Afghan mission can succeed: study
A Crisis Group report says pulling back and talking peace with the Taliban won't work.
By CP OTTAWA 11/10/06
The raging violence in southern Afghanistan should be a wakeup call to Western nations, not an excuse to give up, says a new report by a respected international conflict studies group.
Belgium-based International Crisis Group says there is nothing "inevitable about failure in Afghanistan," but some major policies of both NATO and the Afghan government must be reconsidered. Those policies include aggressive house searches and detentions of residents.
"The desire for a quick, cheap war followed by a quick, cheap peace is what has brought Afghanistan to the present, increasingly dangerous situation," says the group, which has a self-appointed mission to prevent and resolve conflicts.
The study also says NATO has not committed enough troops to provide security to the fragile democracy and its efforts to bring stability are severely undermined by corrupt Afghan authorities.
The organization -- once described by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as "a genuine force for peace" -- says Afghans are disillusioned because they believe some, including local police, judges and coalition forces, operate above the law.
It also says Pakistan is at best a "grudging ally" and recommends more cross-border military co-operation to stem the insurgency.
The report, which offers 21 recommendations, surfaced in Canada on the same day as a new public opinion poll that suggests 59 per cent of Canadians want their troops withdrawn from the bloody conflict before their mandate expires in February 2009.
The Crisis Group report had sharp criticism for NDP Leader Jack Layton's call for Canada to pull back its 2,500 troops from combat roles in Afghanistan and for peace talks with the Taliban.
"Political strategy talk seems to focus increasingly on making a deal with the Taliban," the document states. "That is a bad idea. The key to restoring peace and stability to Afghanistan is not making concessions to the violent extremists, but meeting the legitimate grievances of the population."
GET TROOPS OUT: POLL
- More than half of Canadians want to see their troops pulled from Afghanistan before the scheduled end of their mandate in 2009 and almost as many did not think Canada's mission to the violence-plagued country will be successful, a new poll suggests. - The poll, conducted for the CBC by Environics Nov. 2-6, indicated 59 per cent of those surveyed said they want Canadian troops out of Afghanistan before 2009. - Ten per cent of respondents said they believe Canadian soldiers should stay in Afghanistan past 2009, while 23 per cent said the troops should remain in the central Asian country until 2009.
Bomber hired for $17,000: Afghan police
KABUL - Afghan police presented to reporters yesterday a man they said had confessed to agreeing to carry out a suicide attack outside Kabul's busiest mosque in return for nearly $17,000 for his family.
The man, an Afghan who grew up in Pakistan, was arrested with a suicide vest strapped to his body at a police checkpost in the eastern province of Nangarhar near the Pakistani border early this week, a police spokesman said.
The 24-year-old, identified as Chando Gul, was caught while he was on his way to Kabul, said Zemarai Bashary, a spokesman for the interior ministry that handles police matters.
"He has confessed his family was to receive 1,000,000 rupees ($16,600) after he carried out suicide attack at Puli-Khishti mosque in Kabul," Bashary said.
The mosque, one of the oldest in the war-scarred capital, is popular among worshippers and adjacent to the crowded main Kabul market in the city centre.
Gul said that when he was recruited he had been working as a driver for a Pakistani national who was a Taleban and was named Mullah Gul Wali.
"We were four people. We got an invitation from Mullah Gul Wali to carry out suicide attacks and he said doing that will take us to paradise in the next life and success in this life," said Gul in broken language.
"We were told our family will receive 1,000,000 rupees after we carried out the attack. I was told to detonate in Pul-e-Khisti mosque," he said.
Gul said a suicide bomber who killed around a dozen people outside the interior ministry on September 30 was a friend of his and from the same group.
The blast was among about six in the capital that month that badly rattled the heavily secured city, which has seen relatively little of the Taleban violence that has raged in the south this year.
Gul said two of his other friends were tasked to carry out attacks at the Kabul police command and in Nangarhar.
Suicide attacks have soared in Afghanistan this year, with the tactic generally agreed to have been picked up from international militant groups.
Afghan police allege many of the attacks are being plotted by Taleban and other militants in Pakistan, who fled across the border after the extremist regime was toppled from power in Afghanistan in a US-led offensive.
Afghans hunt commander over rape of girl, 11
Fri Nov 10, 3:52 AM ET
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan authorities are hunting a militia commander over the kidnap and rape of an 11-year-old girl whose family was given a dog and some cash as compensation.
The girl, who had also been previously raped by the man and some of his comrades, has been missing for almost a month, relatives and neighbors in a village in the northern province of Kunduz said on Friday.
The day after she disappeared, a messenger from the commander, named only as Mahmud, gave the family some cash and a dog, normally regarded as unclean in Islamic societies.
After repeated pleas for help from village elders and her family, provincial governor Mohammad Omar set up a team to find her and prosecute Mahmud and his accomplices.
"Raping a young girl is a crime in our law. The case should be followed," he said on Friday. "We will hand over the culprits to the law once we detain them.
"We are taking very strong measures in this regard."
A district official said Mahmud, from one of Afghanistan's former Mujahideen (holy warrior) factions, had a long-running feud with the girl's family and was exacting revenge.
But her mother Gul Shah rejected that:
"What kind of government is it? My daughter was raped and exchanged for a dog and I want my daughter back and I want the criminals to stand on trial. She is 11 years old and it is against Islam and our Afghani values and customs."
Afghan rights deteriorating, watchdog tells Security Council
Fri Nov 10, 1:20 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A UN Security Council team due to visit Afghanistan at the weekend must immediately address a "deteriorating rights situation" that has led to the deaths of 1,000 civilians in insurgency-linked unrest this year, Human Rights Watch said.
The nine-member team, set to arrive Saturday, should push for compensation for the civilian casualties, the group said on Friday.
It also called for action on corruption, warlords with records of abuse, and violence against women.
"The deteriorating human rights situation throughout Afghanistan warrants immediate attention and action by the United Nations," the New York-based watchdog said in an open letter to the mission.
"Human Rights Watch believes the Security Council's upcoming fact-finding mission to Afghanistan can help improve conditions by demonstrating the United Nation's ongoing commitment to the well-being of all Afghans."
Southern Afghanistan had "degenerated into open warfare" since the extremist Taliban launched an insurgency after being toppled from government in 2001.
"This fighting has halted much needed development activity and has reversed some of the modest gains made in the Taliban's absence, such as returning children, particularly girls, to school," the letter said.
Civilians were increasingly at risk with more than 1,000 killed as result of insurgency-related violence this year, some of them in more than 80 suicide bombings, the letter said.
The rampant insecurity had eroded many of the "small gains" for women after the fall of the Taliban, which denied them education or jobs outside the home, and they remained "some of the most suffering on the planet".
It said: "Only 35 percent of school-age girls are in school, but more than 200,000 students, many of them girls, who were in school were deprived of an education in 2006 due to a campaign by anti-government forces targeting teachers, students, and schools."
In areas less affected by the insurgency, Human Rights Watch said there were serious abuses by regional warlords, such as illegal land grabs, intimidation of journalists, and factional and ethnic violence.
The letter urged the UN team to work with the 37 nations contributing to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force tackling the Taliban to create a fund to compensate the scores of victims of ISAF military strikes.
It said the council must press its members to pledge assistance for about 80,000 people the UN said were displaced by the fighting and drought.
It said the council must push for improvements in the rule of law and accountability for abuses, and curbs on violence and discrimination against women and girls.
Eighteen Taliban killed by Afghan and NATO forces
Fri Nov 10, 5:05 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan soldiers backed by NATO forces and warplanes killed 18 Taliban militants in a series of clashes in southeastern Afghanistan, the alliance said.
Three NATO soldiers, three Afghan troops and an interpreter were also wounded in the fighting in Paktika province, near the Pakistani border, an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) press release said on Friday.
The statement said the combined forces came under small arms fire from a group of 25 to 30 insurgents in remote Bermal district.
"After the initial clash, the ANA (Afghan National Army) succeeded in counter-attacking with small arms and close air support," the statement said.
"During the engagements near the border with Pakistan, three ANA, three ISAF soldiers and one interpreter were injured and subsequently evacuated to an ISAF hospital," it added.
"Eighteen insurgents were reported to have been killed in the incident."
Bermal is one of the most remote districts in Paktika province and has seen many similar attacks on government and foreign troops.
Afghan officials claim insurgents cross the border from Pakistan to carry out attacks on a daily basis. Pakistan denies the claims, saying it has 80,000 troops guarding the border.
This year has seen an upsurge in violence in southeastern and southern Afghanistan, blamed on Taliban insurgents. More than 3,000 people have died, mostly militants.
Mixed reaction to Karzai's offer
By Matt Prodger BBC News, Kabul Wednesday, 8 November 2006, 17:46 GMT
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's offer to hold talks with the leaders of two prominent insurgent groups has had a mixed response.
A few days ago President Karzai said he was willing to negotiate with the Taleban leader, Mullah Omar.
But it was his offer of talks with an Afghan warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, which has provoked most controversy.
The insurgency has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 militants, civilians and Afghan and Nato troops this year.
The insurgents, fighting both the Afghan army and troops from the Nato-dominated International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), fall into three crude categories.
The Taleban, al-Qaeda and a 30-year-old mujahideen faction called Hezb-e-Islami, headed by Mr Hekmatyar, one of Afghanistan's most notorious warlords.
Taleban and al-Qaeda militants have shown little interest in co-operating with Afghanistan's Western-backed government.
But Mr Hekmatyar, in hiding and increasingly isolated, is the controversial figure.
He was first lionised for his resistance to Soviet occupation in the 1980s and, later vilified for his part in the fighting among mujahideen factions which killed more than 25,000 civilians in the early 1990s.
Mr Hekmatyar is a veteran of the ever-shifting alliances of convenience which have characterised Afghanistan's recent history.
A supporter of Osama Bin Laden in 2003, he was labelled a terrorist by the United States.
President Karzai's offer of talks with Mr Hekmatyar, an alleged war criminal, has horrified many Afghans who would like to put the era of the warlords behind them.
Yet some politicians have accepted it as part of a forgive-and-forget policy of reconciliation and, still more, point out sceptically that this government already has its share of warlords in its ranks.
Afghanistan is finding it hard to break free from the actors who trod the stage in its bloody past.
NATO to focus on reconstruction in Afghanistan: Dutch general
Friday, November 10, 2006 | 8:30 AM ET - CBC News
The new commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan said Friday the focus is shifting to reconstruction in the region but troops are battling the Taliban when necessary to provide security for the NATO mission there.
Dutch Brig.-Gen. Ton Van Loon took charge of the mission last week, which means he is overseeing about 9,500 troops in six southern provinces of Afghanistan, a coalition of forces mostly comprised of Canadian, British and Dutch soldiers. He took over from Canadian Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, who commanded the troops for eight months.
Van Loon told CBC News that priorities have already begun to shift in southern Afghanistan. But he said there is no question that NATO will continue to fight Taliban insurgents in the volatile southern provinces.
"The most important thing we need to do right now is to really exploit the successes we had in the period that David Fraser commanded the southern region," he said.
"We now need, even more than we did before, to start building and reconstructing the Afghan structures to help the Afghan government to really work for its people. It is already shifting as much as we can."
But as far as fighting the Taliban, he said: "From that perspective, there is no change. When we are faced with the Taliban, we must fight them."
Asked how long NATO troops will be in southern Afghanistan, Van Loon referred to the NATO mission in Bosnia, saying he thinks it will take years of involvement to bring stability to the country. "It's not about us being here forever."
Fraser transferred control of the NATO troops in southern Afghanistan to Van Loon last week in a rotational change of command ceremony. During the ceremony, Fraser said the mission needs more help and Van Loon agreed.
"The more we get, the better it is, but the guys that we have here are incredible," he said. When Canadian troops under Fraser arrived, Van Loon said they encountered a difficult situation but they have done a great job.
Canada has more than 2,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the majority stationed in Kandahar. Forty-two Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have died in Afghanistan since Canada first sent troops to the country in early 2002.
NATO making a difference in Afghanistan
Five years after the ousting of the Taliban, the country is making progress in democracy, education, health care and equality, writes NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
Nov. 10, 2006. 01:00 AM – The Toronto Star
On Nov. 13, 2001, coalition and Northern Alliance forces took Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The Taliban was ousted from power, and Al Qaeda lost its safe haven. It was an important day for the people of Afghanistan, who were liberated from a terrible oppressor. It was also important for the international community, which began a major effort to help build a new Afghanistan: democratic, at peace, and no longer a threat to the world.
Five years later, what has been the result? Are we making a difference? Have the lives of the Afghans gotten better — and are we, in the international community, safer than we were?
The answer is a clear "yes." It is sometimes difficult, as we read media accounts of suicide attacks and roadside bombs, to step back and look at the big picture.
But anniversaries are the opportunity to do just that. And the big picture — the story of Afghanistan five years after the fall of the Taliban — should encourage all of us who believe in what we are helping to build there.
• Democracy: Five years ago, there was no national government and no democracy. Today, Afghanistan has held a series of successful elections, and now has a constitution, an elected president and parliament.
• Equality: Women, banished from society under the Taliban, are now in government. Eighty-seven women, 25 per cent of the total number of MPs, sit in the National Assembly. Almost four in 10 Afghan children in school are girls — from around zero five years ago.
• Health care: 80 per cent of the population now has access to health care, up 10 times from 2001. For a country at Afghanistan's stage of development, this is extremely high.
• Education: Almost 6 million Afghan children are in school, six times more than 2001. Enrolment in higher education is up 10 times, to more than 40,000. And despite a big increase this year in attacks by the Taliban, killing teachers and burning down schools, more than 1,000 schools have been built or opened so far this year.
• Economy: The Afghan economy has tripled in value in the past five years and per capita income has doubled. People simply have more money in their pocket.
There are two final indicators of progress. First, people are coming home. Four million refugees have returned to their homeland, one of the biggest return movements in history. They know they are safer now, and that they have a chance to build a better life for their children.
Second, the Afghan people see the benefits of our help. A survey of Afghans across the country earlier this year found that 84 per cent consider themselves to be better off today than they were under the Taliban. Some 76 per cent thought security is better.
These numbers should act as a strong counter to the idea that the international community is not welcome; we are. Is the big picture all good news? Of course not. After all, it has been only five years and there is an enormous amount still to accomplish.
The Afghan government needs to make greater efforts to tackle corruption and improve governance. The Afghan people must have confidence in their elected leaders; cleaning up the government, at all levels, and putting in place truly working institutions, is the only way for that to happen.
The United Nations, the G-8 countries, the bilateral donors and the NGO community also need to step up their support for the Afghan government.
NATO is not in the development business; we can only create the conditions for it to happen. North Atlantic Treaty Organization soldiers, under UN mandate, put their lives at risk every day in Afghanistan to create those conditions.
It is vital that we honour their efforts, and our own commitments, by an equal effort on the civilian side. For example, the EU can do much more to train the Afghan police.
NATO, too, can do more. We need to help the Afghan army improve its ability to defend against the Taliban. That is why NATO nations have begun to provide weapons and deepen training for Afghan forces.
We also need to do better to provide resources for our own mission in Afghanistan, and to eliminate the restrictions contributing nations have put on the use of their forces.
Taking these steps would be an important and necessary demonstration of solidarity among allies. In three weeks, the 26 NATO heads of state and government will hold a summit in Riga. Afghanistan will be the first item of business.
I believe we will leave that meeting strongly encouraged by the progress we have made, as an international community, to help build the Afghanistan we are starting to see emerge. I hope, and will make every effort to ensure, that they are also encouraged to do more to make it happen.
Gangs plot to topple British ally
The Times 11/09/2006 By Anthony Loyd
Attempts by warlords and criminals to sack the Governor of Helmand would dash peace efforts, writes our correspondent
The Afghan carrying Britain's hopes for stability in Helmand province was fighting for his political survival yesterday. A delegation of warlords, drug smugglers and police officers have urged President Karzai to dismiss Mohammed Daud, the Governor of Helmand.
He responded with his own ultimatum: refusing to return from Kabul to the province unless his corrupt deputy is fired. Should Mr Daud be sacked, Britain's attempts to bring peace to the province will suffer a big setback by becoming dependent on the same criminalised authorities who are seen as responsible for much of the original instability. Mr Daud has been praised by British commanders and diplomats for his administrative skills and integrity, which set him apart from Helmand's corrupt officials. Yet he cut a solitary figure yesterday, sitting alone in a hotel foyer in Kabul.
"They are against peace and against law and order," he said. "Though some have rank and are still on the payroll, most of them are criminals who have misused their government posts to torture, rob, loot and smuggle drugs. They are the very ones who have driven people into assisting the Taleban."
British officials have made clear to Mr Karzai the risk of dismissing Mr Daud. But the President, who is expected to make a decision this week, is notoriously susceptible to internal pressure and has strong personal links to the men agitating for an end to Mr Daud's tenure.
Sher Mohammed Akhunzada, Helmand's former governor, is the principal figure seeking Mr Daud's dismissal. A fierce fighter and staunchly anti-Taleban, Mr Akhunzada was nevertheless accused of being a prominent figure in Helmand's drug trade and embroiled in numerous personal vendettas. He was sacked from the governorship of Helmand in December last year.
However, Mr Karzai and Mr Akhunzada, now a senator, are close friends. Although Mr Karzai responded to British pressure and made Mr Daud the Governor, it was a conditional appointment. Mr Akhunzada's brother, Amir, a man with his own criminal credentials, was made Mr Daud's deputy and has sought to undermine and discredit him.
Mr Daud's decision to press for a conditional withdrawal of British troops from the town of Musa Qala last month intensified the sentiment of local militia commanders and police officials against him.
Sources involved with the withdrawal say that Mr Karzai needed much convincing to agree to the move and has remained suspicious of it ever since. Although Musa Qala has remained peaceful since the pull-out, it is unclear whether the Taleban now control the town.
The 90-strong delegation seeking the Governor's dismissal have asked Mr Karzai to rethink the Musa Qala agreement, as well as firing Mr Daud. Abdul Wali Khan, the delegation's leader, said: "Daud has given the Taleban Musa Qala as a sanctuary. We need an experienced fighter as governor of Helmand. Daud is a weak man, too afraid to step out of his office."
Diplomats say that Mr Khan and his delegation fear that Mr Daud's crackdown on criminal elements and Mr Akhunzada's power base will hit their drug profits. "They have a record for murder and mayhem. They are not attractive people," one diplomat said.
• Helmand province is four times the size of Wales
• It produces 20 per cent of the world's opium, and 42 per cent of Afghanistan's total output
• Of the 5,800 British troops in Afghanistan, 4,200 are in Helmand
• There are reported to be several hundred Taleban fighters in the area, mainly recruited from the local population
• Fighting has focused on the region's capital, Lashkar Gah, Sangin and Musa Qala
• There was fierce fighting in Musa Qala over the summer, but the British negotiated peace with local leaders and withdrew. However, critics claim that the town now welcomes the Taleban
• US development agencies built irrigation canals and a hydroelectric dam in the province but the programme was abandoned in 1978 after the Communist coup
Qaeda, Taliban come together
WASHINGTON: Al Qaeda is back in business and has a nexus with the Taliban, who have enlarged their agenda to include what they perceive as Islamic causes beyond the borders of Afghanistan, according to leading terrorism expert Peter Bergen.
He told a discussion on Afghanistan at the US Institute of Peace on Wednesday that Al Qaeda had acquired the ability to plan and mount attacks thousands of miles away from its base, as evidenced by the 7/7 attacks in London. Another of its chosen weapons, which it was using effectively, was the Internet.
Al-Sahab, its video-producing arm was putting out a steady supply of videos, some of them for training, others for highlighting the group’s successful operations, including suicide bombings.
The terrorist group, Bergen noted, is active in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has himself said that he is a part of Al Qaeda. Well-camouflaged terrorist training camps exist on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, including those in special compounds where recruits are taught bomb-making and other skills.
He said that because of Pakistan’s national elections next year, there is going to be less and less cooperation from Islamabad in the fight against terrorism. He said there are Taliban on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. The question was: can the Taliban become a drug cartel?
Bergen, who is the CNN’s expert on terrorism, suggested that there should be a “mini-Marshall Plan” for Afghanistan and pressure on Pakistan by the US and coalition countries to curb the Taliban. He noted that the amnesty announced by Kabul for former Taliban elements had been a success.
Since the drug trade could not be eliminated, because it would bring about an economic collapse, it should be regularised by the government. A “map” of suicide bombers should be made so as to trace their origins and identify the clerics who induce them to go on suicide missions, he said. staff report
Poland to have 1,200 troops deployed in Afghanistan by February, defense minister says
The Associated Press 11/10/06
Poland will deploy some 1,200 troops in Afghanistan by February and will allow them to operate in the volatile southern provinces where allied troops are battling Taliban insurgents, Defense Minister Radek Sikorski said Friday.
The troops will be based mainly in eastern Afghanistan, but could be used anywhere in the country to help allied forces, Sikorski said.
"They will have their area of responsibility and their area of operations, but if there is an operational need to reinforce our allies, including our British allies, (we) have told our soldiers they have no political restrictions on where they move," he said.
"In Afghanistan as NATO we'd have enough troops if they could be used according to military logic rather than according to political constraints." About 20,000 NATO troops are operating in Afghanistan, along with 21,000 mostly U.S. troops on a separate mission to hunt down terrorists.
NATO had focused on peacekeeping and supporting reconstruction in the north and west. However in August it moved 8,000 troops into the Taliban's southern heartland and was caught by surprise by the ferocity of the insurgents' resistance which drew the alliance into the first major land combat in its six-decade history.
Casualties have been higher than expected, with more than 30 NATO soldiers killed. However, NATO commanders say the Taliban's decision to stand and fight gives the alliance an opportunity to deal them a significant blow before they seek refuge in the hills.
Italy wants review of international strategy in Afghanistan
The Associated Press November 10, 2006
ROME: Italy wants a review of international policy in Afghanistan, saying the time is ripe for new choices in world affairs following the U.S. midterm elections, the foreign minister said.
In two interviews published Friday, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema also called on the United States to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
D'Alema made the comments on the eve of a trip to Afghanistan, where he will hold talks Saturday with President Hamid Karzai as well as with U.N. and EU envoys. He said he would press Afghan and international officials to hold a global conference on the future of the country.
"The strategy of military intervention that has been followed so far unfortunately has turned out to be ineffective," D'Alema told the Rome-based daily La Repubblica.
"Italy is working to organize an international conference on Afghanistan. We want to start a review and a relaunch of multilateral strategies, starting with this area," D'Alema was quoted as saying. "If we don't do this, the military mission is bound to fail."
"We need to sit at a table and start a plan for political, economic and humanitarian support," he said.
Premier Romano Prodi has discussed the issue with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, while D'Alema has discussed it with his German counterpart and the president of the European Parliament, the foreign minister said.
D'Alema insisted however that Italy will not withdraw its 1,800 troops in Afghanistan, part of NATO's 30,000-strong force in the country. "I don't see how one could pull out of Afghanistan in this situation," he said in an interview with L'Unita.
D'Alema, a former Communist and currently a leading member of Italy's largest leftist party, said he did not expect a "sudden change" in U.S. foreign policy after the Republicans' defeat at midterm election. But he said the vote represented a "strong demand for change" and signaled the end of the phase of American unilateralism.
He called on U.S. President George W. Bush to rethink Middle East policy and focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "I think it would be a farsighted choice by the Americans to focus on this conflict," he told L'Unita.
"Until now, the Bush administration has always believed that that was a topic it couldn't touch because, basically, it could not 'disturb' Israel," D'Alema said. "Now it's time to reverse the hierarchy of problems."
D'Alema called on the international community to demand a halt in Israel's military operations in the Gaza Strip, saying "we must act to push Israel."
D'Alema had previously condemned this week's killing of 19 Palestinian civilians in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun by errant Israeli tank fire, saying the escalation of violence was "not acceptable."
In the interview Friday, he said the deaths were the "the results of a policy that entrusts Israel's security exclusively to the use of force."
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has expressed regret for the incident.
Clinton wades into Canada's mission
National Post - Friday, November 10, 2006
OTTAWA - Stomachs were grumbling toward the end of his hour-long, pre-dinner speech, delivered flawlessly without notes, but Bill Clinton had one more point to stress before the Ottawa crowd could eat.
Iraq is a questionable conflict, the former U.S. president acknowledged on Wednesday, but Canada must stay in Afghanistan where the real war on terror is being fought. If we abandon Kandahar and the southern military flank collapses, it's terrorism unleashed anew on the world.
"If we lose in Afghanistan and the Taliban come back, it will not only be a nightmare for the Afghan people, but it will create greater options of movement for the al-Qaeda leadership and increase the likelihood that they will be able to mount and conduct more global terrorist operations," he warned.
Granted, it's a bit rich for Clinton, who failed to pick off Osama bin Laden when the terrorist leader was in U.S. crosshairs during his presidential watch, to insist Canada now donate its blood to mop up his missed opportunity.
But his global perspective is indeed welcome because it's not heard enough as Canadians start to question the mission's cost: 42 soldiers' lives and $2-billion, both which are certain to rise.
Lest we forget, on the eve of a particularly poignant Remembrance Day, Iraq is not Afghanistan. One aims to liberate a country that seems headed for civil war and may qualify as a cut-and-run conflict. The Afghanistan mission is attempting a pre-emptive strike against a terrorist training ground and demands we stay the course.
Even so, a sense of futility or defeatism is creeping into Canada's mindset when talk turns to Afghanistan. Polling clearly shows Canadians support their troops, but the numbers increasingly suggest they oppose a mission they view as spinning its wheels in the dusty white powder that coats Kandahar.
The coffee shop regulars in the small village south of Ottawa where I live gathered around the table recently and every single one of them declared they wanted the troops out of Afghanistan immediately.
I was gobsmacked. These old-timers are diehard Conservative, military-saluting, anti-gun-registry types. If the government's starting to lose their support, they're getting perilously close to handing Harper his Walter Cronkite moment, that being the former news anchor's 1968 opinion-shifting declaration that the Vietnam War was unwinnable.
There's not much more that can be done by this government to stem the erosion of public support for the mission to Kandahar where, ironically, a big problem is that poppies continue to grow, row by row.
Perhaps Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier, the most credible voice for the defence, should be out on public parade more, giving Canadians the straight goods without the sugar-coating you get from politicians.
Yet the sight of rusty tanks and other Cold War equipment being loaded onto heavy lift aircraft to restock and protect our troops is hardly confidence-enhancing. And the refusal of NATO allies to boost troops deployments to the dangerous front lines contributes to a growing sense of Canadian isolation in the danger zone.
It's worth quantifying the extent of Canada's commitment as it steps forward as a player on the world stage of conflict. If my math is correct, we have the second-largest per capita deployment of troops in Afghanistan, with one soldier for every 15,000 Canadians. Only Britain is higher, with one soldier per 11,000 of its citizens. The United States has one per 26,000, Italy one for every 33,000 and France one per 60,000.
What's even more impressive (or worrying) is that our Kandahar base is the bull's eye of the Taliban target, while other nations lounge around the relative safety of northern regions.
Yet, to many observers, this heavy commitment is a tough swallow if the cause is hopeless. It's true the Taliban are increasingly emboldened and entrenched in the southern region where Canadian military are stretched too thinly to have the desired security and reconstruction impact. Villagers feel they're victims of a government they see as corrupt and unprotected by foreign troops they see all too infrequently.
Yet, 42 Canadian soldiers believed in it enough to die for this cause. When we pause in silence this weekend before the cenotaphs of Canada, the soldiers in Afghanistan must be at the forefront of our minds. While there's still a shot at winning this war, we must remember them.
Forum panelists debate Canada's Afghan role
By ETHAN RIBALKIN, 24 HOURS Vancouver
The question of whether or not Canadian troops should be in Afghanistan came under fire Wednesday night at CBC Radio Vancouver.
The forum, which was co-sponsored by 24 hours, included four panelists - Afghani ambassador Omar Samad, injured Canadian soldier Capt. John Croucher, Michael Byers, academic director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues, and Lauryn Oates, spokesperson for the national organization Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.
With 36 Canadian soldiers killed since last Remembrance Day, the forum quickly brought forth an array of viewpoints.
According to Samad, Afghanistan is a much better place today, five years after the Taliban.
"I wonder where our friends who are anti-war today were ... when millions of Afghani women were being harassed and oppressed and suppressed by the Taliban," he said. "Where were you when the children of Afghanistan could not go to school?"
Oates said she believes our role in Afghanistan needs to be focused on development, not only military support. "If we address poverty, we will win this war," she said.
According to Byers, the principal justification for Canada's presence in southern Afghanistan is the need to combat global terrorism.
"One of the things I try to do is to analyze whether or not we're succeeding with that mission in Afghanistan. I don't think we are," he said. According to Croucher, the media is not portraying Afghanistan accurately, which has in turned swayed the public's opinion.
Hosted by Ian Hanomansing and Rick Cluff, the forum can be seen on CBC Newsworld Nov. 11 at 5 p.m. and CBC TV Nov. 12 at 7 p.m.
Afghan mission: As vets are honored, concerns grow
Since May, Britain has lost more troops than in Iraq; Canada's per capita casualties are NATO's highest.
By Mark Rice-Oxley and Rebecca Cook Dube | Correspondents of The Christian Science Monitor November 09, 2006 edition
LONDON AND TORONTO – When 3,000 British troops headed to Afghanistan in May to lead efforts to secure an unruly southern province, the government said the aim was to accomplish the three-year mission "without a shot being fired."
Since then, more British soldiers have died in Afghanistan than in Iraq, in what commanders say is the fiercest fighting Britain has faced in more than 50 years. Canada, meanwhile, has sustained more casualties per capita than the US, Britain, or any of the other NATO partners, making its combat toll the highest since the Korean War.
As both countries prepare to remember their fallen on Armistice Day this weekend - now known as Remembrance Day in Canada - there is a growing realization that the task they face in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar will prove far tougher, deadlier, and longer than originally projected.
"If we are going to achieve what we set out to achieve - a stable society with a democratic government - we will be there for 15 to 20 years," warns Mark Lancaster, a British Member of Parliament and reservist who completed an eight-week tour with the Army in Helmand Province this summer.
The dramatic escalation of conflict in the area is straining NATO, which has overall command of security in Afghanistan. And in both countries, it is sharply changing public commitment to the mission. Now, less than half of Canadians and Britons are in favor of their troops' involvement in Afghanistan.
Originally, the mission in southern Afghanistan launched in May was billed as an exercise in "reconstruction and stabilization," an effort to help the Kabul government extend its writ into the lawless south and deal with the poppy cultivation that fuels the heroin trade at the same time. NATO troops would stay until Afghan forces were capable of assuring security themselves.
But between the resistance that military commanders say was far greater than anything they anticipated, a now-regrouping Taliban, and the vast, hostile terrain, both countries are having to adjust to a mission significantly different in both nature and scope.
"For 40 years, we've been thinking of the Canadian forces as peacekeepers," says Tim Woolstencroft, managing partner of Toronto-based polling firm The Strategic Counsel. "This is clearly peacemaking, with an emphasis on war."
With that shift in emphasis has come a noticeable uptick in casualties: Forty-two Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan, all but 10 of whom were killed this year; 32 British soldiers have been killed since May. Such tolls have stirred considerable debate in recent months on both sides of the Atlantic, though the Afghan mission is still largely perceived as more justifiable and worthwhile than the Iraq war.
In Canada, public support reached a mid- summer low of 37 percent but has since climbed to 44 percent as the conservative government has focused on reconstruction efforts benefiting women and children and emphasized Canada's role as part of a larger NATO effort.
"Canadians are a lot more comfortable if it's characterized as a part of a multilateral mission,' Mr. Woolstencroft says. "Unlike the US, we don't like to go on our own."
Both Britain - whose presence has nearly doubled from 3,000 troops to almost 6,000 - and Canada, which has more than 2,200 soldiers on the ground, have been insisting on troop reinforcements from other NATO countries. But although other countries do have contingents in southern Afghanistan - notably Denmark, Estonia, and the Netherlands - there is frustration that bigger allies like France, Germany, and Spain have been reticent about supplying frontline troops. The issue is set to dominate a NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, at the end of November.
"If you look at the number of troop-contributing nations, the number of nations fighting are relatively few," notes Mr. Lancaster. "It's one thing contributing troops to send a message of unity, but there is frustration that others aren't doing more."
Britain can hardly supply any more boots on the ground. With more than 7,000 troops in Iraq and contingents in the Balkans and Northern Ireland, army commanders have warned of overstretch.
While Canadian troops aren't spread as thin, there is nervousness at a perceived quagmire. Just this week, the deputy commander of the international assistance wing of the Kabul Military Training Centre said it would take at least 10 years before Afghan troops are ready to handle national security unaided by foreign soldiers.
"Canadians are wondering, 'When is this going to end?' And they're seeing no outcome for it," says Desmond Morton, a military history professor at Montreal's McGill University "There's a massive disillusionment."
But Professor Morton also criticizes Canadian naivete about the rigors of peacekeeping.
"One of the great myths in Canada is that peacekeeping is lovely and sweet and nonviolent," he says. "That's a civilian illusion. The illusion of our exceptional wonderfulness is, like most nationalist illusions, deeply held and stupid and immune to reason."
For now, the combat in southern Afghanistan has eased, though some argue that it's just a lull.
"It's too early to say," says one British officer, speaking by phone from southern Afghanistan. "It could be the onset of winter. Or it could be that the Taliban suffered a lot of attrition in the last four or five months, and have realized their tactics of trying to take district centers is not going to work. Maybe they are just changing tactics."
Lancaster adds: "The true test will come in March or April, when next year's fighting season starts again. Most are hoping the worst is over, but we will have to wait and see."
Afghanistan: Lethal floods strike the east
KABUL, 10 November (IRIN) - At least four people have been killed and five others are missing after flash floods, triggered by torrential rains, hit the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said on Friday.
"Early this morning in the Behsoud district of Nangarhar province, severe flooding occurred and we can confirm that four people were killed as a result and five are currently missing, many others have been injured," Dan McNorton, a public information officer with UNAMA, told IRIN in Kabul.
"Our initial reports indicate that over 1,000 houses have been destroyed either partially or totally," McNorton asserted.
Meanwhile, local authorities in Nangarhar province have called for further urgent assistance to thousands of flood-affected people.
"Hundreds of families have been badly affected and are in urgent need of tents, blankets and food,"Ajmal Pardis, head of health department of Nangarhar province, told IRIN, from Jalalabad, the provincial capital.
Pardis said women and children were also among the dead and their medical teams have treated some 30 injured people in the flood-affected area.
East and southeastern Afghanistan has seen several episodes of flooding this year.
Flash floods on 30 July killed 13 people in the Shirzad district of Nangrahar province and washed away more than 1,000 hectares of farmlands and destroyed dozens of houses, according to officials.
On 10 August, local authorities confirmed that floods had killed 33 and left thousands of people homeless in the southeastern provinces of Paktika, Ghazni and Paktia.
Floods killed at least seven people and forced 500 families to leave their villages and homes in the northern Afghan province of Baghlan in July.
The impoverished country, which has suffered severe environmental degradation, including deforestation and consecutive years of drought, is particularly vulnerable to floods and other natural disasters, experts say.
Karzai condemns suicide attack in Pakistan
KABUL, Nov 9 (Pajhwok Afghan News): President Hamid Karzai has strongly condemned the terrorist attack on an army training camp in Malakand Agency of Pakistan.
In a statement released here on Thursday, the president said terrorism was the root cause of instability in the region, which hampers the progress and development of the peoples of Pakistan and Afghanistan and disrupts their peaceful life.
"Afghans have also suffered at the hands of terrorists in the past years and understand the pains and sufferings of the people of Pakistan," said Hamid Karzai.
He said terrorists wanted to disrupt peace and stability in Pakistan and the two countries should join hands against terrorism and extremism and destroy its root causes.
The president, on behalf of the people of Afghanistan, expressed his sympathy with the families of the victims and the people of Pakistan, and prayed for the speedy recovery of the injured.
Forty-two recruits of the Pakistan Army were killed when a suicide bomber detonated himself amidst a group of soldiers at a military base in Dargai district, Malakand Agency on Wednesday morning.
China donates stuffs worth 1 mln USD to Afghanistan
People's Daily Online, China
The Chinese government donated vehicles, security equipment and kitchenware worthy of 1 million U. S. dollars to Afghan parliament on Thursday, once again providing timely assistance to the country under reconstruction.
Liu Jian, the Chinese ambassador to Afghanistan, and Ghulam Hassan Gan, Deputy Secretary-general of the lower house of Afghan parliament, signed an agreement on the donation.
The stuffs include 20 jeeps, 20 pickup trucks, sets of security monitoring system, lots of cooking utensils and others.
Liu said the Chinese government has consistently supported Afghanistan's post-war reconstruction and provided assistance in its power.
China attaches great importance to developing the ties between its legislative and Afghan parliament, and hopes the two legislatives can carry out more communication and exchange in the future, he added.
On behalf of Afghan parliament, Gan thanked the Chinese government for providing the aid, saying as Afghanistan's neighboring country, China has played an active role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, which suffered decades of war, and afforded timely assistance frequently.
In another latest case, on Nov. 2, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Chinese ambassador Liu Jian laid the foundation stone for the China-funded new main building of Jamhuriat Hospital in Kabul.
With an investment of some 16 million U.S. dollars, the project will bring Afghan patients a 10-storeyed new building, which has 350 beds and a total of about 19,000 sqm construction areas.
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