork for the academy 18 months ago, returned for the opening ceremony.
“The academy facility is excellent and represents the excellence that the Afghan government and ANA expect of the officer corps and their service,” he said.
“This institution could play a significant role for the emerging democracy in Afghanistan, much like West Point played a large role in the emerging United States of America, providing leaders of character who would serve the Army and their people. And at some point in time, when they left their service in uniform, (they) would continue to serve the country in another capacity that further advances the nation,” Forsythe said.
The bond formed between West Point and NMAA will be further strengthened over time. The USMA corps of cadets recently adopted the NMAA corps of cadets as their first and only partnership cadet corps. They will correspond with each other, exchange ideas, and share resources.
To fully care for the administrative and logistical needs of new academy, a 300-soldier NMAA support battalion will be assembled over the next year. West Point will continue to send faculty, administrators, and support personnel as needed to help form and train the support battalion and to further develop the NMAA faculty for the course work and curriculum being taught there.
Additional NMAA faculty will be hired as the corps of cadets grows over the next few years. Future classes will have 250 to 300 students each, and upperclassmen will take on leadership roles in guiding the underclassmen.
Cadets, who are between the ages of 18 and 23, will earn $80 a month as well as receive free books, supplies, housing and food, in addition to their education. For the privilege of attending the academy, they incur a ten-year service commitment to the ANA, twice the commitment length of U.S. Military Academy cadets. But none of them blinked an eye when taking their oath of office.
Wilhite has grown close to the NMAA corps of cadets during his work with the academy and will return home soon. Before the opening ceremony, he shook the hand of each cadet and offered his congratulations. Later, he remarked that he was likely shaking the hand of a future general, a future minister, a future president of Afghanistan.
Cadet Jamshaid, the top cadet of the NMAA, said, “As military officers, we will never step back from learning and will always be disciplined and remain faithful and loyal to our beloved country.”
Hope and love of country are also shown by the cadets’ parents. Cadet Aminullah, from Herat Province, said his father provided special advice to him.
“Be faithful to your country,” he said. “Afghanistan is like a mother. If you serve your mother, you have to serve your motherland too.”
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