No change to Afghanistan expected after US elections: US official
Thu Nov 9, 6:08 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - US policies and commitment to Afghanistan will likely be unchanged after the Democrats' win in US mid-term elections and replacement of Donald Rumsfeld as defence secretary, a top US official said here.
The stabilisation of Afghanistan was in the US national interest and both Democrats and Republicans were committed to the task, the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs told reporters in Kabul on Thursday.
The Democrats' wresting of Congress from the Republicans and President George W. Bush's replacement of Rumsfeld on Wednesday were not expected to see changes towards Afghanistan, Richard Boucher said.
The United States is the main supporter of post-Taliban Afghanistan, having led the offensive to topple the extremist regime in late 2001 months after the September 11 attacks blamed on Al-Qaeda leaders being sheltered here.
It has 20,000 troops in Afghanistan and is the main funder of efforts to rebuild the country. Rumsfeld made several trips here during his six years in office to reaffirm support for President Hamid Karzai's government.
"There is very strong support among both Republicans and Democrats for the mission in Afghanistan for the efforts we are making here, the funding is needed to support Afghanistan...," Boucher said.
"So I have every confidence that kind of support is going to continue whatever the make-up of Congress," he said.
He said there was commitment in the United States from the president down and "all sides of politics" for Afghanistan.
"It's a national effort on part of the United States here and something that is very important to our national interest and helping Afghanistan is something we all agree on and we are all very committed to," he said.
Afghan Leader Praises Outgoing U.S. Defense Chief
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
KABUL, November 9, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has hailed outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a "good friend" and ally of Afghanistan.
In comments to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan today, Karzai also noted that the recent midterm election that handed control of at least one chamber of Congress to the Democrats is "an internal affair for the United States" and said it "shows the freedom and democracy of America."
"The resignation of Mr. Rumsfeld is their decision and we respect their decision," Karzai told Radio Free Afghanistan. "However, Mr. Rumsfeld is a friend of Afghanistan, a good ally and supporter in the war against terrorism. I have great respect for him. He is a very knowledgeable man, a very smart person, and a very resolute person. And I am proud to have his friendship."
Rumsfeld's resignation was announced on November 8, one day after U.S. midterm elections that President George W. Bush described as a cumulative "thumping" for his Republican Party.
Rumsfeld has served nearly six years as defense secretary. He came into office with a presidential mandate to transform the U.S. military to meet emerging challenges in a role that took on added significance following the terrorist attacks of September 2001.
Rumsfeld was a key cabinet member in the response to those attacks, including the U.S.-led military invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and disrupt Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorist network.
But U.S. polls suggested widespread voter dissatisfaction with Rumsfeld's handling of the Iraq war.
Bush has nominated former CIA Director Robert Gates to succeed Rumsfeld.
Afghanistan will miss Rumsfeld
November 9, 2006
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Afghan government officials say U-S Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will be missed.
But U-S Army officials on the ground say Rumsfeld's resignation won't change the mission. The chief U-S military spokesman in Afghanistan says "the global war on terror continues in Afghanistan."
President Hamid Karzai's chief of staff says the government is sad that Rumsfeld has resigned and grateful for his support but doesn't expect any changes in U-S policy.
Rumsfeld was the architect of the war in Afghanistan, which toppled the country's Taliban rulers in 2001.
There are currently 23-thousand U-S troops in the country. They are battling an upsurge in Taliban attacks that has made 2006 the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the regime was ousted.
US working against militancy on both sides of Afghan-Pakistan border
KABUL (AFP) - The United States is backing efforts on both sides of the volatile Afghan and Pakistan border to assert government authority and defeat Taliban militants operating there, a top US official said.
However the "jury was out" on a government deal with tribal elders in Pakistan's North Waziristan that was intended to curb militant activity, US Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher said.
Boucher was in Afghanistan for talks with President Hamid Karzai and other top officials about efforts to end the Taliban insurgency and to push development of the war-battered country to discourage support for militants.
The United States has been the main supporter of Afghanistan since helping to topple the extremist Taliban regime in 2001 for sheltering Al-Qaeda leaders after the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington.
The country has about 20,000 troops in Afghanistan and is working on development and training projects to establish state institutions destroyed by nearly three decades of war.
While the US has no military presence on the other side of the border, it is supporting efforts to bring economic development to the area and assert government authority, Boucher said.
"Both Pakistan and Afghanistan recognize the threat and danger of the Taliban but this process of extending government to both sides of the border is well under way and that remains the central task," he said.
"We do have a policy that works on both sides of the border...," he said.
The rugged frontier runs through an ethnic Pashtun belt that is a haven of support for the Taliban and other militants who are said to move across the border to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.
The Pakistan government finalized a deal with militants in the border North Waziristan area in September in which tribal elders said they would stop militant activity in exchange for the cutting back of military presence.
International military officials have said attacks on the Afghanistan side of the border have increased since then.
Boucher said the real test was "whether they (tribal authorities) exert that control and whether they stop the activity...I think the jury is still out."
The unrelenting violence in Afghanistan was a result of authority pushing out from the centres into rural areas, which had in the past been havens for drugs smugglers, criminals and Taliban who did not want government rule, Boucher said.
"As this extension of government goes out, we are challenging those people and they are challenging us back so there is going to be a certain amount of violence involved," he said, admitting that the intensity of the unrest this year had been "surprising."
"It is a big task and it is one we are not finished with yet," Boucher said. "Until we are finished with it there is going to be people who fight against it but it's a long-term effort."
Pakistan thinks it is succeeding in Afghanistan!
www.newkerala.com By I. Ramamohan Rao
New Delhi, Nov 9: The latest incident in Dargai in the North West Frontier Province has warned Pakistan that it may be the victim of the serious miscalculation in its Afghan policy.
No country, including the United States, has such a clear and consistent Afghanistan policy, except Pakistan, which is systematically implementing it to achieve its defined objectives. On the one hand it is milking the United States of billions of dollars in the name of fighting the terrorists as a 'frontline state' against terrorism, while on the other utilizing the same dollars to recruit, train, arm and sustain the Taliban cadres across the Durand Line- killing the Americans with their own taxpayers' money. Its singular aim is not to allow a peaceful, stable, moderate and democratic Afghanistan but instead have a government in Kabul, which is not only cooperative but also not friendly towards its traditional enemy, India.
Ever since the Taliban were thrown out after 9/11 attacks on America, they have been unable to digest the loss of the strategic depth against India they had very meticulously carved out though they were forced to cooperate under the 'bombing to stone age' threat. Their strategy is showing the desired results as the current situation in the south and southeastern Afghanistan provinces bordering Pakistan is developing. They have not only turned the Pushtuns away from their traditional anti-Pakistan and Pashtunistan demand, but also directed their whole ire towards north.
Pakistanis are pursuing the same strategy, which they employed against the Soviets to bleed the US and the allied forces till they are forced to run away, knowing fully well the inability of the developed western nations to take the rising number of casualties. They are aware of that the rich societies of the West do not accept the body bags. On the other hand they have no dearth of highly motivated jihadis to lay down their lives for the cause of driving out the infidels (Kafirs) out of Afghanistan.
By cooperating with the Americans in 2001, Pakistan not only evacuated hundreds of its armymen facing certain death at the hands of Uzbek Warlord General Abdur Rashid Dostum and the Northern Alliance in Kuduz, but along with them brought out several known Taliban commanders, including the dreaded Mullah Dadullah who is now killing the US and allied soldiers withy the same ferocity with which he killed thousands of Shia Hazaras in Bamiyan and Tajiks and Uzbeks in Mazar-e-Sharif in 2001.
Any intelligence with the name, including the CIA would vouch as to how the ISI managed the escape of of Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the entire leadership of al Qaeda and Taliban in 2001 as their were hardly any Taliban/al Qaeda casualities and the cadres remained almost intact. Tactically, for some time these elements lied low and protected by the Pakistan Army and ISI in the lawless tribal areas on the two sides of the Durand Line while the Musarraf Government dispossessed the Americans of billions of dollars on the pretext of 'hunting' Osama - Mullah Omar and company.
Occasionally, whenever the American put on some heat on them, Pakistanis killed or captured some small and unwanted small fish to convince the Bush administration of their sincerity. They flaunt that they have deployed 80,000 troops in the tribal borders to fight the terrorists. But, in fact this very large deployment of forces facilitated the uninterrupted flow of jihadis into Afghanistan to keep the fight on.
Simultaneously, the ISI, which during the Taliban days had 1,70,000 operatives within Afghanistan, maintained its sleeper cells, most of which have again been re-activated now that the Taliban are on the offensive again. It is very well known that Mullah Omar lives in Quetta and conducts the Taliban operations in southern Afghanistan provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Oruzghan, Pakitiya, Paktika and Zabul while Gulubuddin Hekmatyar, another ISI old hand is in Bajaur agency to keep his Hizb-e-Islami fighters operational in Khost, Nangarhar and Nooristan and even his home province Badakshan.
The Americans and the NATO leaders know it fully well and mapped the ISI training camps, infiltration routes and confronted the Pakistanis with documents. So much so, the overall NATO Commander in Afghanistan, Lt Gen David Richrads even gave the exact address of Mullah Omar in Quetta. A leaked British Defence Department report also blamed entirely the ISI behind the resurgence of Taliban.
Eyewitnesses collaborate the NATO air reconnaissance photographs of the Pakistani Border Guards at the Chaman-Spin Boldak border not only allowing the trucks carrying jihadis into Afghanistan but also waving good luck to them in their 'sacred' mission against the American 'kafirs'. Taliban are not only moving freely in the streets of Peshawar, Quetta, Miranshah, Wana and Bajaur, but also have their 'spokesmen' giving interviews to journalists, regular press statements on satellite phones, issuing press releases and holding press conferences claiming the responsibility for suicide bombings and other attacks within Afghanistan.
Lately they have started taking newsmen embedded on tours on their expeditions. Of all the news organizations, BBC Correspondent David Loyn travelled and lived with the Taliban gurrellas for several days and filed dispatches eulogising the Taliban and their zeal.
Mullah Omar has now appointed the legendary Mullah Jalaluddin Haqqani as the Overall Field Commander of the Taliban militia. It is the same Haqqani of the Soviet era fame who captured Khost from Najibullah forces in 1991 after that Soviet withdrawal. Again a creation of ISI, Haqqani, and the cleric was an ally of the US. At one time, after the Taliban rout from Afghanistan following 9/11, the ISI called him to Islamabad and offered him the Presidentship of Afghanistan on the promise of de-linking from Mullah Omar and carving out a 'moderate Taliban' to hoodwink the Americans. But Haqqani refused and returned to Ghulam Khan in the mountains to keep the fight on.
Mullah Haqqani is now operating from the safe sanctuary of North Waziristan provided by the Pakistan agreement with the Taliban. Ironically, Musharraf as the way to tackle the insurgency is touting the agreement. He advocates similar agreements with Taliban in Afghanistan and quotes the British 'arrangement' with the Taliban in Musa Qala of Helmand.
The regular arrival of coffins of jihadi 'martyers' in Miranshah are greeted by the people and used to motivate the youth. More than 60 such coffins have come for burial in North Waziristan alone. Several injured jihadis are also getting treatment in Pakistani towns of Peshawar, Quetta and other places.
President Hamid Karzai is the most worried man as it is his job, which is on the line. With no fault of him, he is being criticized for all the mess in the south. He had been repeatedly telling Pakistan to hold its hand of support and rein in ISI from creating all the trouble. But Pakistan has been stonewalling all his charges and telluing him to put his own house in order and claiming that Pakistan has deployed 80,000 on its side while on the afghan side the troops are inadequate. Karzai even gave the list of Taliban leaders and training camps in Pakistanbut Musharraf dismissed it as an old one. Musharraf even went to the extent calling Karzai an 'Ostrich' ducking the danger rather than fighting it.
Despite all this, Bush, Blair and other western leaders publicly praise Pakistan for its support to the fight against terrorism, even though their own commanders and diplomats tell them about the dual game of the Pakistanis.
They seem to have been charmed by Musharraf by selling them the idea of involving the Taliban through Waziristan type agreements and they have forced the proposed holding of tribal jirgas both Afghanistan and Pakistan to be jointly addressed by Musharraf and Karzai. But, here again, Musharraf again is likely to outsmart Karzai who does not have the machinery and the expertise if ISI to back him. Jirgas are not going to be the solution.
Already sponsored reports are circulating that some European Union states have started talking of replacing Karzai with some another leader, more acceptable to the militants. One name taking the rounds is that of the former President, Prof Sibghtullah Mojaddedi who is currently the Chairman of the Upper House of the Afghanistan Parliament. Poor Karzai may get the boot for no fault of his own but because of the guiles of the Pakistani establishment.
The only way, by which the situation can be stemmed, if the US and NATO has to achieve its objectives in Afghanistan and beyond in Central Asian region, is to force Pakistan to stop its nefarious designs even if the 'stone age' like threat has to be repeated. The rouge Pakistan state, which is the originator of most of the terrorist strikes throughout the world, may it be New York, London, Mumbai, Malegaon or Kashmir or the nuclear proliferation to Iran Libya or North Korea understands only the tough speaking.
But at the moment that seems to be little far fetched, as the Pakistanis know fully well that the US and the allies cannot maintain themselves in Afghanistan without the logistical their support. They offer the only land route to the landlocked country because the other way is from the Gulf through Iran, which is out of the question considering the shape in which the US-Iranian relations are. The US forces are using a number of Pakistani bases and all supplies are from the Karachi and Gawadar ports.
But Pakistan may find itself that its carefully worked out strategy may go wrong. The bombing of the madrassa in Bajour followed by the Dargai suicide attack on Pakistani army and the latest US election results may force Musharraf to change his strategy.
28 suspected Taliban killed in clashes
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Thu Nov 9, 9:30 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - NATO launched airstrikes as clashes in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar killed 28 suspected Taliban militants, police said Thursday.
Canadian troops from a NATO-led security force and Afghan police identified a Taliban position in Zhari district late Wednesday, and with close air support, killed 22 suspected militants, district police chief Ghulam Rasool Aga told The Associated Press.
NATO spokesman Maj. Luke Knittig confirmed NATO and Afghan forces clashed with a group of insurgents who had attacked them with small arms fire, but had no immediate details on militant casualties. He said an assessment of the clash was ongoing.
Earlier Wednesday in Zhari, police fought for three hours with Taliban fighters. The clash left six Taliban dead and four wounded, Aga said. One policeman and three villagers were also wounded, he said, adding that the militants had taken shelter in civilian homes.
Fighting has escalated sharply in southern Afghanistan this year, the deadliest surge in violence since the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime in late 2001. More than 3,000 people have been killed, mostly militants, according to an AP tally of reports from Afghan, NATO and U.S. military officials.
In other violence, suspected Taliban ambushed a police convoy on the main Kandahar-Kabul highway in Shahjoy district of southern Zabul province late Wednesday, killing two police and wounding five, provincial police chief Loor Mohammed Paktil said. He didn't know if any militants were hurt in the ensuing clash.
In eastern Afghanistan, Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces captured three suspected militants early Thursday from a compound near the city of Khost, a coalition statement said. It did not identify the suspects, who surrendered peacefully.
"Credible intelligence indicated the compound was a refuge for a terrorist network operating in the Khost province," the statement said.
Also in Khost, suspected Taliban attacked a police post on a highway Wednesday night about 15 miles southeast of the provincial capital, sparking an intense one-hour gunbattle.
Provincial police chief Mohammed Ayub said one policeman was killed and two wounded, and the bodies of about five militants, some dismembered, were left on the battlefield. He claimed other militants fled on foot and then by pickup truck across the border into North Waziristan in Pakistan.
The wounded police were taken by U.S.-led coalition helicopter to hospital, but foreign forces were not involved in the fighting, Ayub said.
In September, tribal leaders in Pakistan brokered a peace deal between the government and pro-Taliban militants that was meant to curb militant forays into Afghanistan, but Afghan and Western officials say cross-border infiltration continues. Pakistan maintains it does all it can to stop it.
Associated Press writer Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.
37 Dead In Afghanistan Clashes
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
KANDAHAR, November 9, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan authorities say 34 Taliban fighters and three Afghan police have been killed in clashes since November 8.
Ghulam Rasoul Aka, a district police chief in Kandahar Province, says 28 Taliban fighters were killed in his area on November 8 and November 9, most of them by NATO air strikes.
The other deaths were the result of clashes in the provinces of Zabul and Khost.
In related news, a senior U.S. official said in Kabul on November 9 that Taliban militants are putting up tougher-than-expected resistance to the expansion of the Afghan central government into provincial areas.
Richard Boucher, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Central and South Asian affairs, says Taliban fighters are being bolstered by drug money and their ability to shelter in Pakistan.
Afghan, U.S. forces capture 3 suspected terrorists
via People's Daily - Nov 09 12:34 AM
Afghan and the U.S.-led coalition forces captured three suspected terrorists in Afghanistan's eastern Khost province on Thursday, a coalition statement said.
The joint forces arrested three early Thursday morning during an operation on a compound near Khost city, the provincial capital, it said.
"Credible intelligence indicated the compound was a refuge for a terrorist network operating in Khost province," it added.
The forces requested the peaceful surrender of persons within the compound and no shots were fired.
There were no casualties of Afghan and coalition forces, it said.
Dozens of people the coalition forces said to be suspected terrorists affiliated to Taliban or al-Qaida network have been arrested in Khost and the neighboring Paktia and Paktika provinces over the past month.
Taliban fighters talk tactics - while safe in Pakistan
By Suzanna Koster | The Christian Science Monitor from the November 09, 2006 edition BALOCHISTAN PROVINCE, PAKISTAN
The 22-year-old doesn't look like the traditional turbaned Taliban commander. His black hair shoots out at all angles from beneath a red cap. He smiles easily and has a neatly trimmed beard.
But Hilal says he is the co-leader of 200 Taliban fighters who operate across the border in Afghanistan. "Two years ago, we only attacked Afghan officials, but now we have so many Talibs that we can attack Americans," he boasts.
In a rare interview with a Western reporter, Hilal and three other Afghan Taliban fighters describe how they slip into Afghanistan, attack NATO and Afghan forces, and return to Pakistan to rest.
"Everybody in the neighborhood knows we are Talibs," says Noman, a 19-year-old fighter with a blue-white block-printed turban. "Paki-stan is a little bit free for us."
The interview was conducted over two days in a small house made of yellow mud in Pakistan's Balochistan Province. The fighters, who won't give their real names, say they are here for a refresher course in Taliban ideology in a Pakistani religious school.
"We are enormously organized," brags Mustafa, a 20-year-old wearing a black turban usually favored by conservative Muslims.
"Even British defense officials say they face a lot of problems from the Taliban."
A year ago, such confident talk from Taliban fighters could have been chalked up to bravado. But with more than 50 suicide attacks in the past six months, resistance by large Taliban units in the increasingly volatile provinces of Kandahar and Helmand in the south, and a greater willingness of Taliban fighters to come out into the open and speak their minds are all indications that the Taliban resurgence is no longer a matter of conjecture.
This year has been a difficult one for the US, coalition, and Afghan forces. With US commanders handing control of the south over to its British, Canadian, Dutch, and other allies in NATO, the Taliban are making the transfer a bloody one. How NATO forces fare in the south could determine whether the democratically elected government of President Hamid Karzai - and indeed, the experiment in Afghan democracy itself - succeeds or fails.
Commander Hilal says that currently 40 of his troops are in Afghanistan fighting, and 160 are "refreshing their ideology" in Pakistan. Hilal says that he discusses military plans by cellphone and satellite phone with higher Taliban commanders who are all in Afghanistan.
Hilal says his fighters operate in groups of 20 to 25 men in the Afghan provinces Ghazni and Zabul. There are 35 groups active in Zabul's capital, Qalat, and 20 to 25 in the rest of by American forces controlled province.
Mustafa, in the black turban, says that the Talibs cross the border alone or in twos. Depending on the crossing point, he says - listing Pakistan border cities of Chaman, Badini, and Torkham - it takes one or two nights to join up with other Taliban fighters, he says. "The majority have Pakistani identity cards, so crossing the border is no problem," he says.
The Taliban fighters return to a different house in Pakistan every month, but say that they must be very careful in Afghanistan, says Noman, a gaunt-faced young man who says he wants to learn English. But Mustafa adds that they are no longer in hiding in Afghanistan. "We are now 200 to 300 at a time and can roam around freely," he says.
Prior to every mission, they get training in one of the many training camps in the Afghan mountains, says the 22-year-old Ali, who is quiet through most of the interview.
Afghanistan and NATO officials regularly accuse Pakistan of harboring Taliban leaders. Pakistan officials say they are doing everything they can to remove them.
On Wednesday, a suicide bomber killed 35 Pakistani soldiers in a brazen attack at a military base in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, leaving the Army shaken and a Taliban peace deal in tatters.
"Never has there been so many military casualties in one attack," says Ramiullah Yusufzai, a Peshawar-based journalist who has covered the Pakistan military's campaign against militants since 2001.
Hours after the attack, an organization calling itself the Pakistan Taliban, which had never come forward before, phoned Mr. Yusufzai to claim responsibility. The caller told Yusufzai that the bomber prepared a suicide video before carrying out the strike, suggesting a parallel in tactics used by Taliban militants in Afghanistan.
The four fighters say they all studied at an Afghan madrassah (religious school) before the American forces entered Afghanistan in 2001. Hilal fled to Pakistan when his fellow students at the madrassah were arrested after the Taliban regime was toppled. In 2003, he says, he joined the jihad.
In their Afghan camps, "we get training, even suicide education. There are many groups saying how we suicide bomb, lay mines, or use Kalashnikovs," he says. Suicide attacks are not for him, he says. "It takes a lot of training. You have to think about target time, because maybe you blow up yourself but nobody else."
All of their ammunition is inside Afghanistan and is used against non-Muslims, says Mustafa. "There is a lot of ammunition in Afghanistan to use against the non-Muslims. We hid it in depots after the fall of the Taliban."
The Afghan forces are the targets are considered "non-Muslims" because they work with the Americans. "All the checkpoints are covered by Afghan troops, so we go for them first," he says.
A month ago, Hilal says his forces attacked a military convoy in Zabul's provincial capital, Qalat. He says they killed 35 Afghan troops. Two Taliban fighters were injured.
The Taliban fighters also pride themselves on blocking the main highway between Kandahar and Kabul.
Mustafa says he's in favor of the international reconstruction work in Afghanistan. But Noman interrupts, raising a finger. "We are not in favor of reconstruction work, because it happens in the name of Christianity. This is why we close the schools. The government completely changed the books. A was for Allah, now it stands for Aass [mule in Pashto], J was for Jihad, now it stands for Jawary [maiz in Pashto]. With pamphlets, letters, and by taking the teachers "into confidence," Noman says they try to close down the schools - if necessary, by force.
More than 160 Afghan schools have been attacked this year, according to The Associated Press.
The fighters say ordinary Afghans give them vehicles, fuel, food, medicine, and information. "There are many business men who help us. We were given 10 vehicles in Kandahar and 15 in Helmand. Sometimes they give us security. They say, 'He is not a Talib, he is my family member.' That is jihad," says Noman.
The interview has been watched by a silent little observer: an 11-year-old boy on a wooden seat. His parents have sent him to Noman for religious training. He brings food to the Taliban fighters in the house. When he is grown, he says shyly, he wants to be a fighter. "Now I am still a kid, but when I have a beard I can join."
• Correspondent David Montero in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.
Afghan mission: As vets are honored, concerns grow
By Mark Rice-Oxley and Rebecca Cook Dube, Correspondents of The Christian Science Monitor Thu Nov 9, 3:00 AM ET
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: Karzai Discusses Worsening Security In RFE/RL Interview
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
KABUL, November 9, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai discussed various topics when he was interviewed in Kabul on November 9 with the director of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Akbar Ayazi. This is the first installment of the wide-ranging discussion. Other installments will be added later today.
RFE/RL: Mr. President, the people of Afghanistan have different concerns. So far as we know and read in the reports, security is the top concern of the Afghan people. In the past 18 months, the security situation in the southern and eastern provinces -- even in the Tagau and Nejrab areas close to Kabul -- has deteriorated. From your point of view, why has the security situation become so bad? Why are the opponents of the central government attacking and committing suicide bombings.
Karzai: In the name of God the all merciful and forgiving, without doubt the security situation in Afghanistan in the past year-and-a-half to two years has deteriorated. And there are different reasons for this. This situation also is a cause of concern for us. One reason is that our security forces in different areas and districts -- and particularly in those areas where we are facing attacks -- are very weak. Two or two-and-a-half years ago, the people of Kandahar informed me and the people of Helmand informed me that the police forces in the districts are very weak. Their numbers are limited and they are not well-equipped. I started talking with the international community about it and tried to get more support for our police forces. At first, it was decided that the number of police in the [Afghan National Police] force would be 62,000. We told the foreigners that the material and financial support that they are offering is limited and should be increased. We told them that the amount of support is not enough to train so many police. These discussions continued for a long time. Finally, six months ago, the international community was convinced that our security forces in the districts are, indeed, very limited -- and that they would give us more support in this regard. And so it was decided that we hire local people in the districts and train them to be police because this is our tradition -- that people take care of their own security. In this way, the number of police was increased from 62,000 to 82,000 people. Furthermore, it was decided that the income of these people would be increased and that they would be given better equipment. This means we have increased the size of our police force by 20,000. This means it was our own weakness -- the weakness of our system and the weakness of our government. We did not have enough police and our police were not trained.
RFE/RL: And all these efforts caused new problems and people began complaining that you have created new militia forces. Is that correct?
Karzai: Yes. While we were talking with the foreigners I told them that if you don't agree very quickly, we will be exposed to attacks. People are crossing our borders. They burn our schools. They kill our children. They destroy our houses and assassinate our clerics and our tribal leaders. So [I told the international community] if you don't agree with me soon to raise the number of our police and give them better training and equipment, then I will be forced to use local measures. Local measures means that I invite the local elders and ask them for their help -- to send their young people to defend the country. The foreigners had the impression that we were going to create local militia forces. The fact is that the Afghan people don't like militia forces at all. But the foreigners didn't realize this. They couldn't differentiate between the local people and the militia forces. This was the first reason.
The second reason is that Afghanistan over the past 30 years was always faced with foreign interference -- the meddling of the neighboring countries. Little by little, Afghanistan lost its sovereignty. Every neighboring country had its own interests and their own people in Afghanistan. And Afghanistan itself had no voice. It appeared that Afghanistan was an independent country. But in reality, it wasn't independent at all. When the new government was established, when the international community entered Afghanistan, and when Afghanistan stood again on its own feet in the international arena as an independent and respected country, those elements who were supported by foreign [neighboring] countries -- and were governing this country and were abusing this country -- it was hard for them to accept the new realities. [It was hard for them] to tolerate a new and independent Afghanistan with its own identity and flag and whose leaders would appear as the equals of other leaders in the world and delivering speeches like the leaders of the rest of the world.
So in order to weaken this development and progress, to end the improvements that were introduced to the life of this country and change Afghanistan back to a country that they could govern again, they started sabotage acts in our country. So they sent their bombs, their destructive weapons, and most of all, they used our own sons -- those who were uneducated and poor. With lots of tricks and hypocrisy, they deceived our sons and sent them back to Afghanistan to fight against us. They started broad propaganda. For example, in neighboring Pakistan they are creating propaganda that there is no Islam in Afghanistan -- that there is no call to prayer in Afghanistan. And God forbid they are saying that there are only infidels in Afghanistan and that Afghanistan is not moving toward progress and prosperity. [They say] that the Afghan people are becoming hungry and facing calamity.
From the other side, our own publicity was very weak. So, to make it short, I can tell you that the first reason was foreign meddling, terrorism, and the creation of fear in Afghanistan. This means the foreigners were training extremists and terrorists against us and making negative propaganda against us. The other reason was our own internal weakness.
(This is the first installment of the Karzai interview. More installments will be added.)
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.
'Taliban' claim responsibility for Pakistan blast
Irish Examiner (Ireland) November 9, 2006
A probe into the deadliest attack on Pakistani troops waging a counterinsurgency campaign along the Afghan border was progressing well, an investigator said today, as a previously unknown group claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing that killed 42 soldiers.
A man with explosives strapped to his body ran up to soldiers and blew himself up yesterday at an army training centre in the town of Dargai, about 60 miles north of Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province.
At least 42 troops were killed and 20 wounded, some critically.
“Body parts of the suicide bomber have been collected for DNA tests,” said a security official at the training centre today.
“We have vital clues and the investigations are proceeding well,” said the official.
Suspicion immediately fell on pro-Taliban militants who vowed revenge for an airstrike on a Muslim boarding school last week that killed at least 80 people in the Bajur tribal region to the north-west.
The government claimed the school was being used to train pro-Taliban guerrillas, but local residents said almost all the victims were children or teenagers.
In Kabul, President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack on the army base.
“Terrorists want to disrupt the peace and stability in Pakistan. Therefore Afghanistan and Pakistan must unite against terrorism and extremism and destroy their root causes,” he said in a statement.
Several hours after the suicide attack, an unidentified man telephoned Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yousafzai in Peshawar and claimed responsibility.
The man said “Pakistani Taliban” carried out the bombing to avenge the Bajur incident. He identified the group’s leader as Abu Kalim Mohammad Ansari.
Security officials said they were not familiar with either the group or its alleged leader.
The caller also claimed that 275 volunteers had offered to take part in suicide bombings following the Bajur attack, media reports said.
The violence marked a sharp escalation in the low-intensity conflict between Pakistani forces and militants in the semiautonomous tribal area straddling the border, and sparked fears that the war in Afghanistan may be spilling over into Pakistan, a key US ally in the war on terror.
Dargai is considered a stronghold of the outlawed Islamic group Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi, whose fugitive leader, Faqir Mohammed, is a close associate of al-Qaida deputy chief Ayman al-Zawahri.
The US government condemned yesterday’s attack, and White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said America would continue to “stand with the government and people of Pakistan in this struggle” against terrorism.
President General Pervez Musharraf’s alliance with Washington in its war on terrorism has angered Islamic hardliners and the intrusion of Pakistan’s army into the mountainous tribal regions along the Afghan frontier has stoked unrest.
Divided loyalties hamper Afghan police training
By Graeme Smith Toronto Globe and Mail Thu, Nov. 09, 2006
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Sweating in the desert sun, the first members of Kandahar’s new auxiliary police lined up over the weekend to get their graduation papers. One by one, they trotted over to their commander and solemnly took their printed certificates. Holding the papers toward the cloudless sky, they shouted: “I serve the Afghan nation!”
Some of the newly minted officers seemed a little embarrassed about the ceremony, raising their papers half-heartedly and mumbling the pledge of loyalty. At the back of assembled ranks, one of the recruits collapsed in the heat of his new uniform and flak jacket. He stumbled away with the help of Canadian and U.S. military trainers.
It was a reminder of the two questions that hang over President Hamid Karzai’s plan to hastily raise a new pro-government force in the rebellious south: Will these young men honestly serve their country and resist the influence of tribes, warlords and drug money? Are their units strong enough, after less than 10 days’ training?
Earlier this year, when Karzai introduced the idea of these new units, he pointed to the rising violence in Kandahar. One of the province’s districts has only 45 police to protect a population of 65,000, he said; volunteers are needed quickly to reinforce the government’s authority.
At the time, Karzai called them “community police,” but foreign diplomats and advisers worried he was suggesting a return to the tribal militias that fought vicious civil wars in previous years.
Foreign donors have spent millions of dollars persuading Afghanistan’s warlords to give up their weapons, and the advisers worried that Karzai’s concept would rearm the same fighters.
Despite their initial reluctance, the foreign troops eventually agreed to help with the creation of the Afghan National Auxiliary Police.
Canadian and U.S. trainers accepted the first batch of recruits two weeks ago. Buses and trucks filled with young men started arriving at a fortified training center in the dusty flatlands east of Kandahar city. Many of the volunteers already wore police uniforms when they arrived, suggesting links to armed groups, but the foreign trainers said they avoided asking too many questions about their origins.
“Most of them were militia guys,” said U.S. Sgt. Felix Ayala, the lead trainer. “I don’t really care. We didn’t kick anyone out, unless they had drugs or weapons. We just stripped their old uniforms off and gave them new ones.”
A total of 208 men poured through the gates on the first day. Four were expelled right away for carrying drugs. Almost a hundred left in the first three days of the training regime, Ayala said, and only 77 men stayed until graduation.
The cull rate was high, compared with the nine-week basic training courses Ayala is accustomed to leading for the U.S. military, where perhaps five are expelled among 100. But maybe the Afghans were unaccustomed to the foreign troops’ standards of discipline, he said; one group of 44 recruits quit on the same day, when they realized their duties at the training center would include cleaning barracks and latrines.
In fact, that group of recruits didn’t drop out, said Canadian Col. Gary Stafford; they were kicked out, for refusing to follow orders.
“Unfortunately, what’s happening throughout the region is that the initial influx of candidates that we’re receiving for this training, the majority of them are militias from governors,” Stafford said. “The governors have the capability to pay them and they work for the governors.”
Holding troops loyal to the government will be the main challenge as they’re sent to fight in the country’s most dangerous districts, military officials say, and it remains to be seen whether this experiment will work.
Clinton weighs in on Afghanistan, U.S. elections
Ex-president also says mid-terms show rejection of 'hard-headed ideological' politics
Thursday, November 9, 2006 | 10:27 AM ET CBC News
Former U.S. president Bill Clinton has urged Canadians to continue the Afghan mission, calling it a chance to help a "genuine Muslim moderate democracy prevail" that should be distinguished from the Iraq war.
Clinton also offered his take on the mid-term elections south of the border during two Canadian fundraisers on Wednesday.
At his first event of the day, a $500-per-plate fundraiser for the Catholic Family Counselling Centre in Kitchener, Ont., Clinton urged the country to keep its soldiers in Afghanistan.
"I ask Canadians to disassociate whatever you think about Iraq and the mistakes made there from the security interests we all have in seeing a genuine Muslim moderate democracy prevail in Afghanistan," said Clinton.
"We may not be able to save it, but if we can, we should because we will all be at great risk if al-Qaeda can roam freely."
More than 2,000 Canadian troops are serving in Afghanistan's volatile southern Kandahar region. Forty-two soldiers and one diplomat have died since the mission started more than four years ago.
U.S. should beef up Afghan deployment, Clinton says
Clinton said the United States should send 8,000 more soldiers to the country to support the NATO-led mission. There are already about 18,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan, sent during the U.S.-led invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks.
"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."
Clinton, a Democrat, also took a swipe at his Republican successor, criticizing the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush and calling its 2003 invasion of Iraq a "serious mistake."
Americans turfed 'hard-headed ideological' politics
At a fundraiser for the Jewish National Fund of Ottawa later in the day, Clinton spoke about the Democratic gains during Tuesday's mid-term elections in the U.S.
The former president said he was glued to the television until the early morning as the results rolled in, giving the Democrats control of the House and the Senate for the first time in more than a decade.
Americans soundly rejected "hard-headed ideological" politics, said Clinton.
He repeated his criticism of the war in Iraq, citing its now debunked claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
He also criticized U.S. President George W. Bush's handling of tensions with North Korea, saying by "branding someone evil, you can hardly invite them over for a drink."
Former prime minister Jean Chrétien and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May attended the fundraiser.
Clinton's appearance at the Kitchener fundraiser stirred controversy when it was first announced in the summer.
A southern Ontario bishop urged Catholics to boycott the event, saying Clinton's support for abortion, his marital infidelity and his promotion of condom use to prevent the spread of AIDS go against Catholic Church doctrine.
'Ominous omens' for Pakistan's army
By M Ilyas Khan BBC News / Wednesday, 8 November 2006
Wednesday's attack by militants at the Pakistan army base at Dargai has profound implications for the government.
It calls into question the logic of last week's bombing of a madrassa in the tribal areas, and raises fears that a ceasefire recently signed in Waziristan could now be in jeopardy.
A previously unknown group is reported to have accepted responsibility for the attack, saying it was in response to the missile attack on the seminary.
But analysts are cautious in drawing their conclusions.
Dargai, the town in Malakand district where the attack took place, is a stronghold of the same religious organisation whose school in nearby Bajaur agency was hit in last week's air strike, which government forces said they carried out.
The Tanzim Nifaz Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM) group is alleged by the government to have links with the Taleban in Afghanistan.
It wields considerable influence in Malakand and Bajaur and includes elements that have fought in Afghanistan at one time or another during the past 25 years.
In addition, elements of Afghan resistance fighters loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former mujahideen commander, are also known to have sanctuaries in Bajaur.
US and Afghan officials have accused these groups of launching attacks on coalition forces in the neighbouring Afghan province of Kunar.
Can it be that some of these elements, who have traditionally looked up to the Pakistani military establishment for support and protection, have now turned on their mentor?
If they have, the message is ominous.
Never before have so many Pakistan army soldiers died in a single attack by the militants.
Instead of attacking one of many paramilitary garrisons located within the tribal region, they have crossed over into a settled area and taken a hit at regular army troops.
Questions are bound to be asked over security lapses which enabled the bomber to gain access to the camp and cause so many casualties.
The attack has without doubt dealt a blow to President Musharraf's policy of reconciliation with tribal militants.
The seminary was hit on the very day the Bajaur tribesmen were scheduled to sign a peace agreement with the Pakistani government.
Pakistan earlier signed several similar agreements with tribesmen in North and South Waziristan tribal regions.
The agreements brought hostilities to an end, but also sent troops to the barracks, leaving the local militants in control of the situation.
This attracted criticism from Western countries that believed the agreements would consolidate the militants' position.
Pakistani analysts were of the view that the agreements enabled the army to reduce its casualties, believed to have run into hundreds.
In Bajaur - before the attack on the seminary last week - there was no insurgency comparable to that seen in Waziristan.
But Wednesday's attack calls into question the wisdom of the government's decision to attack the madrassa - killing 80 people.
Commentators believe this reversal is the result of contradictions within the Pakistani system which is torn between international pressures and domestic compulsions.
The government is playing a delicate balancing act: it is eager not to provoke outright conflict with militants, but at the same time it wants to reassure the West that it is not passive when it comes to dealing with Islamic extremism.
But by appeasing the militants, it has only made them more powerful.
Far from bringing peace, the agreements with tribal militants appear to have increased rather than curbed militant infiltration into Afghanistan.
A firm policy decision to stamp out militancy from society may yet help improve the situation.
But this would require a thorough overhauling of the country's Afghan policy which has long used militancy as a policy tool to prevent "unfriendly" forces from taking power in Kabul.
Pak refuses land route facility to India to import sheep from Afghanistan
Islamabad, Nov 9: Pakistan has reportedly rejected India's request for transit facility to import sheep from Afghanistan through the Peshawar-Lahore land route via Wagha Border. Instead, it advised New Delhi to use the Karachi sea-route for the purpose.
New Delhi had sought permission from Islamabad to use the land route via Wagah border to import sheep from Afghanistan, which is cheaper as compared to the Karachi sea-route.
"India was informed to use the Quetta-Karachi route for this purpose," The Nation quoted sources in Pakistan Ministry of Commerce as saying.
They further said that India feels that the Quetta-Karachi route was costlier and not viable to import sheep from Afghanistan. Pakistan is likely to cash its geo-political location by providing transit facility to neighbouring countries for the passage of their goods to earn millions of dollars as transit fee, they added.
Currently, Pakistan is providing the transit facility to Afghanistan under the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA), but Islamabad says under this agreement smuggling of goods into Pakistan was on the rise.
The government is also reviewing the transit facility to Afghanistan under ATTA, the sources said.
Pakistan has so far received requests for providing its land route for trade from various countries including India, Central Asian Republics (CARs), China and Iran.
Afghan Hopes Democratic victories would lead to more reconstruction money for Afghanistan
Star Tribune 11/08/2006
TOKYO - Democratic gains in Congress were seen around the world Wednesday as a rejection of the U.S. war in Iraq that led some observers to expect a reassessment of the American course there.
The shift in power also was seen as a signal in some capitals that the United States would put a greater emphasis on trade policy and human rights.
Many watching the election said the results were a significant blow to President Bush's presidency.
"Although his term will not end within the next year, I think Bush is already turning into a lame duck," Yuzo Yamamoto, 60, the manager of a Tokyo business consulting firm, said as Democrats won control of the House and challenged Republican dominance in the Senate in midterm elections Tuesday.
Outside observers saw the bloodshed in Iraq as the major driving force behind the Democrats' success.
"Voters have punished the Republicans. They are not happy with the way the leadership has handled the Iraq war," said Chandra Muzaffar, president of the Malaysia-based think-tank International Movement for a Just World.
Bush's foreign critics cheered in Vietnam, and in Muslim-dominated countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.
"The Republicans lost in the election because the American voters are now fed up and bored with the war," said Vitaya Wisetrat, a prominent, anti-American Muslim cleric in Thailand. "The American people now realize that Bush is the big liar."
Echoing the sentiment of many in Muslim countries, Indonesian lawmaker Ahmad Sumargono hoped that the results would prompt a reassessment of American policies in Iraq and elsewhere.
"I am optimistic that American people have now realized the mistakes made by Bush in foreign policy. We hope this leads to significant changes, especially toward the Middle East," he said.
Abdul Hamid Mubarez, an Afghan analyst and former deputy Afghan information and culture minister, said he hoped that Democratic victories would lead to more reconstruction money for his war-torn nation.
The prospect of a sudden change in American foreign policy could be troubling to U.S. allies in Asia _ such as Japan and Australia _ that have thrown their vocal support behind the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Some, however, doubted that there would be a major shift in Iraq, said Michael McKinley, a political science professor at the Australian National University.
"There would have been some concern in policy making circles here if the Democrats had said, 'We are definitely going to withdraw by Christmas,'" McKinley said. "But they're not able to say that," he said.
"They will have concluded that it is unlikely to have radical significance in the area of U.S. foreign and strategic policy," he added.
272 former Soviet servicemen still missing after Afghan war
MOSCOW, November 9 (Itar-Tass) - The CIS Afghan war veterans committee said 272 servicemen of the former Soviet army are still listed as missing during the Afghan war.
"One of the priorities of our committee is the work to find the missing Soviet servicemen," deputy committee chairman Pytor Kerzhimakin told reporters on Wednesday.
"Since the setting up of the committee in 1993, we have found 22 men and helped them return to the Motherland. At present, 272 people are on the list of the missing," Kerzhimakin said at a news conference on the occasion of the return to Russia of former prisoner-of-war Yuri Stepanov.
Stepanov said he had been captured in Salanga during a fight in 1987 by the unit led by field commander Sufi Puyand.
"After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan, I had to stay as a prisoner-of-war in a group of mujaheddins for ten years," he added.
When asked by reporters if he would return to Afghanistan, Yuri said: "I've come to Russia with my wife and a five-year-old son. Hopefully, for good."
"At present, contacts have been established with seven former Soviet servicemen living in Afghanistan; efforts are underway toward returning them," journalist Yevgeny Kirichenko said.
He took part in a search mission which returned from Afghanistan on Tuesday. The locations of 17 places of burial of Soviet servicemen have been found. The remains of six soldiers have been exhumed and brought to the Motherland, Kirichenko said.
Karzai nominates members for peace commission
KABUL, Nov 7 (Pajhwok Afghan News): President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday named a commission to finalise arrangements for the tribal Jirga.
Former jihadi leader and chief of the Afghanistan Milli Islami Mahaz Pir Sayed Ahmad Gilani has been nominated as chief of the commission.
Member of the Wolesi Jirga or lower house of parliament Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq and former chief justice Maulvi Fale Hadi Shinwari were assigned the job of deputies, while Minister for the Parliamentary Affairs would supervise the secretariat of the said commission.
Spokesman for the commission Hasan Ahmadzai told Pajhwok Afghan News the members had already been selected. He added the secretariat would be responsible for nominating members for the proposed Jirga.
Urging sincerity on parts of the respective governments, Ahmadzai said the Jirga would help ensuring security in areas on both sides of the divide.
Spokesman for the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs Asif Nang said the Pakistani side has promised to start preliminary measures in this regard in latter half of the current month.
He hoped the Jirga would solve the security as well as other problems faced by people living on both sides of the Durand Line.
Call charges to drop by 50 per cent in three years
KABUL, Nov 7 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Two leading cellular phone companies on Tuesday said call charges in the country would reduce by 50 per cent in the coming three years as stated by the Communication Minister earlier this week.
The minister, during a news conference, had said that call charges would likely to drop partly due to the competition among more cellular companies and partly due to the installation of the optic fibre network across the country.
Three cellular companies Roshan, AWCC and Areeba are presently operational in the country while a fourth in the name of Etisalat is likely to start functioning next year.
Dr Najibullah Kamali, public relations officer with Roshan, told Pajhwok Afghan News they were charging high call rates because their service was provided to the consumers via satellite.
The rates would automatically drop after the installation of the optic fibre network as announced by the minister, said the official. Besides, competition among the companies would also effect upon the coming down of charges as well as rates of the subscriber identity module (SIM) cards.
He said the SIM cards had register considerable decline during the previous few months as once its price was 15,000 afghanis, which has now come down to 500.
Press officer with the Areeba cell phone company Nazifullah Shaheen also agreed with the views of his Roshan's counterpart and said competition and establishment of the fibre network would bring the call charges down.
Asfandyar to Musharraf: All Pashtuns are not Taliban
PESHAWAR, Nov 5 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) is going to organise a grand jirga comprising Pashtun leaders from all parts of Pakistan to develop unity among the community living on the other side of the Durand Line and stop bloodshed in their areas.
The announcement was made by ANP central president and member of Pakistan Senate Asfandyar Wali Khan while talking to journalists at Bacha Khan Markaz, headquarters of the party, in Peshawar.
The ANP leader informed that they would invite Pashtun leaders from all over the country to the jirga (meeting), which is scheduled to be convened on November 20.
The move, said Asfandyar, the elder son of late Abdul Wali Khan, was aimed at promoting unity among Pashtuns on the Pakistani side of the Durand line, which was crucial to stop bloodshed in the country.
He said invitations would be sent to all Pashtun leaders whether political, social, secular or religious. "We are ready to forget our differences with the religious parties for the sake of Pashtun unity and expect the same from them," he added.
He said the existence of Pashtuns was at stake unless they united and fought its enemy. "President Pervez Musharraf and the US have taken advantage of our differences and the ANP is resolved to put them aside, at least for the time being," said the nationalist leader.
Lashing out at the policies of Pervez Musharraf, the ANP leader said the Pakistani president continued to make the West believe that unless the Taliban were crushed, al-Qaeda would exist and that all Pashtuns were Taliban. "In short, people at the helm of affairs continue targeting Pashtuns to keep them away from mainstream politics," he alleged.
He believed that the Pakistani government was caught unaware by the Bajaur Agency air strike and that the explanations from the army spokesman were self-contradictory. "If the government was monitoring activities at the madressa, how come they held peace talks with its administrator Maulana Liaqat during the evening before the strike?" he questioned.
The ANP chief said his party had come to the conclusion that if Pashtun politicians did not unite, Bajaur-like attacks would continue and more Pashtuns would die. "After Bajaur, Khyber will be the next target after which fire will enter the settle areas of Bannu, Swat and Tank," he said, adding he urged the religious parties to set aside their differences with the ANP and join them for the sake of Pashtuns.
He said the jirga would try to bring peace to the tribal areas on both sides of the Durand line. He believed no jirga could be successful without the participation of the religious parties and that the Pakistani government should stop trying to decide who all would take part in the jirga proposed by Afghan and Pakistani leaders to discuss peace in Afghanistan.
Khalilzad to leave Iraq
The Independent, UK 11/06/2006
Arbil, northern Iraq - Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy in Baghdad who tried to conciliate the Sunni people, is to leave his post in the next few months said a senior member of the US administration.
"Khalilzad really failed because greater Sunni political participation has not reduced the violence and has at the same time angered the Shia," said a senior Kurdish political figure.
Appointed ambassador to Iraq in April 2005 Mr Khalilzad played a highly active role in Iraqi politics but the crisis has worsened dramatically during his tenure.
The Afghan-born Mr Khalilzad was more effective than his predecessors in cultivating Iraqi political leaders. He sought to amend the Iraqi constitution before it was approved in a referendum in October so it would be more acceptable to the Sunni community that largely supports armed resistance to the US occupation. Mr Khalilzad also played a central role in getting rid of the prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari only to find that his successor Nouri al-Maliki was more resistant to US demands.
Mr Khalilzad was skilful in cultivating good personal relations with Iraqi politicians but often found they did not have the power to deliver what he wanted.
His critics say he did not appreciate that Iraq is very different from Afghanistan where he was US envoy.
While willing to open talks with some Sunni insurgent groups Mr Khalilzad found the most powerful ones wanted to expel the US, not negotiate.
Mr Khalilzad is likely to stay into the spring the US official said. His likely successor will be Ryan Crocker, a senior career diplomat who is currently US ambassador to Pakistan.
In Baghdad, the chief prosecutor said the Iraqi appeals court is expected to rule on the guilty verdict on Saddam Hussein by mid-January. If affirmed he could be hanged within 30 days.
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