Kabul rules out French hostage deal amid fighting
By Terry Friel
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan and NATO forces killed at least 10 Taliban in an overnight assault in eastern Afghanistan, hours before a suicide bomber killed four people on Sunday in rising violence after the annual winter lull.
The attacks came as Kabul again ruled out any hostage swap to free two French aid workers held by the rebels, who have threatened to behead them and send their heads to Paris.
In addition to killing 10 insurgents, the NATO and Afghan troops wounded 15 Taliban and arrested two in the overnight pre-emptive strike in Paktika to head off a rebel attack, provincial governor Mohammad Akram Khpalwak told Reuters.
To the south, in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar province, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed four Afghans working for a U.S. security firm, police said. Earlier a provincial official had said the attack killed two policemen.
On Saturday, U.S.-led coalition forces also said they and Afghan troops had killed 35 Taliban in a fierce 5-hour battle late last week in Helmand, the main opium producing centre.
The Taliban have vowed to step up suicide bombings as fighting against U.S.-led forces intensifies after winter.
The Taliban have also kidnapped three foreigners and several Afghans this year to try to press the government to release comrades from jail and to begin peace talks.
On Saturday, the insurgents released a brief black-and-white video of the two French aid workers -- a woman who calls herself only Celine and a man who calls himself Eric -- pleading for help from the French government.
In the tearful video, filmed on Friday, they said in English they would be beheaded and their heads sent home to France if Paris ignored the Taliban's demands.
But the Taliban have issued no public ransom demand for their release. Italian Daniele Mastrogiacomo, who was kidnapped in Helmand last month, was freed after two weeks when Kabul released five senior Taliban prisoners.
His Afghan driver and translator were beheaded.
Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta on Sunday repeated President Hamid Karzai's pledge there would be no more hostage swaps.
"We will avoid the exchange of hostages with the criminals," Spanta told reporters. "If we do it once or twice, it will become a procedure. It won't have an end."
The Mastrogiacomo deal drew criticism in Afghanistan and Italy for encouraging the Taliban to take more hostages. They are also holding five Afghan health workers and have threatened to kill one soon unless the government starts peace talks.
Karzai's palace said on Saturday French President Jacques Chirac had phoned the Afghan leader to ask for help.
"President Hamid Karzai assured President Chirac that the relevant Afghan institutions will spare no effort in securing the release of the kidnapped French nationals and their Afghan colleagues," the palace said in a statement.
Last year was the bloodiest since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 and many expect this year to be even more violent.
Several hundred civilians, scores of Taliban, dozens of Afghan forces, some aid workers and more than 30 foreign troops have died so far this year.
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Afghan government pledges to end hostage deals
by Sardar Ahmad Sun Apr 15, 7:15 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's government on Sunday promised to end all hostage deals with the Taliban after two Afghan kidnap victims were executed in an agreement to free an Italian journalist.
Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta said kidnapping risked becoming an "industry" for the rebels, but promised to use all "legitimate and possible" means to win the release of two French aid workers.
"What is important in this regard is we must try to prevent kidnapping becoming an industry for terrorists against the legitimate government of Afghanistan," Spanta told a press conference.
The government last month made a deal under which five Taliban prisoners including high-ranking rebel commanders were exchanged for Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, who was abducted in early March.
But the rebels beheaded translator Ajmal Naqshbandi after the government refused to free two more Taliban officials in the government jails. The group's driver was also killed.
The incident was condemned as "barbaric" by the United States and caused a storm of criticism both in Afghanistan and Italy, whose foreign minister went before parliament to defend the government's handling of the situations.
"If you once, twice or for a third time comply with terrorists' demands, it becomes an industrial sector like other industries. It wouldn't have an end," Spanta said.
His comments came after French President Jacques Chirac telephoned Afghan leader Hamid Karzai to demand his support for efforts to free the French workers of Terre d'Enfance (A World for Our Children).
No rebel demand has been made for the two, kidnapped along with three Afghan colleagues in the southwestern province of Nimroz on April 3, but there are mounting concerns.
Video of the hostages pleading for their lives were broadcast by a Canadian and an Arabic television channel on Friday.
"The Islamic republic of Afghanistan within lawful and legitimate limits, I insist within legitimate means, will do its utmost to free the hostages," Spanta said.
"But we shouldn't comply with tribute-taking culture," he added.
The Islamist Taliban, which has led a bloody insurgency since being toppled in 2001, has abducted nearly a dozen people in the past month.
Analysts said the Italian deal -- described by Karzai as a one-off -- had opened the floodgates for further abductions.
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Suicide car bomber kills 4 Afghans
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Sun Apr 15, 7:30 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber targeted a private U.S. security firm Sunday in southern Afghanistan, killing up to four Afghans working for the company and wounding another, officials said.
Separately in the east, police and U.S.-led coalition forces attacked suspected Taliban insurgents crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan, killing 10 militants and wounding 15, the provincial governor said Sunday.
The security firm, U.S. Protection and Investigations, said that a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle blew himself up near a convoy, killing two employees and wounding another.
Mohammad Asif Khan, a police officer in Kandahar province's Spin Boldak district, said the attack occurred on a main highway in the district, where the company was providing security for road construction projects. Three security guards and their driver were killed, Khan said. The differing death tolls could not immediately be reconciled.
The attack in Kandahar comes a day after a suicide bomber blew himself up next to several Afghan border policemen in eastern Khost province, leaving at least seven officers and one civilian dead.
The explosion happened as the bomber tried to enter the border police base in Khost, said Gen. Qasim Kheil, a border police commander. Six officers also were wounded in the blast, he said.
On Saturday night, police and coalition forces launched an operation against a large number of suspected Taliban fighters who were seen entering Paktika province's Barman district from Pakistan, said Paktika Gov. Mohammad Akram Akhpelwak.
Ten militants were killed, including one Arab, and 15 were wounded, Akhpelwak said. One Pakistani national was arrested and the insurgents left several AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades behind, he said, adding that police and coalition forces suffered no casualties.
Afghan and western officials have stepped up pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militants who organize and train in Pakistan's tribal areas, and then cross the border to launch attacks and wreak havoc in Afghanistan.
Fighting between militants and foreign and Afghan forces appeared to be intensifying after the usual winter lull, with at least six Taliban killed in a clash in Helmand province on Saturday, a statement from the U.S.-led coalition said.
Earlier, officials said U.S.-led troops and aircraft pounded Taliban militants in southern Afghanistan, killing more than 70 in two separate clashes on Thursday, as NATO-led troops pressed on with their largest-ever anti-Taliban offensive in Afghanistan's insurgent-haunted south.
More than 5,000 NATO and Afghan troops are engaged in Operation Achilles, launched last month to flush militants entrenched in the northern tip of the opium-producing province.
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Marine shooting in Afghanistan decried
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Sun Apr 15, 3:30 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - A U.S. Marine unit broke international humanitarian law by using excessive force during a shooting spree last month that left 12 people dead, an Afghan human rights group said in a report Saturday.
The troops fired indiscriminately at pedestrians, people in cars, public buses and taxis in six different locations along a 10-mile stretch of road in Nangahar province after an explosives-rigged minivan crashed into their convoy on March 4, according to the report by Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission.
Six people were killed near the blast site, while the other six died on the road as the troops sped away, said Ahmad Nader Nadery, the group's spokesman.
The dead included a 1-year-old boy, a 4-year-old girl and three women, the report said. Thirty-five people were wounded in the shootings.
"In failing to distinguish between civilians and legitimate military targets the U.S. Marines Corps Special Forces employed indiscriminate force," the report said. "Their actions thus constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law standards."
The group said its report was based on interviews with victims and their families, witnesses, local community leaders, hospital officials and police.
A U.S. military commander has also determined that the Marines used excessive force and referred the case for possible criminal inquiry, a senior U.S. defense official told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
U.S. military officials said after the incident that the suicide attack was part of an ambush that included militant gunmen shooting at Marines, which may have caused some of the civilian casualties.
The human rights group's report said "there is some evidence at the immediate site of the incident to support this claim, but it is far from conclusive and all witnesses and Afghan government officials interviewed uniformly denied that any attack beyond the initial (suicide car bombing) took place."
The group also alleges that U.S. troops serving with NATO's International Security Assistance Force in southern Afghanistan returned to the area after the bombing for an investigation and a cleanup operation, which involved the removal of all bullet shells and cartridges.
The group said it interviewed a member of Afghanistan's National Police criminal investigations office who said his unit had searched around the site after the incident, but that "ISAF forces had collected all shells, magazines, cartridges from the spot and we could not find any trace or sign of them."
U.S. military officials were not available to comment on that allegation.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly pleaded for Western troops to show more restraint amid concern that civilian deaths shake domestic support for the foreign military involvement that he needs to prop up his government, increasingly under threat from a resurgent Taliban.
The initial U.S. military investigation concluded that the Marines' response was "out of proportion to the threat that was immediately there," the senior U.S. defense official said Wednesday in Washington.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe's results have not been released. The findings have been forwarded to U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Another official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the initial military investigation concluded that there was a "reasonable suspicion" the Marines violated the rules for the use of deadly force, and that crimes, possibly including homicide, may have been committed in the aftermath of the convoy being struck.
One Marine was wounded in the blast, which also killed the bomber.
Army Maj. Gen. Francis H. Kearney III, head of Special Operations Command Central, opened an investigation into the incident after taking the highly unusual step of ordering the unit of about 120 Marines out of Afghanistan.
"We deeply regret the loss of life and casualties that resulted from the (suicide car bombing) and the actions that followed," Lt. Col. Lou Leto, spokesman at Kearney's command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., said in a statement. "We will work to prevent similar events from occurring in the future."
The Marines are in a special operations unit that deployed from Camp LeJeune, N.C., in January with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. After Kearney ordered them out of Afghanistan, they returned to their unit's ships in the Persian Gulf.
The unit is one of four Marine Special Operations Command companies established since the command was created in February 2006. The one ordered out of Afghanistan was the first to deploy abroad.
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German Tornados begin operations in Afghanistan
By IANS Sunday April 15, 02:59 PM
Mazar-e-Sharif, (Afghanistan) April 15 (DPA) German reconnaissance Tornado jets sent to Afghanistan to help NATO-led forces fighting the Taliban in the south of the country flew their first operational mission Sunday, a German military spokesman in Mazar-e-Sharif in the north of the country said Saturday.
Two of the six aircraft based at Camp Marmal near Mazar-e-Sharif participated in the mission.
The spokesman for the squadron, which arrived in Afghanistan on April 5, said take-off had gone without a hitch.
The aircraft each carry two hi-tech optical cameras along with an infrared sensor in a pod slung below the fuselage.
Their mission is to spy out Taliban positions in the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan, where British, Canadian and Dutch troops are deployed. They will not fly low-level sorties.
Some 200 air force personnel are stationed at Camp Marmal where half the 3,000-strong German military contingent in Afghanistan is based.
The mission is controversial in Germany. A recent survey showed 74 percent feared it could trigger terrorist attacks in Germany.
Most of the German troops in Afghanistan are engaged in infrastructure projects with mixed military and civilian provincial reconstruction teams in the relatively peaceful north of the country.
NATO-led forces are engaged in an offensive against the Taliban, which claims to have thousands of suicide bombers across Afghanistan.
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Pakistan to close 4 Afghan refugee camps: UNHCR
People's Daily - Apr 14 6:51 PM
Pakistan would shut down four Afghan refugee camps in the next four months, country director of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Afghanistan Salvadore Lombardo said Saturday.
The step is taking place in the wake of an agreement reached among Afghanistan, Pakistan and the UNHCR, which is the UN refugee agency, in February 2007, he told a press conference in Kabul.
These camps include Katchagari with a population of over 54,000, Pir Alizai with a population of 35,000, Jalozai with 108,000 populations and Girdi Jungle with a population of 43,000 people, the official said.
More than 400,000 Afghan refugees are expected to return home from Pakistan in 2007 and so far over 100,000 have returned home since the resumption of voluntary repatriation on March 1, he said.
The UNHCR has assisted about 4 million Afghan refugees since 2002 to return their home country, while 1 million more refugees have returned on their own.
More than 3 million more Afghans are still living in Pakistan and Iran as refugees waiting for conducive condition to return home.
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Russia, Afghanistan could agree debt deal by late May - official
16:52 | 15/ 04/ 2007
WASHINGTON D.C., April 15 (RIA Novosti) - Russia and Afghanistan could sign an agreement until late May on settling the Afghan debt to the former Soviet Union, which is estimated at $10 billion, a senior official of Russia's finance ministry said Sunday.
Afghanistan's debt to the former Soviet Union largely accrued due to the delivery of Soviet weaponry to the country.
"I believe we'll be able to sign an agreement ... which will stipulate large debt write-off," Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak said at a spring session of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, commenting on the results of his meeting with the Afghan finance minister.
Russia is expected to write off 80-90% of Afghanistan's debt under agreements reached as part of the Paris Club of Creditor Nations in July 2006. The move will help Russia raise its international prestige.
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'Taliban leader Mullah Omar is in southern Afghanistan, not Pakistan'
By Khalida Mazhar 'Pakistan Times' US Bureau Chief
WASHINGTON (US): President General Pervez Musharraf has said that Pakistan is pursuing a correct strategy to fight the menace of terrorism and strongly rejected Afghan president’s allegation that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is hiding in Quetta.
“Even if we are succeeding 20 percent, 30 percent, 40 percent, the direction is correct, end goal is correct, strategy is correct,” he told American CBS news channel, while forcefully defending Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts.
Responding to a question he dismissed as “absolute non-sense” Afghan President Karzai’s allegation that Mulla Omar is hiding in Quetta.
President Musharraf said the Taliban leader is somewhere in south of Afghanistan.
President said, “He (Mullah Omar) is in south of Afghanistan somewhere, he is not in Pakistan, although President Karzai and everyone keeps saying he is in Quetta - absolute nonsense, absolute total nonsense—he has never been in Pakistan - they are trying to make a scapegoat of Pakistan and we don’t like that at all.”
He said “Pakistan is being maligned by the West unfairly because of lack of understanding, total lack of understanding of the environment and reality by President Karzai himself.”
Asked if he is angry with the Afghan leader, the President replied :”Yes, indeed, very angry.”
He ruled out the suggestion of a joint operation by American and Pakistani forces against insurgents trying to hide on the Pakistani side.
He rejected, “absolutely and totally,” the prospect of the joint US-Pakistan military operation to pursue retreating insurgents inside Pakistan adding that “the whole population of Pakistan will rise against it.”
In response to a question about al-Qaeda leaders remaining “free to operate” even after six years of counter terrorism efforts by the coalition, the President said “they are in the mountains and there are people who support them and hide them and these mountains are inaccessible - they have been there for centuries - even the British never went in.”
The Pakistani leader brushed aside reports that US Vice President Dick Cheney had visited Islamabad last month to ‘pressure’ the country to do more in the fight against terrorists.
“Is there an alternative,” he posed a question when the interviewer suggested that partial success in the fight against terrorism means partial failure.
When asked as to why US, Pakistan and Afghanistan have not been able to trace terrorists despite sharing intelligence information, he said “We are trying to locate them by all possible means—and we are not being able to - it is as simple as that - they are in the mountains and we do not even know whether they are in Afghanistan or on our side and they keep shifting.”
Responding to a question President Musharraf said he does not feel frustrated that after six years of pursuing terrorists the coalition has not been able to capture or eliminate some of the top terrorists but believed this is a challenge to face for the sake of Pakistan.
The President said, “We have a challenge to face - we have a challenge to face for the sake of Pakistan.”
Answering another question, President Musharraf said it is not the government’s weakness that it has not so far moved against two “madaris” adjacent to Lal Masjid in capital Islamabad.
He said, “Certainly, it is not weakness of the government.”
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Soldier's racist instruction on German TV
April 16, 2007 The Australian, Australia
BERLIN: German television yesterday aired a video clip of a German army instructor telling a soldier to imagine he was facing African-Americans in the Bronx while firing his machinegun.
The clip shows an instructor and a soldier in camouflage uniforms in a forest.
The instructor tells the soldier: "You are in the Bronx. A black van is stopping in front of you.
"Three African-Americans are getting out and they are insulting your mother in the worst ways ... Act."
The soldier fires his machinegun and yells an obscenity several times in English.
The instructor then tells the soldier to curse even louder.
The video, coming after scandals over photos of soldiers posing with skulls in Afghanistan and the abuse of recruits by instructors, seemed likely to raisemore questions about training practices in Germany's conscript army.
The Defence Ministry confirmed that the video was shot last July at the Feldwebel-Schmid barracks in the northern German town of Rendsburg and that the army had been aware of its existence since January.
"We are currently investigating the incident," said army and Defence Ministry spokesman Florian Naggies. He declined toreveal the identity of the participants.
The existence of the video was first reported on the home page of German news magazine Stern on Saturday and excerpts of the video were aired on news channel n-tv yesterday.
According to Stern, the 90-second video had been posted on the internet forum myvideo.de by soldiers who used the web forum to exchange private videos.
One of the soldiers involved had later alerted his superiors tothe video, the magazine reported.
One army officer strongly condemned the incident yesterday.
"We can no longer talk about an isolated case," said Lieutenant Juergen Rose of the Darmstaedter Signal, a group of army officers and sergeants who scrutinise the military.
"Things like this don't happen in the army on an everyday basis, but unfortunately in recent years there have been a number of comparable incidents."
Eighteen army instructors are on trial for allegedly abusing and humiliating 163 recruits in 2004.
Last year, newspapers published photos of German soldiers in Afghanistan posing with skulls, including one who exposed himself while holding a skull.
The Afghanistan pictures raised questions about how well the army was preparing soldiers for Germany's increasing number of overseas peacekeeping deployments.
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Afghans neither want federalism nor new plans for territorial integrity
Hewad Kabul 04/14/2007
In response to a question at a news conference some days ago, the elected Afghan president, Hamed Karzai, said he was pleased with the formation of the United National Front if the nature of its activities is clear.
He said he was against a parliamentary or federal system because if the Afghan people wanted such a system, they would have chosen it. Afghanistan does not have experience of federal system. The disputes between the president and prime minister during the mojahedin's government ruined Kabul.
President Karzai also said that some foreign countries and embassies were involved in the formation of this front and that he would give people more details about it later.
At the news conference, the president also said that if the front wants to officially recognize the Durand Line or determine the borders for Afghanistan, it should openly announce its stance. It seems most aims of the newly-formed front are against the "supreme national interests" and present situation in Afghanistan. Introducing federal or parliamentary system and the official recognition of the border are against the constitution.
The representatives of the Afghan nation chose the presidential system in the Constitutional Loya Jerga because we still do not have an equipped and strong army and police. If the presidential system was chosen in such circumstances, a particular party or parties would have formed coalitions to achieve power and the prime minister would have become a person who possessed a large quantity of light and heavy weapons and militias.
Once again disputes between the president and prime minister would have taken place like during the mojahedin's government. Therefore, the presidential system was chosen and incorporated in the constitution. In fact, federal system is not acceptable to any Afghan. No one wants to fuel ethnic and linguistic differences and divide Afghanistan in the interest of the enemies of the present system and territorial integrity.
It can pose a threat to the country's independence and territorial integrity and divide it into zones among regional powerful men and pave the way for Afghanistan's division.
Fourteen years have passed since the expiry of the treaty signed with the British on the 2500-kilometer long Durand Line between Afghanistan and the semi-autonomous tribes. It has lost its legal position. The regional tribes can no longer tolerate the existence of this line.
Raising such a disputed border issue in the present critical circumstances goes beyond the authority of a party, front or person. It is up to the nation to take a decision in this regard. If the front is trying to raise such thorny issues and cases, it reminds us the recent interview of Nasirollah Babar, former interior minister of Pakistan, with a correspondent of Khyber Television. In that interview, he said he had encouraged different parties to adopt federal system to divide the country and had held talks with the leaders of some parties. He has laid the foundation of a new front entitled, "National United Front".
In our opinion, if it is proven that the enemies of our territorial integrity are involved in the formation of this front and this movement is backed by the enemy, all members of the front will be responsible before people, history and country, and will face failures.
Afghans have a 5,000-year old history and a rich culture. No one has the right to divide the home of Ahmad Shah Baba and Mirwais Nika. The geographical division of Afghans is impossible. Anyone who takes such a notorious step, he will always have a bad reputation. We hope that powerful and power-thirsty people will refrain from making any plan that harms the supreme national interests and history. They had better use their influence in strengthening the present system and pursuing national interests in line with the law.
Via BBC monitoring
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