Australian PM makes surprise visit to Afghanistan
Monday November 21, 10:37 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister John Howard made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Monday and met President Hamid Karzai, Afghan officials said.
Australia currently has about 200 combat troops in Afghanistan. The government is due to decide within weeks whether to send a military reconstruction team to the country.
Australia, a strong ally of the United States, sent troops to Afghanistan in late 2001 as part of the campaign to oust the Taliban regime and hunt for al Qaeda militants after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
2 killed, 4 injured in rocket attacks in Afghanistan
KABUL, Nov. 21 (Xinhua) -- Two civilians were killed and four others injured in the rocket attacks on Sunday and Monday in Afghanistan's southern province of Zabul, a local official said Monday.
"Last night about two rockets hit the district chief's office in Khak Afghan district, and injured two Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers. This morning, another rocket hit the same area of the province, and killed two civilians and injured two others," Ghulam Haidar, district police chief told Xinhua.
He blamed the "enemies" of the country, a term used for Taliban militants, for the attacks and the casualties.
Zabul, along with other southern provinces like Kandahar, Uruzgan and Helmand, has become a hotspot of the intensified militancy from Taliban.
More than 1,500 people, with the majority of them Taliban militants, have been killed in the Taliban-linked militancy since the beginning of this year, making 2005 the bloodiest one since 2001. Enditem
Neo-Taliban Threaten To Kill Kidnapped Afghans, Indian National
Daily Afghan Report Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 21 November 2005
An Indian engineer, his two Afghan bodyguards, and his Afghan driver were kidnapped in Nimroz Province in southern Afghanistan on 19 November, All India Radio and other media reported on 20 November. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Yusof Stanezai told the radio station that the Indian engineer worked for Border Roads Organization, an Indian government-owned company. Qari Mohammad Yusof, purporting to speak for the neo-Taliban, threatened to kill the Indian engineer, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 20 November. "We give 48 hours [from 20 November] to the Indian company to stop its operations and leave Afghanistan. Otherwise we will kill their kidnapped engineer," Mohammad Yusof told AIP. The neo-Taliban vowed to put the three Afghans on trial and "execute them if a death ruling is issued," the spokesman claimed. The Indian national has been identified as M. R. Kutty, All India Radio reported on 21 November. A Lebanese citizen working for a firm supplying road-construction companies in Afghanistan was kidnapped in August by the neo-Taliban and later released following the reported withdrawal from Afghanistan of the company for which he worked (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 18 August 2005). AT
Hunt on for missing Indian driver
BBC News Monday, 21 November 2005, 07:30 GMT
India's ambassador in Afghanistan says officials are following "leads" to trace an Indian national who has gone missing in southern Nimroz province.
Taleban insurgents have claimed they have abducted the Indian along with three Afghans on Saturday.
Officials said M Raman Kutty is a driver with India's state-run Border Roads Organisation.
This year has seen an upsurge in violence linked to militants, with more than 1,400 people killed.
Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan Rakesh Sood told the BBC News website that "nobody had contacted the Indian embassy (in Kabul) or the government" claiming responsibility.
Asked whether the Taleban was involved, Mr Sood said: "We are not excluding any possibility."
The Indian national was among some 300 Indians working on a strategic 218km road linking Delaram on the motorway connecting Kanadahar and Herat and Zaranj on the Iran border.
Some of them belong to India's state-run Border Roads Organisation, where Mr Kutty works as a driver.
Mr Sood said that a number of Afghan and Iranian workers were also working on this $83m road project.
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.
Taleban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf told news agencies by satellite phone that their fighters had taken the Indian national.
He gave no further details and his claims could not be independently verified.
A spokesman later reportedly told the local Pajhwok Afghan News the man 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.
Family of kidnapped driver in Afghanistan is shattered
Manorama Online (India) 21th NOV 2005
Alapuzha (Kerala): News that her husband has been taken hostage by the Taliban in far away Afghanistan has left Bindu shattered, but she has carefully kept it away from her two sons and is busy consoling her in-laws.
R. Maniappan, a driver with the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), was abducted Saturday while he was driving from Khash Rod district to Zaranj, the provincial capital of Nimruz in strife torn Afghanistan.
But all these names are alien to Bindu, who only wants to hear news that her 32-year-old husband is well and has been freed.
A sliver of hope has come from Maniappan's friend and colleague Pushpan who called from Afghanistan and said there was nothing to worry. American troops were out looking for him, and they would soon find him.
Bindu recalled that she had last spoken to her husband on Nov 8.
"He gave me a number of his friend and asked me to get in touch with him if we needed to pass any information. Then he said that it might take a while before he can call again. Since then there has been no communication from him," said a sobbing Bindu.
Her two sons, aged nine and three, don't know what has happened as yet.
Bindu, who stays with her parents, both of them who work as coolies, has other responsibilities too.
She has to look after Maniappan's parents, who are even more upset because they had a tiff with their son when he was last here on a vacation in May.
"Bindu has to console his parents, who are terribly shattered. They are glued to their television sets and reading whatever information they are able to gather from newspapers," Bindu's brother said.
He said Maniappan had been posted in Meghalaya and informed them earlier this month that he was moving again.
He has been with BRO for the last 16 years, and has been moving in and out of New Delhi.
According to reports, BRO officials in New Delhi have asked the family not to speak to the media because it could lead to more problems and the release could be delayed.
The local legislator from the area, T.K. Devakumar, said Maniappan and he were neighbours and Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had already taken up the matter with New Delhi.
"Chandy has spoken to Maniappan's parents and taken up the issue with the central government. Maniappan is the sole breadwinner of the family, and today they are in a very bad shape," Devakumar said.
Osama is alive and active in Pak villages bordering Afghanistan
From M Rama Rao - Reporting for Asian Tribune from New Delhi 2005-11-21
New Delhi, 21 November, (Asiantribune.com): The most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden is very much alive and is living in remote tribal villages of Pakistan on the borders with Afghanistan. This has been conclusively established giving a lie to the claims of Islamabad.
President Pervez Musharraf, while regularly denying Osama's existence in his country, and maintaining that he might have even died, has been saying that it is possible that he could be living in the remote tribal lands of Waziristan 'where the writ of Islamabad has no effect'.
Osama has not been seen in videos, issued by his Al Qaeda network, for over a year and western intelligence agencies believe he may be dead.
But the latest assertion on the whereabouts of Osama is based on the fact that he had evaded capture by Pakistani troops this spring by just 30 minutes as they zeroed in on him in a remote village close to the Afghan border.
A report in the News of the World, a London tabloid, said that Pak troops had pinpointed the hideout by tracking the mobile phone used by one of one of bin Laden's closest aides but by the time they could mount a raid, the al-Qaeda chief had slipped away.
The Pakistani diplomatic mission in London confirmed the report saying, "We think we missed him (bin Laden) by 30 minutes. It was the closest we have been since 2001".
"We acted on intelligence reports and were close. Such fleeting opportunities come and either you succeed in a moment or you fail and miss the opportunity for a long time," an American TV channel quoted Musharraf as saying in an interview.
New Zealand has no plans to deploy more troops to Afghanistan
Pravda.RU (Russia) 15:11 2005-11-21
New Zealand has no plans to deploy more troops to Afghanistan and wants assurances from NATO that its soldiers will receive support once the Atlantic alliance assumes joint force command, Prime Minister Helen Clark said Monday.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters said last week while in Busan, Korea, at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that New Zealand's military deployment to Afghanistan may be extended, and the government could consider increasing troop levels.
Clark dismissed that Monday.
"I can assure you, Cabinet has no plans to commit more troops to Afghanistan," she said _ adding that for a small country, New Zealand "has made an incredible commitment to Afghanistan."
New Zealand currently has 50 elite commando troops fighting insurgents in Afghanistan. Another 120 troops are involved in a reconstruction project in Bamiyan province, which is scheduled to end next September.
NATO takes over joint forces command from the U.S.-led coalition in the troubled Central Asian nation next year.
Clark said transferring the current command of troops to NATO would not be an issue "if we got satisfactory assurances of backup."
She said troops operating in remote areas of Bamiyan needed support "to know the helicopters are coming" if they are attacked or need medical evacuation.
New Zealand has not agreed to the transfer of the provincial reconstruction team to NATO, she said, and will only do so if "satisfactory backup" was assured by NATO commanders.
Britain's The Guardian newspaper earlier reported the United States plans to pull 4,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan early next year, and Britain has been trying to put together a coalition to fill the gap in advance of a NATO meeting in Brussels on Dec. 7.
Pakistan: Afghan refugees offer pitch-perfect camp for hosts
By Asif Shahzad and Vivian Tan
HAVELIAN, Pakistan, November 21 (UNHCR) - For more than 10 years, Niamat Sulman Kheil lived in refugee camps in Mianwali and Haripur in northern Pakistan. He never thought that one day, the tables would turn and he would end up providing a roof for his hosts.
But when the October 8 earthquake hit, he wasted no time in making his pitch. The Afghan refugee approached UNHCR and the local authorities to offer his expertise in erecting tents. The result was Banda Shahib Khan camp, the first relief camp run by civil authorities in the earthquake-affected north. Over 2,500 people are already living there; many more are arriving every day.
"The newcomers didn't know how to open or pitch the tents. They were very slow, completing about 10 tents a day," says UNHCR field assistant Farkhanda Anwar. "In comparison, the Afghans are very experienced and fast."
"It's difficult work, not the work of one man. You need six to seven people," says Sulman Kheil, who was born in Baghlan province in northern Afghanistan. His former neighbour in the Mianwali camp, a man called Gulamjan, looms nearby. The seven-foot giant, who originates from Kabul, is a pillar of strength for the team, holding up the tent pole while others hammer stakes into the ground and secure the ropes.
The team works at lightning speed. Within minutes, a new tent is up. The men swing their tools over their shoulders and move on to the next plot.
Erecting 50 to 60 tents a day, Sulman Kheil and his team of 16 Afghan refugees have helped to house earthquake survivors who have come to Banda Shahib Khan camp from Balakot, Batagram, Muzaffarabad and even the Kaghan and Allai valleys further north.
Mohammad Jan, 43, arrived with his family over a week ago from Balakot. "Everything has been destroyed in our area and there's nothing left behind for us," he said. "There was no other option but to move to a safer area where we can spend winter."
In addition to shelter, winterization is another priority as the first snows appear on the nearby mountains. This is another area the Afghan refugees can help with, given their long experience of keeping warm in UNHCR tents through the winter.
"When I pitch a tent, I make sure the two-fly top is kept apart so that the air between the layers can provide insulation," says Sulman Kheil. "To keep cold air from coming in, you can build about 2 feet of mud wall around the base of the tent, and lay a plastic sheet on the ground."
Captain Munir Azam, the District Coordination Officer of Abbotabad district, which runs the camp with Pakistan's Chief Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees, acknowledges: "We're not experts in running camps. We need all the help and advice we can get."
He adds, "I am very thankful to UNHCR, which gave us 100 tents at very short notice then followed up with 300 more. I don't want to turn people away simply because there's no shelter. Nobody should sleep without quilts and mattresses, so I went out and bought more from the market last night."
Besides the tents, some families also sleep in iron-sheet cabins donated by Lion's Club International. As the first relief camp run by civil authorities - most camps are run by the military and some by non-governmental organizations - Banda Shahib Khan camp boasts a dispensary staffed by four doctors and two specialists, as well as a trauma centre and two schools. Water points, latrines and bathrooms are in place and laundry areas are being planned. The local authorities are providing cooked food until a communal kitchen can be built.
There are plans to expand the camp to host up to 20,000 people. "After we're done here, we'll replace some of the flimsier tents. Then we'll start working on the new area," Sulman Kheil says purposefully, pointing to a stretch of land nearby.
He welcomes the extra work: "Even though Afghanistan is my country, my heart is here in Pakistan. It's my duty to help the earthquake survivors."
Banda Shahib Khan is one of 20 camps in Pakistan's quake zone where UNHCR is currently supporting the Pakistan government and military in site planning and coordinating the provision of basic services like water, sanitation, health care and education.
US to keep presence in Afghan remote areas this winter
KABUL, Nov 21, 2005 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- As part of change in tactic to exert pressure on Taliban-led militants, the US military in Afghanistan has decided to keep on presence in the rugged terrain areas through winter, spokesman of the US-led coalition troops said Monday.
"In the past in very remote areas such as Deh Rawad, Kunar and Nooristan there were no forces throughout the winter. It is not true this winter. This winter we have established ANA (Afghan National Army) and US forces in these area and they would be there throughout the winter," James Yonts told journalists at a press briefing.
The diction is taking place amid increasing militancy and suicide attacks in parts of the post-Taliban nation including the capital city Kabul as three explosions claimed the lives of two soldiers of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force ( ISAF) and injured four others last week here.
Presence of Afghan and US troops in the far-flanged rugged terrain areas throughout the winter, the spokesman stressed, would prevent anti-government militants to conduct activities.
"In these key areas, the US forces and ANA forces have established camps and they would be supplied and reinforced throughout the winter to continue activities such as mop up and aggressive patrol in these areas," the US army Colonel emphasized.
He also was of the view that mounting pressure on Taliban had forced the group to change their tactics and resort to suicide attacks.
The US military spokesman was also confident that the militants would be rooted out from the country.
"Our forces alongside the ANA are taking the fight to the enemy throughout this area. We are blocking mountainous paths, preventing the enemy from accumulating weapons and denying them sanctuary," Yonts noted.
Kunar, Nooristan and Deh Rawad in Uruzgan, the home province of Taliban's chief Mullah Mohammad Omar, has been the scene of increasing insurgency for the last several months.
Taliban-led insurgency has claimed the lives of over 1,500 with majority of them, according to officials, are rebels and over 70 US soldiers have also been killed so far this year.
Combined patrol engages enemy near Deh Rawod
COMBINED FORCES COMMAND – AFGHANISTAN COALITION PRESS INFORMATION CENTER Nov. 21, 2005
Release # 051121-02
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – A combined security patrol of Afghan National Army and Coalition Soldiers located and attacked enemy forces northwest of Deh Rawod on Sunday.
The combined patrol called in close-air support which engaged enemy positions. Initial battle damage assessment is being conducted to define enemy losses.
No Coalition or Afghan forces were killed or injured during the engagement.
“The enemy cannot withstand or defeat Afghan and U.S. firepower,” said Brig. Gen. James G. Champion, Combined Joint Task Force-76 deputy commanding general for operations. “These combined Coalition patrols continue to build the experience, capability and confidence of the Afghan National Security Forces. They lead the fight against the enemies of their nation and will not rest until Afghanistan is free from those who advocate attacks against innocent civilians, freely elected officials and Islamic clerics. Working together with our Afghan counterparts, we will not give the enemies of this nation a moment’s rest.”
Foundation receives school supplies for students
COMBINED FORCES COMMAND – AFGHANISTAN COALITION PRESS INFORMATION CENTER
Nov. 21, 2005 Release # 051121-04 By Army Sgt. Phillip Chang 117th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
KABUL , Afghanistan – A pack of pink drawing paper, a set of multi-colored pencils and a backpack was all it took to put a smile on one student’s face in Afghanistan . The student, Shkiba, was one of almost 250 in the Professional and Learning Foundation School for Disabled and Girls, to receive school supplies and shirts with the colors of the Afghan flag. Soldiers from the Afghan National Army distributed school supplies to students of the school in Kabul , Afghanistan , Thursday. The school was chosen in recognition for the upcoming International Day of Disabled which is Dec. 3.
The soldiers are part of the Directorate of Cultural and Religious Affairs. The supplies were donated from Command Forces Command–Afghanistan and the United States Assistance for International Development with participation from the International Security Assistance Force.
Present at the event was Sayed Mohmmad Hadi Hadi, Deputy Minister of Martyrs and Disabled, who also handed out supplies to students.
During his speech, Hadi said, “I am thankful for the cooperation and coordination from ISAF and CFC-A.” He added, “I am also thankful for the donations for the students and disabled.”
Suraya Omeri, director of the school, was also appreciative of the donations. “While the Taliban was in power, girls were not allowed to go to school. The school was founded to help the disabled and girls get their education” said Omeri. “These gifts will help the students in their progress.”
Students shared their thoughts with the Deputy Minister and director as they shook hands and acknowledged their thanks for the gifts. Muxgan Ahmadi, one of the attending students said, “We are thankful for the gifts of book bags and school supplies, these will help us learn.”
Romanian Lt. Col. Mircea A. Romocia and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert Roseman, members of the Ministry Engagement Team for CFC-A, coordinated the event.
“This is an example of the Afghan government working together to support the Afghan people,” said Roseman after the event. “We just came by to help the Ministry with its steps in providing for the next generation,” added Romocia.
At the end of the ceremony, Shkiba handed one of the soldiers a sketch of a boy crying. “I wanted to show how it was here before we were free,” reflected Shkiba, as she was admiring her sketch before presenting the sketch. “This is also to show how happy I am now,” she added with pride.
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