Afghan killed in bomb, suspected suicide attack foiled
Tue Nov 1,12:33 AM ET
JALALABAD, Afghanistan (AFP) - A civilian was killed in a bomb blast probably targeted at a US military convoy in eastern Afghanistan, while security forces foiled a suicide attack on foreign troops, officials said.
A bomb fixed to a bicycle exploded seconds after the convoy passed south of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province on the border with Pakistan, provincial police spokesman Ghafor Khan told AFP on Monday.
"One civilian was killed and five were wounded in the bomb explosion," Khan said.
He blamed the attack on the "enemies of peace and stability", a term often used by Afghan authorities to refer to loyalists of the fundamentalist Taliban regime toppled in a US-led invasion in late 2001.
Since then a coalition force dominated by Americans has been based in Afghanistan to root out Taliban and other insurgents who have vowed to overthrow the new government of US-backed President Hamid Karzai.
Security forces in Khost province, also on the border, foiled a suicide attack on coalition troops Monday when they arrested two men in an explosives-filled vehicle rigged up as a bomb, an intelligence chief said.
The Afghans were handed over to the coalition, intelligence chief Sadeq Tarakhil said.
"They were planning a suicide attack on coalition forces," he told AFP. "The type of the explosives and the way it was fixed into the vehicle clearly showed that they were planning a suicide attack."
He did not say who the men were affiliated to but a rash of suicide bombings in the past month has been blamed on the Taliban.
The deadliest was on September 28 when a suicide attacker in military uniform drove a motorbike into buses outside a military base in the capital Kabul, killing eight soldiers and a civilian.
Insurgency-linked attacks mainly occur in provinces on the 2,400-kilometre (1,500-mile) border with Pakistan, where the militants are believed to have hideouts.
The border separates Pashtun tribes from which the Taliban emerged during Afghanistan's civil war from 1992 to 1996. The hardliners had control of most of the country by the end of that war.
The US-led operation that toppled them was launched after they failed to hand over their ally and sponsor Osama bin Laden for the September 11, 2001 suicide attacks on New York and Washington.
A major operation to catch Taliban fighters was under way Monday in the southern province of Helmand, also on the border, police said.
Two policemen were wounded after the Taliban attacked a patrol involved in the operation in Grishk district, part of which had been sealed off by security forces, said police chief Khan Mohmmad.
"It's a massive hunt for the Taliban and I think it will continue for several days," he said.
The support of the coalition of about 20,000 troops is vital to the government's attempts to secure Afghanistan and push it towards democracy. September's parliamentary elections -- the first in more than three decades -- were a key step on that route.
However allegations of abuse by US soldiers have dogged their contribution.
The US military announced Sunday two soldiers had been charged with punching detainees. It is already investigating television footage of US soldiers allegedly burning the bodies of suspected Taliban fighters in contravention of international law and the tenets of Islam.
Afghan drug lord faces U.S. trial in New York
Tuesday, October 25, 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW YORK - An Afghan drug lord who allegedly wanted to poison U.S. streets with deadly drugs in an "American jihad" has become the first person extradited from Afghanistan to face federal charges, authorities said Monday.
Haji Baz Mohammad was "one of the world's most wanted, most powerful and most dangerous drug kingpins" and financed the Taliban with his opium trade since 1990, Drug Enforcement Administrator Karen Tandy said.
"In return, the Taliban protected Mohammad's crops, his heroin labs, his drug transportation labs and his associates," Tandy said after an indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan accused Mohammad of smuggling more than $25 million of heroin into the United States and elsewhere.
At his first court appearance Monday, the defendant, who was arrested in January in Afghanistan, pleaded not guilty and was ordered held without bail.
He allegedly told associates that selling heroin was a form of jihad because they were taking the money of Americans while giving them something that was killing them.
Three Afghans arrested for suicide blast plan in Kabul: police
KABUL (AFP) - Police have arrested three men who were planning a suicide bombing in Afghanistan's capital Kabul, the government said, a day after a suspected suicide attack was foiled in a provincial capital.
The men were arrested in Logar province near the city on Monday after intelligence reports that they were planning an attack, the interior ministry said on Tuesday. Two others escaped.
Police also seized two pistols, four kilograms (nearly nine pounds) of hashish and a vehicle which may have been intended for use in an attack, said ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanizai.
"Their plan was to perform a suicide attack in Kabul but before they could implement their plan police raided their house. Three were arrested and two fled," he said.
The capital is home to scores of international aid agencies that have been in Afghanistan since the hardline Taliban government was ousted in a US-led operation in 2001.
A spate of suicide bombings in past weeks, most of them largely ineffectual blasts in the volatile south, have been blamed on the Taliban.
The deadliest was on September 28 when a suicide attacker in military uniform drove a motorbike into buses outside a military base in Kabul, killing eight soldiers and a civilian.
Security forces in the eastern province of Khost said Monday they foiled a suicide attack on troops in a US-led coalition force that has been in Afghanistan since 2001, arresting two men in an explosives-filled vehicle rigged up as a bomb.
Southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban movement was born before it took control of most of the country by 1996, is a hotbed of the insurgency.
In an attack on Monday militants ambushed a two-vehicle police convoy in Helmand province, Stanizai said. Two of the attackers were killed and 12 arrested, while three policemen were wounded.
Eighteen police were killed in an ambush in the same province last month.
Three injured as Dutch chopper makes emergency landing in Afghanistan
Tue Nov 1,12:57 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Three people were injured when a Dutch military helicopter made an emergency landing in Afghanistan, but the incident was not likely caused by hostile fire, the NATO-led peacekeeping force said.
The Chinook helicopter carrying 17 people was forced to land in a mountainous area 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Kabul on Monday, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.
The three injured people were evacuated to Bagram, the main base for a separate US-led coalition force in Afghanistan, for medical treatment and two had already been discharged, it said in a statement late Monday.
"The Dutch Ministry of Defence has launched an investigation into the cause of the incident, however it is unlikely to have been the result of any hostile action," it said.
The helicopter had been returning from the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif where Dutch forces helped provide security, including during the September 18 national assembly election.
More than 750 Dutch troops were involved in the mission, the statement said.
ISAF has been based in Afghanistan since 2001 and came under the command of NATO in 2003.
The force numbers more than 11,000 troops from 26 NATO and 11 non-NATO nations who provide security assistance in Kabul and the northern and western regions of Afghanistan.
2001 journalist killings: Two more Afghans sentenced to death
Monday, October 31, 2005
KABUL: Two more men were sentenced to death last week for killing four journalists who entered Afghanistan to cover the 2001 toppling of the fundamentalist Taliban regime, a court official said Sunday.
A third man has already been given the death sentence for the murders of the journalists — an Afghan, an Australian, an Italian and a Spaniard.. A primary court in the capital Kabul sentenced brothers Zar Jan and Abdul Wahid last week but they can still appeal, primary court director Abdul Basit Bakhtiari told AFP.
The sentences have to be approved by higher courts and President Hamid Karzai.
Courts have already handed down the same sentence on a third man, Raza Khan, for the November 2001 murders days after the Taliban were overthrown in an operation led by the United States.
The journalists had crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan and were travelling by road to Kabul when they were stopped about 90 kilometres (56 miles) from the capital by armed men claiming to be Taliban.
They were killed and their bodies left by the roadside. The only woman in the group, Italian Maria Grazia Cutuli, was “first raped and then killed by the armed men and her ears and nose were cut off,” Bakhtiari said. The other journalists were Australian cameraman Harry Burton, Afghan photographer Azizullah Haidari and Spaniard Julio Fuentes.
Six other members of the criminal gang involved in the killings have been sentenced to between 18 and 20 years in jail for highway robbery and other crimes, but not for the murders of the journalists, Bakhtiari said.
Five of the sentences were delivered last week.Journalists streamed into Afghanistan to cover the US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban after they failed to hand over Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for the September 11, 2001 suicide attacks on New York and Washington which killed about 3,000 people. afp
Unfinished business in Afghanistan
Monday October 31, 2005 (2344 PST) PakTribune.com, Pakistan
KABUL: The Afghan election September 18 was an important benchmark on the road to democracy. For the first time in 36 years, citizens chose national and provincial representatives. A daunting 5,805 candidates, with campaign posters hanging in trees and affixed to walls, competed for hundreds of positions. Among them were 347 women who came forward in the face of intimidation and violence to claim a place in the lower house of parliament.
Half of the ballots have now been counted. When the process is complete, a form of "positive discrimination" will ensure that women electees comprise at least the 25 percent mandated by the constitution.
Afghanistan has taken a momentous step toward a model of inclusive security, whereby all stakeholders -- including women --participate in governance and other aspects of peace building. But it was only one small step. Women have the potential to play key roles in fostering openness and religious and political moderation that will facilitate a peaceful, prosperous future for a democratic Afghanistan. Two critical policies will help the Afghan people and the international community turn that potential into reality.
First, tribal warlords must be disempowered. The elections were marred by candidates with histories soaked in blood who, given a nascent judiciary, have not been brought to justice. Instead, political legitimacy increases the warlords` strength. One openly asserts that human rights, including women`s rights, are contrary to Islam. An Afghan diplomat I met shortly before the election insists the warlords spell disaster: "Their strength grows day by day. International troops will leave soon. If we can`t go after them now, when will we be able?"
Second, the Afghan judicial system must be profoundly reformed and revitalized. The justice system is neither fair nor functional. For example, despite contravening laws, too often, women are denied the right to divorce, frequently forced into marriage by family members, and jailed for "moral crimes" like refusing arranged marriages, speaking with an unmarried man, or traveling without a male guardian. Afghan women face gender-based discrimination in the application of laws and crimes against them go unpunished.
The current supreme court, though charged with interpreting the constitution, offers little hope for women. These nine influential judges -- all male -- are required to have "higher education in law or in Islamic jurisprudence," but that education may be religious training in madrassas or local villages that favor tribal customs over human rights and civil law. Afghan women lawyers and international human rights experts recognize the vast disconnect between the new constitution and the application of its legal protections. Conflicts between traditional and modern jurisprudence must be addressed and the judicial system reformed to include women who will protect the rights of all Afghans.
On election day, the women of Afghanistan proved they`re determined despite the challenges. I met with several candidates, including television journalist Howa Nooristani. Afraid the single seat reserved for women in her family`s rugged eastern district would go unfilled, she decided to run herself. On a steep mountain path, she was accosted by fiery-eyed men. Three of her campaign workers were kidnapped and are still missing. Shot four times in the leg, she dragged herself to a village. Several young men took turns carrying her on their backs the five hours to her car. When I visited her, bedridden at her Kabul home, her husband was still in the district campaigning for her. "Tell the world Afghans aren`t afraid of terrorists," she appealed. "We`ll build our country, no matter what."
Howa Nooristani isn`t alone. I talked with scores of Afghans on their way to the polls. Not one mentioned the violence the Western press focuses on. Instead, they spoke of hope and of a new, transformed Afghanistan. "Women are kinder, and they`ll bring that kindness into our government," insisted a retired government official with a beard as white as his hat.
Kinder, maybe. But impatient. One bent old woman described the pressure she faced on election morning from her husband, who wanted to control her vote. "Get lost," she told him. But beyond the personal, at a policy level, women are perceived by many as untapped resources in a country emerging from decades of hardship. "All the men in my family are going to vote for women," an Afghan nongovernmental organization leader told me. "They say women run things better in peace time, and now we have peace."
There`s a limited window of opportunity to make an Afghan democracy flourish. Without a government of untarnished elected officials and true judicial reform, Afghanistan will never fulfill its democratic promise and certainly not its promise to the majority of its population -- its women.
Swanee Hunt, a former U.S. ambassador to Austria, directs the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University, where she also teaches. She is author of "This Was Not Our War: Bosnian Women Reclaiming the Peace."
UK 'may add to Afghanistan force'
BBC News, 30 October 2005
More UK troops may be sent to Afghanistan, the Defence Secretary John Reid said on Sunday. Mr Reid told the BBC's Sunday AM that Britain would be willing to play its part if the coalition wanted to boost troops in the south of the country. Reports have suggested Britain could send as many as 3,000 soldiers, but Mr Reid did not give details.
On Saturday it was announced a British soldier had been killed in a gun attack in northern Afghanistan. Mr Reid told the programme: "We will be prepared if others are [to send more troops], and if we can get the resources and the right back up," he said.
"No reports at the moment can in any way be accurate because I have not made a final decision." He also said that trade and aid were needed to bring peace to the country, but that military efforts were occasionally required.
On Saturday the MOD confirmed a soldier from the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry, was killed and five others injured as they travelled between bases in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif. On Iraq, Mr Reid said the high voter turn-out in the recent Iraqi elections showed "every single effort" by British troops had been worthwhile.
But he also said the controversy over Iraq and the deaths of four young recruits at the army's Deepcut barracks in Surrey, may have affected the recruitment of British soldiers.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the whole question of Deepcut and the accusations of bullying, which we are trying to deal with, and the controversy around Iraq, the mums and dads then get worried about it."
But he said he believed the main reason recruitment was so low was high employment. The Deepcut barracks has been under investigation since the deaths of four recruits - privates Sean Benton, James Collinson, Geoff Gray and Cheryl James - between 1995 to 2002.
An army instructor, Leslie Skinner, was jailed in October 2004 for indecent assaults on male soldiers. Families of the four recruits have repeatedly rejected suggestions the deaths were suicides.
Afghanistan`s parliament, on the frontline of a troubled history
Monday October 31, 2005 (2344 PST) PakTribune.com, Pakistan
KABUL: The bullet holes have been plastered over and the last bricks are being cemented into place: Afghanistan`s parliament building is getting the finishing touches ahead of its first sitting in more than 30 years.
The scores of dust-covered labourers working on the complex in west Kabul are proud to be playing a part in this battle-scarred nation`s first steps to democracy after years of occupation and brutal civil war.
"I feel good when I`m working here," grins Mohammad Ibrahim. "I`m working for the future of my country," he says, pressing down the last in a long line of bricks.
The building has witnessed many of the bloody episodes that have shaped modern Afghanistan.
Constructed in the late 1960s to house the first-ever parliament during the reign of King Mohammad Zahir Shah, the last parliamentarians to occupy it were elected in 1969 in the last legislative vote before this year`s elections.
It was abandoned after a 1973 coup ended centuries of rule by the monarchy. The new president, Mohammad Daud, had plans to form a new parliament but his regime was toppled by a communist coup in 1978 in which he was assassinated.
The building stood empty during the brief communist rule that followed and in the long years of Soviet occupation that started with the 1979-1989 Russian invasion.
But it was wrenched back into Afghanistan`s history when holy warriors, the mujahedin, began the 1992-1996 civil war that toppled the Soviet-backed regime.
Standing on the frontline of heavy battles between rival factions, the building was nearly reduced to rubble. "Only the walls existed," says Azizullah Lodin, the secretary general of the new House.
"It was in between two fighting groups," recalls resident Mohammad Daud. "They were firing all sort of weapons -- artillery, mortars and tanks -- at each other. The shots that missed hit the parliament building."
More than 50,000 civilians were killed during the civil war, many of them in and around what was once the proud nation`s parliament.
When the ultra-conservative Islamic Taliban scholars arrived from the south to overthrow the mujahedin government in 1996, the frontline moved north.
As fighting raged in the Shomali Plains outside the capital, where the Taliban had chased Ahmad Shah Massoud, the last resistance leader, hundreds of people fled to Kabul for safety, many taking shelter among the destroyed marble-pillared halls of the former parliament.
The refugees remained during the Taliban`s brutal rule and after the 2001 US-led invasion that toppled the hardliners.
They had to leave this year after President Hamid Karzai decided to spend three million dollars to repair the building so it could accommodate parliamentarians elected on September 18, pending the construction of an entirely new structure, Lodin said.
"The reconstruction started early this year," he told AFP. "It`s almost done."
The complex has several new buildings, including a five-storey block for the secretariat and MP offices.
With safety concerns high in the heavily fortified city because of an anti-government insurgency launched after the Taliban were removed, a security force of some 52 staff will have its own section from where they will monitor cameras around the compound.
There are two halls: one for a still-to-be-elected 102-member upper house and the other for a 249-seat lower house chosen in September that will include some of the warlords who led the battles that devastated this city.
The new 25-million-dollar building, designed by Indian engineers, will take about four years to construct. "Maybe after we get the new building, we will turn this one to a library," Lodin says.
And to reassure residents worried about the changes to their neighbourhood, with security barricades snarling major sections of the city, he says: "We will not install lots of security barriers. If we do, we will plant roses on them to make them look beautiful."
Pakistan: UNHCR to suspend repatriation over Eid
ISLAMABAD, 31 October (IRIN) - The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Monday announced it would temporarily suspend the voluntary repatriation programme for Afghan refugees returning from Pakistan for a brief period of five days starting from Thursday due to the Islamic festival of Eid.
"Repatriation is already slow and the number of returnees [Afghans] has dropped significantly over the past four weeks partially due to Ramadan [the Islamic period of fasting prior to Eid] and partly to falling temperatures. On Saturday, some 366 individuals returned while on Sunday only 44 Afghans [were] repatriated," Vivian Tan, spokeswoman for UNHCR in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, said on Monday.
As of 31 October, more than 427,000 Afghan refugees had returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan under the UNHCR's voluntary repatriation assistance programme that resumed in March after a winter break. According to UNHCR, only about 14,000 Afghans left Pakistan during the month of October 2005.
However, there is no record of spontaneous repatriation, although a significant number do cross into Afghanistan through borders without approaching the UN refugee agency.
So far the largest number of Afghans repatriating with the help of UNHCR is from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) with over 280,000 returnees including more than 186,000 from refugee camps and another some 95,000 living elsewhere.
Of the other three provinces, from Balochistan over 76,000 Afghans were repatriated - mostly living outside UNHCR-administered refugee camps - from Punjab some 47,000 and from Sindh about 22,000 Afghans returned.
"Every year around winter, the repatriation starts to slow down, but we'll continue to operate throughout the season adjusting our staff requirements and working days accordingly, corresponding to the number of returnees approaching our repatriation centres," Tan added.
Under the programme, started in 2002, over 2.7 million Afghans have returned so far from Pakistan with nearly 1.6 million repatriated in 2002, followed by some 340,000 in 2003 and more than 380,000 in 2004. This programme is governed by a tripartite agreement between Kabul, Islamabad and UNHCR that runs till December 2006.
Afghan returnees are eligible for transport assistance ranging from US $4 to $37 per person, depending on the distance to their destination. Additionally, they also receive a small grant to help them with additional costs.
According to UNHCR, at least 15 Afghan refugees were killed in the devastating earthquake earlier this month in which at least 54,000 people perished. Seven of the dead Afghans were from the two camps located in Mansehra and Batagram districts of NWFP, while eight others from outside the camps.
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