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November 21, 2005

Indian kidnapped in Afghanistan
BBC News / Sunday, 20 November 2005
Taleban insurgents in Afghanistan say they have abducted an Indian national along with three Afghans in the southern province of Nimroz.

A Taleban spokesman said an Indian engineer and the Afghans were taken in the Poshat Hasan district on Saturday.

The Indian foreign ministry said an Indian driver had gone missing and that it was investigating the incident.

This year has seen an upsurge in violence linked to militants, with more than 1,400 people killed.

The Taleban have been responsible for a number of abductions of engineers, including several Turks and Indians, in southern Afghanistan.

One Turk was killed but the others were freed. A British engineer was abducted and killed in Farah province in September.

'Unsafe road'

Taleban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf told news agencies by satellite phone that their fighters had taken the Indian.

He gave no further details and his claims could not be independently verified.

A spokesman later reportedly told the local Pajhwok Afghan News the Indian would not be freed until his company left the country.

Afghan interior ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanezai confirmed the kidnapping but had no details on the abductors.

Local district chief Mohammed Hashim Noorzai told AFP: "They were driving on an unsafe road which they shouldn't have used. They did not take the normal road."

In the Indian capital, Delhi, foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said he was aware of the reports, adding: "Afghan authorities are investigating the matter. If these reports are true, we condemn the incident and urge that all of them be released."

Two Indians working on a road in southern Zabul province were kidnapped in 2003 but released unharmed two weeks later.

Taleban insurgents are active in much of south and east Afghanistan.

A US-led coalition in the country has about 20,000 troops fighting the insurgents.

28 Taliban, other militants surrender to Afghan govt
The News International (Pakistan) / November 20, 2005
KHOST: Twenty-eight Taliban and militants surrendered to authorities in insurgency-hit Afghanistan on Saturday and renounced any anti-government activities, an intelligence official said.

The 28 had returned to Afghanistan from exile in neighbouring Pakistan and gave themselves up in Gardez, city’s head of intelligence Ghulam Nabi Salim told AFP.

They included 11 former members of the Taliban government and 12 members of the Hezb-e-Islami faction led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, he said.

Five former fighters for commander Jalaludin Haqani also surrendered, he added.

"These 28 people were living in exile in Pakistan and now they ... have declared they will not take part in anti-government activities," he said. President Hamid Karzai has offered an amnesty to members of the ousted Taliban movement and Islamic militias "whose hands are not stained with innocent people’s blood".

Separately, three people were killed in southern Afghanistan on Saturday when a bomb blew up a car belonging to a former warlord who had laid down his arms, a provincial official said.

Militants loyal to the Taliban claimed responsibility for the roadside blast in southern Helmand province. The unidentified commander was wounded, Helmand spokesman Mohammad Wali said. The former warlord had been part of a UN disarmament programme launched after the Taliban government was removed.

"We blew up the vehicle," purported Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told reporters in a telephone call, accusing the one-time warlord of being too close to the government.

A policeman and a suspected drug runner were killed in a gun battle in the province late on Friday after police tried to hold up a five-vehicle convoy of smugglers, provincial governor Shir Mohammad told AFP. The Taliban also said on Saturday that they had carried out a suicide attack against a convoy of the US forces in Afghanistan.

A Taliban spokesman said a local militant called Najibullah rammed a vehicle packed with explosive into the convoy in Girishk district of Helmand province. Qari Mohammad Yousuf told Reuters by satellite phone from an undisclosed location: "We do not know about casualties of Americans, but we know that Najibullah is martyred."

Attack on ex-warlord claims 3 lives
Dawn (Pakistan) November 20, 2005 issue
KANDAHAR, Nov 19: Three people were killed in volatile southern Afghanistan on Saturday when a bomb blew up a car belonging to a former warlord who had laid down his arms, a provincial official said. Militants loyal to Taliban claimed responsibility for the roadside blast in Helmand province.

The unidentified commander was wounded, Helmand spokesman Mohammad Wali said.

The former warlord had been part of a UN disarmament programme launched after the fundamentalist Taliban government was removed by US-led forces in 2,001.

“We blew up the vehicle,” purported Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told journalists in a telephone call, accusing the one-time warlord of being too close to the government.

Helmand has seen several attacks linked to a Taliban-led insurgency and to its illegal drugs trade.

The province contributes the most to Afghanistan’s annual crop of around 4,000 tons of opium used to make most of the world’s heroin.

A policeman and a suspected drug runner were killed in a gun battle in the province on Friday after police tried to hold up a five-vehicle convoy of smugglers, provincial governor Sher Mohammad told AFP.

Police seized two tons of opium, several machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, he said.

Ahmadi also said the Taliban had carried out a suicide attack against US-led forces in the province on Saturday, but neither the coalition force nor the Afghan authorities confirmed the attack.

Afghan posting ‘too dangerous’ for Dutch army
Michael Smith The Times (UK) Sunday, November 20, 2005
BRITAIN could be forced to increase the number of troops it sends to Afghanistan next spring because Dutch MPs think it is “too dangerous” to deploy their own soldiers there.

The Netherlands, which already has about 625 troops in Afghanistan, was due to provide a further force of 1,000 to be based in Uruzgan province, which stretches from the centre towards the south of the country.

But a report by the Dutch military intelligence and security service has warned of the extreme danger of operating in the area, which sources close to the country’s cabinet said “can’t be ignored”.

A Dutch withdrawal would place more of the burden on the British, who are taking over command of Nato operations next May.

British forces were originally due to provide the vast bulk of the new force in southern Afghanistan. That fell apart when plans for an early withdrawal from Iraq were shelved, forcing the British to co-opt Australian and Canadian forces as well as the Dutch.

Afghan security officials have confirmed eyewitness accounts of Arab and Chechen terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda offering money to Afghans in the south to kill or kidnap the officials or foreigners.

There have also been reports that Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists are being trained by “Arab jihadis” in techniques developed against US and British troops in Iraq.

The American force currently operating in southern Afghanistan has sought to combine nation-building — focused on two provincial reconstruction teams based in Kandahar and at Lashkar Gah, in Helmand province — with highly aggressive counter-terrorist operations.

Concern that these operations were too hostile, negating the positive effects of the reconstruction teams, has been expressed by Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai. There have been demands within Nato, in particular from France and Germany, for the force to concentrate on nation-building.

The Dutch intelligence report highlights the serious contradiction inherent in concentrating on nation- building in an area where Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces remain active.

The British-led operation in the south, spearheaded by 3 Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, will be part of an expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to cover the whole of Afghanistan.

It coincides with Britain’s assumption of command of ISAF when the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, led by Major-General David Richards, moves into Kabul. Normally based at Rheindahlen in Germany, the multinational force is 1,300 strong, including approximately 300 British troops.

About 90 American troops have been killed in southern Afghanistan in the past year amid a sharp increase in violence.

Sources at 16 Air Assault Brigade, which will provide a command element for the British paratroopers, said they are prepared for “robust and aggressive” operations against terrorists and will be backed up by 10 Apache attack helicopters and six RAF Harrier ground attack aircraft.

British defence sources admitted that while the Nato troops might not necessarily go hunting down Al-Qaeda or Taliban forces, a role American forces will retain, they will have to be “extremely robust”, particularly if they intend to destroy the poppy crop. Afghanistan grows more than 90% of the world’s production.

General Sir Mike Walker, chief of defence staff, said in a recent interview with The Sunday Times that eradicating the narcotics industry was by far the biggest problem the coalition faced.

“The truth of the matter is that until alternative livelihoods are available . . . you’re not going to make a great deal of progress,” Walker said.

Police seized two tons of opium loaded into five Toyota Land Cruisers after a gun battle with drug traffickers in southern Afghanistan that killed one policeman and wounded two others, officials said yesterday. A Portuguese peacekeeper was killed and three others wounded when their vehicle hit a landmine on a road near Kabul.
Additional reporting: Tim Albone, Kabul and Claudio Franco, eastern Afghanistan

Afghan Police visit Fort Drum , U.S. police departments
November 20, 2005 COMBINED FORCES COMMAND – AFGHANISTAN  COALITION PRESS INFORMATION CENTER
Office of Security Cooperation – Afghanistan Public Affairs
KABUL , Afghanistan – Senior Afghan National Police officers recently returned from a trip to the United States where they met with key leaders from the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division and officers from several U.S. law enforcement agencies.

Brig. Gen. Sahki Baiani, special advisor to the chief of the Afghan National Police, and Col. Wasim Azimi, chief of Operations for the Afghan Ministry of Interior, toured Fort Drum , N.Y. , and local law enforcement agencies to view modern U.S. police stations and law enforcement methods.

The primary purpose of the Fort Drum visit was to participate in the Afghanistan orientation briefings for Operation Unified Endeavor, where the Afghan delegation briefed 10th Mountain Division leaders on the ANP and Afghanistan ’s police reform.

The forum allowed U.S. Soldiers, who will deploy to Afghanistan early next year, to ask questions of both the Afghan officials and their escort from the Office of Security Cooperation–Afghanistan, Army Maj. Michael Adelberg. It also gave Baiani the opportunity to address the Division’s troops on behalf of the Afghan people.

Operation United Endeavor was an exercise that provided the 10th Mountain Division the opportunity to test its plans and procedures for deploying its Soldiers to Afghanistan , where they will serve as the command and control element for the Coalition’s operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. Members from other Armed Services and federal agencies also participated in the joint training event to prepare for the division’s deployment.

“I would like to thank you for all that you have done for the people of Afghanistan ,” Baiani said. “Four years ago you helped us get rid of the Taliban, and now you are returning to help us rebuild our country. The United States became my home when I was forced to leave Afghanistan , and now I am happy that you are coming back to my home to help us.”

Baiani left Afghanistan when the Socialists sentenced him to death in the turmoil before the Soviet invasion. He eventually settled in Plano , Texas , where he lived until returning to Afghanistan in 2002.

Azimi spent eight years as a prisoner in the Pol-e-Charki Prison during the Soviet-Afghan War. Following his release, he lived in Pakistan and eventually moved to Australia in 1999. He also returned to Afghanistan in 2002.

In addition to meeting with the 10th Mountain leaders, Baiani and Azimi also had the opportunity to visit the Fort Drum Military Police Station, the Watertown , N.Y. , Police Department, and a New York State Police Barracks. They received briefings from U.S. police officials on civilian law enforcement functions and techniques. Additionally, they observed many of the tools and equipment that modern U.S. police forces have at their disposal.

Among the many police assets Baiani and Azimi saw were emergency dispatch systems and computerized criminal database systems, which allow police officers to instantly access information on an individual.

After observing the various police departments and their techniques, Baiani said he was impressed with American law enforcement.

“This is what we need in Afghanistan ,” he said. “We have the policemen, now we need the systems that help police do their jobs.”

Implications of Afghanistan’s Saarc entry
By Abdullah Al Madani Gulf News (UAE) November 20, 2005 OPINION
Afghanistan was recently approved as the eighth member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), a largely toothless body set up in 1985 which includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

The decision, taken last week at the organisation’s 13th summit meeting in Dhaka, implies several things.

First, it is recognition that Afghanistan is closer - geographically, historically and culturally - to the Indian subcontinent than any other region, and that issues which have long prevented it from becoming part of the grouping (such as its civil war, instability, chaos, and brutal regimes) no longer exist.

Second, it is an indication that Saarc members are concerned about Afghanistan’s development and integration with its South Asian neighbours, something without which regional peace and stability cannot be enhanced.

Kabul’s bid for membership of Saarc, on the other hand, was motivated by similar concerns.

By being a member, Afghanistan can benefit from the various Saarc development programmes, as well as from any collective anti-terrorism measures, and consequently promote its own security.

And under the existing free trade agreement (Safta) for the South Asian region, it may have a better chance to negotiate a land route to India via Pakistan and a seaport facility in the latter.

Islamabad has so far denied Afghanistan and India overland access to each other, saying the policy is linked to the broad matrix of India-Pakistan relations.

Major pillars

Third, it is a reflection of the emerging understanding between India and Pakistan, Saarc’s major pillars.

Unlike in previous meetings when hostility and distrust between the two countries had paralysed the organisation and prevented agreement on substantial issues, in the Dhaka meeting both backed the issue of Afghanistan’s membership, albeit from different perspectives.

Islamabad’s backing was probably aimed at making Kabul’s trade policy becoming Pakistan-centric and rebuilding the influence it once had in Afghanistan, while New Delhi’s backing stemmed from its policy of supporting the post-Taliban government in Kabul and probably from its view of Afghanistan as a key link to energy rich Central Asia.

The same could be said about another issue that also took centrestage at both the Dhaka ministerial and summit meetings - China’s observer/dialogue partner status with Saarc.

The issue was proposed by Pakistan on the pretext that giving Beijing such a status would enhance Saarc’s profile and influence internationally, while the covert reason must have been bringing in China as a counter-weight in the organisation to neutralise Indian domination.

Despite its discomfiture on the issue, given its perceived policy of blocking China’s keenness to nose its way into the subcontinent’s affairs, New Delhi backed it.

The move was said to be aimed at avoiding a misunderstanding with the Chinese, which might fall in the interest of other regional players, and maintaining Sino-Indian economic cooperation which has grown in recent years.

Fourth, it is proof that whenever Saarc’s two most powerful members are in agreement over an issue, objections by smaller members, if any, can be contained or resolved.

During the course of the summit meeting, Bangladesh, as well as Nepal, were lukewarm in their response to the issue of Afghanistan’s admission.

The argument was that the Saarc charter required to be amended first, as there was no provision in it regarding an expansion of the grouping beyond the seven founding members.

The real reason behind the two nations’ reservations, however, was their fears that the entry of Afghanistan would increase India’s balance of power in the regional body, given the post-Taliban government’s warm ties with the Indians.

Their positions were also attributed to fears of a possible reduction of their shares in the Saarc development assistance once impoverished and backward Afghanistan became a member.

On China’s request to have a sort of association with Saarc, however, there was no opposition from Dhaka or Kathmandu.

In fact, the Nepalese pushed the issue forward as a price for their no-objection over Afghanistan’s membership.

Such a stand must be viewed within Nepalese King Gyanendra’s new policy of leaning on the Chinese for moral and military support against the Maoist insurgents and pro-democracy movement in his country.

It can also be viewed as a sign of Kathmandu’s anger and dissatisfaction with New Delhi’s pressure for the restoration of democracy in the Himalayan kingdom.

Dr Abdullah Al Madani is an academic researcher and lecturer on Asian affairs.

A Rebuilding Plan Full of Cracks
After the routing of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Bush administration launched a $73 million program to construct schools and clinics. But design flaws and other problems soon plagued the effort.
By Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway  Washington Post Sunday, November 20, 2005; A01
MADRASAH, Afghanistan On a humid morning, scores of women and wailing babies crowded into the dirt courtyard of a private home a day's journey north of Kabul. They squeezed into a sliver of shade against a mud wall, the only refuge from the intense sun on a summer day when the temperature reached 120 degrees. Across the courtyard, inside a canvas lean-to, a doctor vaccinated infants atop a dusty plastic cooler.

A veiled woman named Tela squatted in the sun, lifting her black robe to create a bit of shade for her 9-month-old daughter, Shoghla, dehydrated from severe diarrhea.

"I have been here one hour and still I am waiting," said Tela, who like many Afghans uses only one name. "It is very, very crowded. We don't have anywhere to sit."

Next door, a large U.S.-financed health clinic, a brand-new building of concrete and steel, sat empty and locked.

"They should finish that clinic and we should be there," she said. "There would be a lot of places to sit over there."

The clinic in Madrasah is not just a building. It is part of a remote battleground in the war on terror, an attempt to win hearts and minds in the nation that was once al Qaeda's stronghold.

In September 2002, nearly a year after an American-led coalition deposed the Taliban, the United States launched what would become an aggressive effort to build or refurbish as many as 1,000 schools and clinics by the end of 2004, documents show. However, design flaws and construction errors caused the initiative to fall far short.

By September 2004, congressional figures show that the effort's centerpiece -- a $73 million U.S. Agency for International Development program -- had produced only 100 finished projects, most of them refurbishments of existing buildings. As of the beginning of this month, only about 40 more had been finished and turned over to the Afghan government.

Internal documents and more than 100 interviews in Washington and Kabul revealed a chain of mistakes and misjudgments: The U.S. effort was poorly conceived in a rush to show results before the Afghan presidential election in late 2004. The drive to construct earthquake-resistant, American-quality buildings in rustic villages led to culture clashes, delays and what a USAID official called "extraordinary costs." Afghans complained that the initial design for roofs made them too heavy to build in rural areas without a crane, and the corrected design made them too light to bear Afghan snows. Local workmen unfamiliar with U.S. construction methods sometimes produced shoddy work.

At the outset, USAID and its primary contractor, New Jersey-based Louis Berger Group Inc., failed to provide adequate oversight, documents state. Federal audits show that USAID officials in Kabul were unable to "identify the location of many Kabul-directed projects in the field." Officials at contracting companies and nonprofit groups complain that they were directed to build at sites that turned out to be sheer mountain slopes, a dry riverbed and even a graveyard.

Employees of a Maryland-based nonprofit relief agency hired to monitor construction quality demanded a $50,000 payoff from Afghan builders -- a scene captured in a clandestine videotape obtained by The Washington Post.

Last year, the head of the State Department's Afghanistan Reconstruction Group, Phillip Jackson "Jack" Bell, ended his tour at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul by delivering a blistering rebuke to USAID.

"The most important programs -- including roads, schools and clinics -- are in serious trouble," Bell wrote, according to a draft of his previously undisclosed memo. "The health program was well on its way to becoming a disaster."

Bell, now a senior Pentagon official, did not respond to requests for an interview. USAID declined to release a copy of the final memo but did not challenge the authenticity of the draft.

Afghan officials, contractors and citizens expressed anger about the delays, which have disappointed the rural Afghans who initially embraced international help.

The need is great. By the time the Taliban fell, decades of fighting had damaged or destroyed eight out of 10 Afghan schools, leaving half of all school-age children with no access to education. Four out of five adult women were illiterate. Health conditions ranked among the world's worst, with a life expectancy of 43 years. One in four babies died before turning 1.

"People need these clinics, and right now they are angry about it," said Azizullah Safar, a health director in northern Afghanistan. "People come to me and tell us, 'You cheated us. You took our land and there is no clinic.'

"Tell the Americans that the money they would otherwise be spending on their children and their schooling, that has been sent to the Afghan people-- it has been wasted."

USAID officials pointed out that working in Afghanistan is a difficult and perilous job. Some construction sites are in remote areas, where materials and skilled workers are scarce. Security is a constant concern, they said, noting that workers have been kidnapped and killed while the buildings have been rocketed and burned.

"We believe that we have accomplished a major feat by building or rebuilding as many schools and clinics for the Afghan people as we did, especially in the brief time that we did it," said USAID Administrator Andrew S. Natsios.

Federal auditors and others have misrepresented the program, Natsios added, stressing that his agency was not as far behind as the critics contend because the goal was to build or renovate only 533 buildings by late 2004.

Natsios also said USAID should get credit for 69 schools and clinics completed in an earlier program, as well as for renovating or building 1,100 individual classrooms and refurbishing 311 clinics under other programs. An additional 108 schools and clinics have been finished but have yet to pass final inspection, USAID said.

USAID declined to disclose the price of individual schools and clinics. The estimated cost for the Berger buildings averages $226,000 per site. Afghan officials said they initially expected a basic health clinic to cost $40,000 to $60,000, the amount that Afghan and European nonprofit groups had been spending.

Officials with the Berger Group said one reason the U.S.-style buildings cost more is that they were designed to be earthquake-resistant. Natsios said the recent deadly quake in neighboring Pakistan confirmed the wisdom of that decision.

Berger officials also said their progress lagged because USAID required the company to train Afghan contractors to do the work so the project would leave behind skilled craftsmen to help further rebuild the country.

"That we got [the buildings] done this quickly with this little amount of aggravation, I think this should be saluted," said Larry Walker, a Berger vice president. "We're very proud of our program. We expect quality problems, we expect delays."

But the lack of apparent progress has supplied ammunition to remnants of the Taliban and other U.S. opponents. Ramazan Bashardost, a former Afghan planning minister, was elected to parliament on a platform that included criticism of the schools-and-clinics program. In an interview, he complained that "the quality of work is not good. . . . It will be a disaster."

In a previously undisclosed May 2004 memo to USAID, Zalmay Khalilzad, then the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, wrote that the construction delays had created problems "managing expectations" among the Afghan people. "These problems are now beginning to interfere with the credibility of the U.S.," he wrote.

Deflated expectations are apparent both in Kabul and the countryside, in such places as the northern village of Larkhabi. There, on a recent summer morning, scores of villagers had traveled by foot and donkey to a row of tiny shops where doctors had improvised a clinic. An ad hoc delivery room measured 9 by 15 feet, the dim space crammed with three military-style cots.

"There is no light, there is no electricity, there is no water to wash your hands," a pediatrician explained as he threaded through the throng.

Next door, an elaborate U.S.-funded clinic sat empty, awaiting work on its roof.

'Back-of-the-Envelope' Plan

On Sept. 20, 2002, USAID selected Berger, a privately held, global engineering firm, to lead the U.S. effort to rebuild Afghanistan.

Berger's contract, now worth as much as $665 million, called for the company to build infrastructure that included dams, power plants and roads. For the school-and-clinic portion of the contract, USAID paid Berger for administration and oversight, and the company subcontracted on-site work to Afghan companies. Berger also hired nonprofit relief agencies to monitor construction.

Within months of the awarding of the contract, U.S. officials raised their sights from 420 to 1,000 schools and clinics by the end of 2004, an inspector general's report shows.

"The numbers of schools and clinics to be constructed were not determined through careful analysis," Patrick Fine, who then headed USAID's Afghanistan operation, wrote last year in a previously undisclosed memo. "Instead, they were based on back-of-the-envelope calculations outside USAID. . . .

"These target numbers gained traction in Washington and soon became the number that USAID was required to build. . . . The numbers had gained a life of their own."

In a charged political climate, expectations kept rising. As late as October 2003, a senior official for USAID -- the main conduit for American foreign aid -- told Congress the goal was 1,400 in three years.

The next month, Marshall F. Perry, a lanky and mustachioed American who had managed construction projects from Cambodia to Saudi Arabia, arrived in Afghanistan to work as Berger's manager for schools and clinics. His assessment: The program was in chaos.

"There were 158 [progress] reports coming in each month on 158 sites," Perry recalled over tea and cookies at his spacious house in a neighborhood of rocket-blasted homes in Kabul. "They would bring these reports in and tell them how bad the situation was in the field. . . . I knew the foundations on several of the buildings were insufficient. Reports were coming in that the cement was decaying. Reports were coming in that we were building on the wrong sites. . . .

"Louis Berger didn't have the staff to read the reports, let alone respond with site visits," Perry said. "I went to Louis Berger and said, 'We have a calamity.' "

Perry told Berger he needed 50 Afghan engineers to work in the field and a monitoring staff of 15 Westerners.

"It was taken to USAID and rejected out of hand," Perry said. "I cannot hold LBG responsible. One of their hands was tied behind their back."

He said USAID told others at Berger that the company was "not going to build an empire out here" and instead would have to make do with locals. He ended up with 30 engineers and seven or eight monitors.

Perry said he recommended halting construction until his crew could regroup, but was rebuffed by Berger. "I was told, 'We have to complete the buildings by 31 December. . . . Press ahead.' " Berger was under pressure from USAID, which in turn was under pressure from the Bush administration, he said.

"It was a political timeline," said Perry, who left Berger in 2004. "That has created all of the problems."

A Berger spokesman did not dispute Perry's account. In his memo, USAID's Fine confirmed that there was "intense pressure to get work underway immediately and to deliver finished schools prior to the scheduled June [2004] presidential election." The vote was later postponed until October.

'Extraordinary Costs'

As work rushed forward, quality became an issue.

In March 2004, a festive ribbon-cutting was held at a model U.S.-style health clinic in the leafy village of Qala-e-Qazi. Afghan and U.S. officials gathered at the squat building on a dirt road 30 miles north of Kabul.

A Berger news release reported that "a warm spring sun shone down on the gathering, on the clinic in its coat of new white paint and on the beautifully landscaped grounds." Children lined the entrance, wearing their "best clothes" and carrying bouquets.

Not everyone found reason to celebrate. Mirwais Habibi, a health adviser to the Afghan government who inspected the site that month, wrote that he was "surprised at the very low quality of workmanship" and the "use of low grade and sub-standard materials." Four months later, a Berger inspection report obtained by The Post shows, the clinic needed new eaves, gutters, doors, handrails, floor tiles, drywall and a ceiling.

Last summer, Post reporters made an unannounced visit to the 15-month-old clinic, which was filled with patients. Mold and mildew stained the ceiling. In one room, the ceiling had fallen. Paint inside and out had blistered and peeled off in sheets. Cracks crawled across exterior walls. In a side yard, two girls labored in vain to pump water from a new, U.S.-built well. Mohammed Saber, a clinic guard, said the pump had stopped working days earlier.

Saber blamed much of the damage on a water tank in the ceiling that had been leaking for months. If the tank were metal, like most in Afghanistan, the hole could be easily welded shut, he said. But this tank was plastic and no one knew how to fix it.

By May 2004, more problems were surfacing.

That month, USAID official Catherine Mallay asked a colleague in an internal e-mail: "Can you tell me which contractors/projects financed the work with the construction flaws . . . such as wall caving in when someone placed his hand on it, etc."

The work had been performed by Berger subcontractors, replied Charles Moseley, who oversaw USAID infrastructure development in Afghanistan. He cited several problems, including "the use of poor quality materials and failure to meet specifications such as in the use of steel rebar. . . . Such flaws are generally attributable to inexperienced workmen and poor construction supervision."

Moseley also cited "extraordinary costs," such as an eight-classroom school that cost $426,000.

In early 2004, USAID told Berger that it could finish work on the 105 schools and clinics it had started but that the agency had selected five nonprofit relief organizations to build the remainder. A diplomatic cable in July 2004 stressed that USAID "always had doubts about the ability of the single original contractor -- Louis Berger International -- to complete all schools and clinics on the former schedule."

That month, Jack Bell, the State Department official, wrote that design and construction difficulties had forced numerous changes to blueprints, slowing work and doubling the cost of a prototype Kabul school, which other documents placed at $688,000.

Berger recently said Bell's comments are "biased, laced with innuendos and unsubstantiated 'facts.' We have never maintained that there have not been problems in the Schools and Clinics Program."

In early 2004, USAID officials began looking for a less costly building design that they hoped would also be easier to construct in rural Afghanistan. Berger and a subcontractor, Afghan Global Services, began building two health facilities out of reinforced adobe blocks.

The building sites were not in dangerous areas that could prove difficult to oversee and inspect. In fact, one was in the center of Kabul, immediately behind the Afghan Ministry of Public Health. The plan was for Afghan government engineers to visit the site daily, according to a Berger memo obtained by The Post.

A Pakistani engineering firm certified that the design was earthquake-resistant. But as construction neared completion in December 2004, Berger's engineers reviewed the plans and concluded the buildings might not withstand severe earthquakes, common in the region.

Today, officials are debating what to do with the almost-complete buildings, on which U.S. taxpayers have already spent $324,000. One proposal, outlined in the memo, calls for razing both and rebuilding them from scratch. That would bring the total project cost to $731,000. A Berger official said, however, that the company hoped to retrofit the buildings, which would bring the total cost to $513,000.

Snows in Moqor

The drive to build earthquake-resistant buildings led to other, more widespread difficulties. For the U.S.-style schools and clinics, engineers had effectively designed "an above-ground bunker," said Perry, then Berger's program chief. "But it was so heavy, so complex to build, it was almost impossible to build it correctly."

The roof trusses themselves were "too heavy to be put in place by local labor without a crane," wrote Bell, the State Department official. "In many parts of the country, a crane could not be used because of terrain inaccessibility."

Berger, which contends that skilled workers would not have needed a crane, nonetheless introduced an advanced roof design that relied on complex but lightweight steel trusses. In December, Berger reported to USAID, "The quality of [Berger's] buildings that are being constructed for the Afghan people is of high quality and will be the safest building[s] in the villages."

About that time, the snows arrived in Moqor, a region traversed by nomads and camels 150 miles southwest of Kabul. There, a Berger subcontractor was putting the finishing touches on a school known as Seekatcha Nawroozi. As the snow mounted, the roof suddenly buckled.

On Jan. 2, an independent inspector on contract to USAID visited the unfinished school and found that the long, low concrete building had suffered a "total roof truss system failure," a Berger report said.

This summer, visitors to Moqor found the failed steel beams rusting in a tangle beside the roofless building.

Berger engineers concluded that the school had multiple defects: a design fault in the lightweight roof, poorly fabricated steel and shoddy construction by the local Afghan builder hired by Berger.

Zaid Haidary, whose company constructed the building under a subcontract with Berger, disagreed. He said Berger had used plans borrowed from California that were developed to stand up to earthquakes but not the weight of heavy snows. Building materials supplied by Berger also were "very cheap and bad," he said.

Inspectors discovered similar defects elsewhere. Berger is now replacing 22 roofs and strengthening 67 others, a process it acknowledges could cost millions of dollars. Berger and USAID are discussing how to cover the cost.

Horses Instead of Pupils

If Berger was having difficulties, so were the five nonprofit relief organizations that USAID had chosen to complete the program started by Berger.

Problem one: locating the construction sites.

"Sites didn't exist," said David Harbin, former head of the Kabul office of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which agreed to build or rehabilitate 60 schools and clinics for $4.6 million but later lowered the goal to 25. "You would go out and it supposedly was a refurbishment site and there was nothing there."

Expenses rose as the organization blew past deadline. Locals tied a contractor to a tree in a pay dispute, Harbin said. Another contractor absconded with $141,000 worth of materials.

"These schools and clinics, each one is a battle," Harbin said.

Another nonprofit group, working northeast of Kabul in the province of Nurestan, was in the midst of erecting a schoolhouse using local methods when an entire wing collapsed, reducing much of the structure to a jumble of fieldstones and splintered timber. An official at the nonprofit, the United Nations Office for Project Services, speculated that disgruntled locals pulled down the building. But others blamed shoddy construction.

Shelter For Life, a Wisconsin-based relief organization, is building 52 schools and clinics. Last spring, in the southern province of Kandahar, the organization had nearly completed a schoolhouse when an Afghan military commander took a liking to it and transformed it into a stable for his horses.

"They just basically came in and took over," explained William Billingsley, the charity's project director.

Shelter For Life officials said it took them weeks, with U.S. military help, to persuade the commander to vacate.

Billingsley, whose office in a bullet-pocked Kabul neighborhood is guarded by men with Kalashnikov rifles, noted other cultural absurdities. The USAID plan calls for schools that meet standards under the Americans With Disabilities Act. That means including extra-wide doors and wheelchair ramps, even in remote areas.

"You won't have any children who will be attending in wheelchairs -- it won't happen," said Gary Schanil of the Afghan office of Shelter For Life. "Any students that are in wheelchairs can't get there, anyway."

USAID officials said U.S. law now requires the agency to ensure that the schools and clinics it constructs are handicapped-accessible, regardless of location.

'What Went Wrong'

Within the government there have been sobering private reassessments about the effort.

In his October 2004 confidential memo, USAID's Fine answered the question of "What Went Wrong" with a sweeping indictment."The schools and clinics program has been marked by a series of missteps and miscalculations that resulted in a flawed business model, inadequate supervision and poor execution," wrote Fine, who at the time was the third head of USAID's Afghanistan program in a year.

"USAID did not, at the outset, have a quality assurance plan or adequate staff to monitor performance," Fine wrote.

He described the effort as "plagued" and wrote, "Poor program design lay at the heart of the problems that have dogged this program." Berger "had no track record for this kind of work," he wrote, and the nonprofit groups later hired to oversee some of the construction were expensive and ineffective. The agency's assumption that local builders could deliver quality work, he said, had been "proven to be incorrect."

In an October interview, Fine expressed surprise that The Post had obtained the memo and said his thinking had changed. Fine, now working on Africa for USAID, said he considered the reconstruction effort to have been "a highly successful program" that suffered from overly ambitious expectations.

The inspector general for USAID offered his assessment of the $73 million program in March.

"Only about half of the 1,000 buildings once envisioned as being completed by the end of 2004 will actually be completed, and it will take at least until August 2005 to complete the reduced number," the report said.

The reduced number in that program was 533. By Nov. 5, only 138 had been turned over to the Afghan government.

U.S. aid to Afghanistan falls short
via The Washington Times (USA)
By Margaret Coker and Anne Usher  COX NEWS SERVICE  November 19, 2005
SHOWKHEI, Afghanistan -- Most mornings, boys from this village walk to a mud-brick school built two years ago, compliments of U.S. taxpayers. But the building is already in disrepair, its walls crumbling and its roof pitted by termites chewing into untreated wooden beams.

Village elders in Showkhei, some 20 miles from the main U.S. military base at Bagram, were unanimous in the summer of 2003 when soldiers arrived and asked what they needed: a bigger school for their children. The soldiers sent a construction firm called Ahmad Jamil Construction to Showkhei to double the size of the existing school from five rooms to 10.  

But no one from the military came back to inspect the quality of materials or the company's work, villagers said. The next time they saw the soldiers was weeks later at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. U.S. officials took pictures of the new building and then left, said school principal Said Rakhman.

Two years and $20,000 later, the locally made mud bricks crumble to the touch, and termites have infested the roof beams, leaving villagers with the morbid pastime of guessing when the ceiling will fall.

"Do they just care about photographs?" asked Mr. Rakhman. "My children have to stay in this building, their children don't."

Use of inferior construction materials is just one of myriad complaints lodged by auditors and aid workers who are critical of U.S. efforts to rebuild Afghanistan.

Four years after American forces invaded Afghanistan to purge the Taliban, the United States has spent more than $1.62 billion to reconstruct this war-ravaged Central Asian country.

Vital, visible results

Some vital and visible results of the U.S. intervention are evident. After 25 years of open warfare, millions of Afghans have returned home, voters have elected a government and many women are back at work.

But a report published in July by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) cited bureaucratic squabbles, poor planning, and a lack of coordination and oversight in the spending of U.S. reconstruction money in Afghanistan. The effect is that building and public works projects by the State Department and the Pentagon have had little impact on improving the country's long-term reconstruction, the GAO said.

For Afghans, this is cause for despair. In a country ranked among the world's worst in terms of poverty, literacy and infant mortality, the slow reconstruction endangers short- and long-term stability.

No one expected Afghanistan to transform its bomb-scarred, medieval landscape into a modern nation overnight. But analysts, aid workers and many Afghans are questioning how effectively the millions of U.S. dollars meant to improve the country have been spent so far.

"You say time equals money. In this case it's true. We Afghans don't have the luxury of time," said Mohammed Sidiq Patman, the deputy education minister. "I know that America has a desire to help, but the U.S. government isn't doing things in the best way."

The government of U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai, still heavily dependant on international assistance, is being further undermined by more frequent and deadly attacks by the Taliban and insurgents. The continued presence of warlords means the authority of the central government doesn't stretch much beyond the capital, Kabul.

2006 U.S. troop cut

Despite pledges by President Bush to stay the course, the United States is reportedly planning to pull out 20 percent of its 18,000 troops next year.

Quayum Karzai, a brother of the president recently elected to parliament, said withdrawing even 50 U.S. troops would send a signal to ordinary Afghans and extremists alike that "the commitment isn't there."

In the effort to deliver roads, schools, clinics, irrigation canals and other public works, U.S. agencies fell short of most of their own targets and glossed over their lack of progress for decision makers in Washington, according to the GAO, an investigative arm of Congress whose July report covered reconstruction results through May 2005.

For example, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has pointed to the repair and construction of miles of irrigation ditches and canals as a reflection of booming Afghan farms. But the GAO found that the contractor responsible for overseeing these projects, Chemonics International Inc., did not fully collect or report information on progress. More important, U.S. efforts weren't steered with the aim of helping Afghans produce specific crops or getting those crops to market.

Local roads ignored

While a Kabul-to-Kandahar highway is nearing completion, cutting travel time from three days to six hours, relatively little attention has been paid to fixing or building smaller roads, so moving crops — or people, money or even the Afghan army — around the country remains difficult.

"People told us 'I hear there's a clinic but I can't get to it,' " said Morgan Courtney, a researcher for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. She conducted an independent survey this year of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan: The clinic may only be a mile or two away, but "they say the roads are so bad that if we carry our family on a cart, we'll dump it on the way there because it's way too bumpy for us."

The handful of health clinics built last year weren't located where trained doctors are because contractors didn't consult local officials or the Health Ministry, which wanted to ensure that the clinics were being put in places of need, the GAO reported.

Plan is now in place

Peggy O'Ban, a spokeswoman for USAID, said the agency agrees with the GAO's assertions and notes that a comprehensive strategy for reconstruction in Afghanistan, lacking until this past summer, is now in place.

"It would've been a lot easier to import [workers] from abroad but — depending on project and level of skill — what you're trying to do is train people," she said. "But if the imperative is to get everything done as quickly as possible, that creates a challenge."

Improving primary education, by building schools, revamping inadequate curricula and training teachers, is a goal embraced by all international agencies working in Afghanistan. Yet some of the U.S. government's most abysmal reconstruction results came in education.

Since 2002, 3,500 schools have been refurbished or built from scratch. For all Afghan children to study in covered buildings instead of tents or open-air schools, however, another 2,000 schools will need to be built, according the Education Ministry.

The U.S. government has funded a relatively small number of these needed school projects.

USAID had projected that it would refurbish or build 286 schools by the end of 2004, but its contractors had only completed eight by that deadline and refurbished about 77 others, with a coat of paint sometimes counting as a refinished school, the GAO reported.

As of Sept. 1 this year, according to USAID, its contractors had completed 314 school projects since reconstruction began after the U.S.-led invasion.

USAID officials say such lackluster performance was largely a result of being initially too optimistic about Afghanistan's political and security climate. They said they set targets that were too high given how unstable the country became months later. Many areas of the Texas-size country are considered unsafe for humanitarian workers.

Risks deter contractors

Deteriorating security played a major role in slowing or shelving plans in at least six of the country's provinces, mainly along the Pakistani border, officials said. They blamed a lack of contractors willing to work in risky areas for allocating only $6 million of its $49 million budget for schools and clinics in fiscal year 2003.

Eighty-one aid workers were killed last year, the GAO reported, and attacks by the Taliban and its sympathizers left more than 1,200 dead — including U.S. and NATO soldiers, Afghan military and civilians and foreign workers, in the six months leading up to the Sept. 18 parliamentary election.

U.S. officials also note they had to coordinate their actions with the Education Ministry, a challenge considering the Afghan government didn't even have pens, desks or computers — let alone a working staff — until mid-2002.

"Building the capacity of the new government to deliver is as important as the buildings, and it takes time," said Alonzo Fulgham, the USAID mission director in Afghanistan.

Under the same difficult conditions, however, other international lending agencies such as the World Bank and nonprofit organizations have demonstrated better results.

Atlanta-based CARE International, which has worked in Afghanistan for 44 years, built 40 schools in 2004, which in most cases cost between $10,000 and $20,000 less than U.S.-sponsored projects. Schools constructed by USAID contractors cost between $60,000 and $80,000.

CARE's faster pace was possible in part because it already had relationships with Afghan villages and businesses with which to organize and build.

Distributed by New York Times News Service

'We Are Not Such Monsters'
A doctor who once treated Bin Laden works alongside members of an extremist Pakistani group to assist survivors of the Oct. 8 quake.
By John M. Glionna The Los Angeles Times November 20, 2005
LAHORE, Pakistan — Pakistan's foremost orthopedic surgeon, Amer Aziz, once treated Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and for years has provided medical aid to other Islamic hard-liners.

Now the 49-year-old physician works alongside one of Pakistan's most prominent extremist groups to assist survivors of the Oct. 8 earthquake that killed 86,000 people in the nation. For Aziz, known for his free treatment of the poor, it's the most expedient way to reach the sick and wounded in this isolated mountain region. But there's a rub.

Many of these extremist organizations, which have been deemed terrorist groups by both the United States and Pakistan, have fashioned an uneasy truce with U.S. soldiers ferrying relief supplies to the 3.2 million people left homeless by the quake. And Aziz has had some unpleasant experiences with U.S. authorities: CIA and FBI operatives in 2002 detained the Pakistani surgeon for a month to interrogate him about his connections to Al Qaeda.

In the city of Muzaffarabad, the capital of the Pakistan-controlled portion of the Kashmir region, Aziz manages a field hospital run by Jamaat-ud-Dawa. The group has connections to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Muslim militant group fighting Indian rule in disputed Kashmir. Taiba has been linked by U.S. authorities to Al Qaeda. Pakistan banned the organization in 2002.

At a relief camp packed with tents stamped with Dawa's name, Aziz and his staff try to ignore the aid-ferrying U.S. helicopters flying overhead.

"I don't trust Americans — not after what I went through," Aziz said. "But I am not doing anything wrong, so I don't care if their Army is here. They do their bit, I do mine."

As for Americans working alongside suspected terrorist groups, Nida Emmons, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, said, "As always, we take every precaution to ensure the safety and security of our humanitarian assistance workers and military personnel."

Experts have taken note that there have not been attacks on American troops by extremists here. "The lack of violence means that most Pakistanis appreciate the U.S. assistance," said Akbar Ahmed, the chairman of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, D.C.

Aziz established a rotating team of surgeons at this Dawa camp shortly after the quake. He has also treated for free 80 victims of spinal cord injuries at his Lahore hospital and provided shelter for their families.

"The world has seen that these bearded people have done good work, that we are not such monsters after all," said Aziz, scoffing at the notion that such groups are banned in Pakistan. "Whatever word comes from Washington is the official stance of our government. The reality is these people are the best workers."

Although he says he does not advocate violence, Aziz is one of Pakistan's staunchest critics of the U.S. In an interview in his office in Lahore, the British-trained doctor discussed his meetings with Bin Laden, his detainment and the humanitarian efforts of religious extremists.

Groups such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa were in many cases the first to reach isolated mountain villages in the chaotic hours and days after the earthquake, he said. Ayman Zawahiri, Bin Laden's No. 2, had called on Muslims to provide aid to the quake victims.

Aziz said 300 teams from various other groups had also moved into the mountains to assist isolated residents, rebuilding shattered homes with existing materials, including roofs made from sheet metal hauled in by donkey.

Aziz, who says he is not a member of any political party, has been rendering aid to the region's militant groups since 1989.

"I believe in Islam. I am proud of it, and I am not apologizing for it," he said. "But I don't judge people on the basis of my beliefs, and I don't advocate killing innocent people."

He has no regrets for treating Bin Laden, who is thought to be hiding along the rugged boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan, where Pakistani officials have little control and tribal loyalties run deep.

On a visit to an Afghan hospital in 1999, Aziz stayed at a Taliban guesthouse where Bin Laden was brought to see him.

"They just told me they wanted to bring me a patient. It was nothing serious. He had fallen off a horse," Aziz said. "I was assisting the Taliban government at the time. It was nothing secret. I was not on their payroll. It was purely a humanitarian effort."

He said he examined Bin Laden for 10 minutes, treating him only for back pain. "He was very humble, very soft-spoken," Aziz said.

Aziz met Bin Laden for the second time in November 2001, two months after the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Aziz was in the process of establishing a surgical unit at the University of Jalalabad in Afghanistan to treat people injured during the U.S. bombing there.

"It was a bit awkward," Aziz said. "I can't speak Arabic, and he can't speak English. But there were interpreters so we had a few minutes of small talk."

He saw no evidence that the Al Qaeda mastermind suffered from kidney disease, as has been claimed by several intelligence experts. "He looked healthy," Aziz said.

Nearly a year later, in October 2002, Pakistani agents arrested Aziz at his Lahore hospital and took him to a safe house in Islamabad, where he was confined to a bedroom for 30 days.

"They accused me of providing Al Qaeda with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, with an emphasis on anthrax," he said.

With a hood over his head, he was driven daily to another location for an eight-hour interrogation by seven men and one woman who said they were from the CIA and FBI, Aziz said. Pakistani agents were present but did not participate.

"They told me, 'Whoever we catch in Afghanistan, they have your name in their diary,' " he said. "These soldiers came to my hospital in Afghanistan and were sent here to Lahore. They had no money. I had no choice but to operate."

After he was released without charges as public pressure mounted, Aziz said, U.S. agents apologized and offered to compensate him.

He asked for a donation to help establish a spinal injury clinic in Pakistan for the working poor, but has received nothing.

Aziz remains bitter over his captivity, which he says proved fatal to his 89-year-old father, who died shortly after Aziz's release. "When I came back from U.S. custody, he didn't recognize me," he said.

Christopher Candland, a political science professor at Wellesley College and an authority on the social sector work of Islamic fundamentalist groups in Pakistan, called Aziz's detention "typical" of what occurs in Pakistan.

"Many Pakistanis have been held and charged by the U.S. without protest or involvement by the Pakistani government," Candland said. "As a result, people don't believe that Pakistanis are safe in Pakistan."

Such cases bring increased anger against Americans. "The idea there is that the FBI and CIA can sweep in and take anyone they want — swoop in and put them on a plane and tell the government of Pakistan about it later," Candland said.

Aziz bristled when asked whether he knew the Al Qaeda leader's whereabouts.

"I have no idea, and I couldn't care less," he said. "If you treat somebody just once, you don't become his doctor. The majority of the people in the world hate George Bush, and if I was asked to treat him, I would do that. I have taken a Hippocratic oath. I can't refuse treatment to anyone."

He also insists he would treat Bin Laden again. "If he comes in injured to my hospital, yes, I would treat him. It's not necessary that I show agreement with what the American leader says."


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