Taliban flee battle using children as shields: NATO
By Terry Friel
KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban fighters used children as human shields to flee heavy fighting this week during an operation by foreign and Afghan forces to clear rebels from around a key hydro-electric dam, NATO said on Wednesday.
The Taliban have used human shields before, but never children, local residents say.
The fighting occurred during Operation Kryptonite on Monday, an offensive to clear insurgents from the Kajaki Dam area in southern Helmand province to allow repairs to its power plants and the installation of extra capacity.
"During this action ... Taliban extremists resorted to the use of human shields. Specifically, using local Afghan children to cover as they escaped out of the area," Colonel Tom Collins, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), told reporters in Kabul.
The Kajaki Dam fighting was in an area where 700 mainly foreign fighters, including Chechens, Pakistanis and Uzbeks, arrived from Pakistan this week to reinforce Taliban guerrillas.
NATO also said it killed a senior local Taliban commander and several comrades in a pre-dawn air-strike on Wednesday between the dam and the rebel-held town of Musa Qala to the west, but denied residents' accounts civilians were also killed.
TARGETING REBEL LEADERS
The leader, identified by police and tribal elders as Mullah Manan, was involved in the capture of Musa Qala 13 days ago and clashes around Kajaki.
NATO said its soldiers saw 11 bodies, all fighting-age males, dragged from the wreckage by Taliban fighters. Provincial police said Manan and at least eight more Taliban were killed and that they had no word of civilian casualties.
But local residents and elders said civilians also died.
"It is a well-known enemy tactic to try to blame civilian casualties on ISAF forces," Collins said in a statement.
"We continue to conduct specific shaping operations -- to go after specific Taliban extremists, the leadership who are impacting the enemy's operations," he told reporters later.
The Interior Ministry said it has also arrested a Taliban leader in the province of Khost.
The Kajaki dam has seen major fighting in recent weeks between the Taliban and NATO forces, mainly British and Dutch.
NATO-led forces have been conducting operations in the area for several months to allow reconstruction on the dam and the power transmission lines to boost output, after fighting halted repair and development work last year.
The Taliban cannot destroy the dam, which would also flood a large area of the Helmand Valley, but its tactics are aimed at making it too unsafe for work to go ahead.
The dam was first built on the Helmand river in the 1950s.
Its hydroelectric plants, with a generating capacity of 33 megawatts, were installed in 1975. Once fully operational, the dam will bring electricity to 1.8 million people, NATO says.
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NATO planes target senior Taliban, locals say civilians killed
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - NATO planes have pounded a compound in southern Afghanistan in a strike against a senior Taliban commander that locals said killed several rebels and civilians.
The International Security Assistance Force said Wednesday it believed the strike in the southern province of Helmand had killed the commander, who was linked to a spike in attacks in the area including the capture of the town of Musa Qala.
The building was "fully destroyed" in the 3:20 am (1050 GMT) attack, ISAF said in a statement that did not mention other casualties.
The strike was on an "isolated sprawling compound" between Musa Qala, captured by Taliban two weeks ago, and Kajaki where British troops have killed several rebels in an effort to secure a major hydropower dam.
"Without causing further collateral damage, one building in the compound was fully destroyed," it said. "Precision-guided munitions" were used.
A man identifying himself as a local Taliban commander, Mullah Nizamuddin, said four of his men were killed in the NATO attack which he said struck a civilian's home where they had been spending the night after having dinner.
Thirteen members of their host's family were killed including children, he told AFP by telephone. Nizamuddin said the strike appeared to have been targeted at himself.
A village chief told AFP by telephone that more than 30 people were killed, including 20 Taliban fighters who had been spending the night in the targeted house. He said bodies were pulled from the rubble in the morning.
Another villager said "some Taliban" and civilians were killed, but he could not give a number.
The claims by the villagers, who did not want their names used, could not be confirmed.
The Taliban also often give inaccurate accounts of deaths and have previously inflated civilian casualty numbers. However NATO and US-led air strikes have killed scores of civilians since the forces started action here.
Afghan authorities could not immediately comment on the incident.
ISAF said the strike was aimed at a commander linked to the Taliban capture of Musa Qala, which is still in rebel hands, and an attack Tuesday at Kajaki Dam.
The Afghan defence ministry said 15 Taliban were killed in military action at Kajaki on Tuesday. Another 10 were killed in Helmand's Gereshk area on Tuesday, it said in a statement.
Helmand has seen the worst insurgency-linked fighting in Afghanistan this year with many of its districts out of government control.
The provincial governor, Assadullah Wafa, has said about 700 foreign fighters, whom he linked to Al-Qaeda, have infiltrated from Pakistan this month.
A purported local commander told AFP on Tuesday the province would see a major Taliban offensive in spring but ISAF has downplayed such talk as exaggerated bravado.
Helmand grows about a quarter of Afghanistan's opium, which accounts for 90 percent of the world supply, and is the most significant area for heroin processing and trafficking.
Experts say the drugs trade funds the insurgency with rebels offering to protect the illegal enterprise.
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NATO bombing kills 30 people in S. Afghanistan: local elder
People's Daily - Feb 14 12:59 AM
NATO air forces killed 30 people including 18 civilians early Wednesday in a bombardment against a compound near Musa Qala district center in Helmand province of southern Afghanistan, a local elder Haji Ibrahim told Xinhua.
Ibrahim said the 18 civilians were all family members of the compound's owner Haji Qasim, and the other 12 persons killed were Taliban militants.
Hundreds of Taliban insurgents have occupied Musa Qala district center since the evening of Feb. 1, and lots of NATO and Afghan troops are being deployed outside the district center, ready for possible clashes with the militants.
However, a latest statement by NATO troops said the air forces bombarded an isolated compound near Musa Qala district center, and had probably killed a known senior Taliban leader. The statement did not say whether other Taliban militants or civilians were killed in the attack.
"The senior Taliban leader that is believed to have been killed in the strike was linked to the Musa Qala uprising and disturbances across northern Helmand," it said, adding he was personally responsible for Taliban attacks on a dam in nearby Kajaki district on Tuesday.
Helmand has been a hotbed of Taliban militants, who clash with foreign and Afghan forces frequently.
About 400 people, mostly militants, have been killed in Taliban- related violence in Afghanistan this year.
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Taliban commander vows biggest ever offensive in Afghanistan
KABUL (AFP) - A purported Taliban commander has said the militia is ready for its "biggest ever" offensive in Afghanistan this year, while a boosted NATO-led force says it also plans significant operations.
The first weeks of 2007 have already seen intense fighting, mainly in the southern province of Helmand where the Taliban have held a small town for a fortnight, and the year is shaping up to be as violent as 2006 -- the worst in the insurgency.
A man claiming to be a Taliban commander in Helmand told AFP Tuesday he had up to 10,000 men ready for action once spring arrives in March.
"We will launch a very big offensive -- the biggest ever seen -- this spring," Mullah Abdul Rahim told AFP in a telephone interview.
"Our troops are ready to go after the enemy. They are waiting for the spring (and) the leaves to appear on the trees," he said in a telephone interview arranged by Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi.
"We have between 8,000 to 10,000 armed men. They're awaiting orders to launch the attack."
His role in the Islamist militia and his claims could not be independently verified.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has scoffed at such talk, labelling it rhetoric and propaganda, but the US military has warned this year's Taliban "spring offensive" could be particularly intense.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Pakistan on Monday to seek support for military activity on the Afghan border in coming months, saying that Pakistani and international forces have a "real opportunity this spring."
The 37-nation ISAF, which came under the command of a US general two weeks ago, is making its own plans, spokesman Colonel Tom Collins told AFP Tuesday.
"In the coming months, ISAF will conduct significant operations as part of a continued offensive to extend the writ of government and facilitate reconstruction and development," he said.
The previous ISAF chief, British General David Richards, said before his departure the "conditions have been set" for a decisive push this year against Taliban rebels, said to be backed by extremists in Pakistan.
This included promoting reconstruction in the insurgency-hit areas of the south to win over local support in what ISAF has called a "winter offensive."
Winter has also seen the establishment of an Afghan, ISAF and Pakistan intelligence-sharing centre in Kabul and the training of nearly 3,400 "auxiliary police" to support their regular colleagues.
ISAF has meanwhile swollen to more than 35,000 troops, with the United States extending the tour of duty of about 3,500 soldiers for more than four months, and it is putting in place the first "rapid reaction unit."
"I think we will have what we need this year not just to contain it but to deal with it very aggressively," US ambassador Ronald Neumann told AFP Tuesday, adding though that he expected "very hard fighting this year."
The effort could be maintained even if NATO countries ignored pleas to send more troops to the force, he said. NATO's military command has said ISAF is about 10 percent short of what it needs.
This year's worst fighting has been in Helmand, Afghanistan's number one opium producer and where most of a British deployment of about 5,200 troops is based.
Helmand governor Assadullah Wafa said Sunday about 700 foreign militants, whom he linked to Al-Qaeda, had infiltrated the province from Pakistan.
There have been regular clashes around the Kajaki hydropower dam and ISAF is poised for action to take back the town of Musa Qala, captured by Taliban two weeks ago, if talks fail.
Rahim, the purported Taliban commander in Helmand, said the rebel force built itself up during the winter months. He claimed his men had forced out government troops from seven districts.
"We have shown that we're able to defeat the enemy in the areas under our control," he told AFP from an undisclosed location in southern Afghanistan.
Ahmed Rashid, an expert on the Taliban, said the militia controls about two-thirds of Helmand.
"The perception in the south of the country is certainly that the Taliban are coming back. And perceptions play a big part in this country," he told AFP.
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Ex-Taleban “vice and virtue’ chief captured in Afghan
(AFP) 14 February 2007 via Khaleej Times
KHOST, Afghanistan - Afghan authorities announced on Wednesday they had captured a senior Taleban commander who had been a provincial chief of a feared religious police unit during the Islamists’ rule.
Mullah Daud Trabi was captured in the eastern city of Khost on Tuesday, the interior ministry said in a statement.
Trabi had been the Khost province chief of the “vice and virtue” police that imposed the Taleban’s ultraconservative moral code during the hardliners’ 1996-2001 hold on power, it said.
Before his arrest, he was involved in the Taleban-led insurgency against the government, the ministry said, calling his arrested a ”great achievement.”
The militant was captured while on the move between Afghanistan and “outside the border,” the statement said, referring to Pakistan where US and Afghan officials say the Taleban and its Al Qaeda allies have sanctuaries.
Weapons and documents, which showed his links to the Taleban were also seized, the statement said.
The US-led coalition had helped capture the rebel, it added.
The Taleban’s vice and virtue unit would patrol the streets for violators of the movement’s petty rules, which included a ban on kite-flying.
They would lash women in the streets for not wearing the all-enveloping burqa, or men for not have long enough beards.
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Blair Meeting Afghan Leader Karzai
Sky News via Yahoo! UK & Ireland News - Feb 13 7:08 PM
Tony Blair will hold talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Downing Street later. The meeting comes as a new report warns that an urgent reassessment of international efforts in Afghanistan is needed if the insurgency destabilising the country is to be overcome. Focus must be shifted away from the military struggle with the Taliban and other militias and towards economic and humanitarian support for ordinary Afghans, according to the study by security and development thinktank The Senlis Council.
Earlier this month Defence Secretary Des Browne announced that Britain's military commitment in Helmand province would be increased by around 800 troops by the end of the summer.
This will bring the total UK deployment in southern Afghanistan to 5,800.
Britain recently scaled down its presence in the Afghan capital Kabul by around 500 personnel when it handed command of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the US.
This evening Mr Karzai will attend a private meeting with the Prince of Wales at Clarence House in central London.
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NATO seeks more troops in Afghanistan
By PAUL AMES, Associated Press Writer Tue Feb 13, 1:43 PM ET
CASTEAU, Belgium - NATO's top commander renewed an appeal Tuesday for allies to fill gaps in the international military force in Afghanistan, warning that failure to send reinforcements was weakening the mission and jeopardizing the lives of soldiers fighting the Taliban.
Taliban guerrillas have proven much tougher than the alliance expected in 2003 when its first contingent of peacekeepers deployed to Afghanistan. Last year, fighting surged and commanders have warned that even fiercer combat can be expected if the insurgents launch a spring offensive against the Kabul government.
"We do not have adequate forces," Gen. John Craddock told reporters at NATO's military headquarters in southern Belgium. "It makes accomplishing the mission that more difficult," he added. "It places every NATO soldier there at greater risk."
Politicians in Canada, Britain, the United States and other nations with troops in southern Afghanistan have been irked by the reluctance of some European allies to commit extra troops to the 35,500-strong NATO force, and in particular to allow their troops to be deployed to the Taliban's heartland in the south and east.
In Afghanistan, a police official said Tuesday that NATO and Afghan forces killed 22 Taliban fighters in separate clashes over the past few days in a southern Afghan province where hundreds of militants have gathered.
Craddock said he was optimistic allies would come forward with additional contributions. However, a meeting of NATO defense ministers last week in Seville, Spain, produced only small offers.
Earlier on Tuesday, a Senate committee in Canada said the government should a consider withdrawing from Afghanistan unless NATO allies deliver additional troops.
Canada's 2,500 troops play a key role in the front-line southern provinces and have suffered relatively high casualties. Craddock said any decision to pull them out would create a "terrible situation."
Craddock said securing the right sort of specialized troops and equipment was more important than simply pouring in manpower.
He said the decision last month by the United States to extend the tour of more than 3,000 of its soldiers has given the force a much-needed mobile reserve. However, he said the force was still about 7 percent short of full strength.
He declined to give exact numbers, saying that could give important information to the Taliban. But officials at the meeting in Seville said NATO was looking for up to 2,500 additional ground troops.
"There has to be a coherent, simultaneous effort to secure and stabilize," Craddock said in reply to French and German doubts raised in Seville about the need for more troops. "You can't get long term development and reconstruction without security."
Craddock said the high level of casualties sustained by the Taliban in clashes with NATO last year made it unlikely they would seek an all-out confrontation this spring. Instead, he noted they had returned to hit-and-run tactics with an increase in roadside bombs.
He said improvised explosive devices used by the insurgents were becoming more sophisticated, but were not yet as powerful as armor-piercing bombs used in Iraq which the U.S. military this week claimed to have traced to Iran.
Meanwhile, NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said more than 300 British marines cleared "a stronghold of Taliban extremists" around a hydroelectric dam in the Kajaki district of Helmand province — a region that has been the target of Taliban attacks.
Provincial police chief Ghulam Nabi Malakhail said 15 Taliban fighters were killed in three days of fighting.
Elsewhere, fighting in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province killed seven Taliban militants, including a commander, Malakhail said. He said that NATO and Afghan forces suffered no casualties.
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Troop deficit in Afghanistan endangering soldiers: NATO chief
Tue Feb 13, 11:38 AM ET
MONS, Belgium (AFP) - NATO nations are putting the lives of their soldiers in danger in Afghanistan by refusing to provide enough troops to fight off the Taliban, the alliance's military chief warned.
"If you don't source this to 100 percent," said NATO military commander US General Bantz Craddock, "it places every NATO soldier there at greater risk."
Speaking to reporters at NATO military headquarters in Mons, southern Belgium, Craddock said that military needs -- known as the joint statement of requirements -- are "probably filled to 93 or 94 percent."
"I want full sourcing of the combined joint statement of requirements: 100 percent," he said.
In Spain on Thursday, Craddock urged NATO defence ministers to provide two more battalions and important support forces to put down the resistance of the Taliban, whose attacks increased four-fold last year.
But some of the alliance's 26 member countries insisted that it was vitally important to focus on reconstruction, and not just security, to provide hope for ordinary Afghans.
Danish Defence Minister Soren Gade said: "It is also immoral if we as NATO countries send young soldiers to Afghanistan risking their lives and we have nothing else to offer other than a military presence."
NATO has, since 2003, been leading the 35,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which draws forces from 37 nations and has been trying to broaden the influence of Afghanistan's weak central government.
Denmark is among the biggest contributors per capita.
Craddock said Tuesday that it was also important for countries to lift their caveats, or restrictions they place on the use of their soldiers, which deprive commanders of the flexibility to re-deploy troops easily in times of combat.
"If we can't have full sourcing, then let's get rid of the caveats so the commanders on the ground have flexibility and they have the ability to provide the best response possible," he said.
"The worst case is to not source the requirement and put restraints on commanders for the use of the forces," he warned.
Craddock said he remained optimistic that nations would come forward and noted that "small contributions of an enabling nature can be very significant."
NATO has struggled for about a year to find helicopters, aircraft and logistics experts -- worth a combined total of some 1,500 personnel -- to deal with the insurgency.
He said that if Canada, which plays a major combat role in the south, were to pull out of Afghanistan, as urged by a parliamentary report if the allies do not find more troops, it would leave ISAF in a "terrible situation."
"We would not want that to happen," he said.
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General Warns of Perils in Afghanistan
By Ann Scott Tyson Washington Post Staff Writer Wednesday, February 14, 2007; A15
A senior U.S. military commander urged Pakistan yesterday to crack down on an entrenched network of senior Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders, training camps and recruiting grounds -- a sanctuary from which fighters have tripled cross-border attacks since September and are preparing an anticipated major spring offensive in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
Army Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, the outgoing top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, also warned that an even greater threat than the resurgent Taliban is the possibility that the government of President Hamid Karzai will suffer an irreversible loss of legitimacy among the Afghan population.
In response to the rising security threats, the Pentagon is expected to announce soon that it will keep U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan at a minimum of 27,000 into 2008, extending a temporary increase of 3,200 combat troops ordered last month.
"Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership presence inside of Pakistan remains a very significant problem," Eikenberry testified before the House Armed Services Committee, warning of the "growing threat of Talibanization" inside Pakistan.
"A steady, direct attack against the command and control in Pakistan in sanctuary areas is essential for us to achieve success," Eikenberry said, joining other U.S. officials in publicly pressuring the Islamabad government to crack down on the safe havens in its frontier regions.
Taliban forces in Pakistan's North Waziristan have staged mass attacks on U.S. border camps, including a strike in recent days that saw the U.S. military respond with artillery fire into Pakistan.
Eikenberry, who has spent two of the past four years in Afghanistan, offered a forthright assessment not only of the progress in the Central Asian nation but also of the stark challenges ahead.
"The long-term threat to campaign success . . . is the potential irretrievable loss of legitimacy of the government of Afghanistan," he said.
"The accumulated effects of violent terrorist insurgent attacks, corruption, insufficient social resources and growing income disparities, all overlaid by a major international presence, are taking their toll on Afghan government legitimacy," he said. "A point could be reached at which the government of Afghanistan becomes irrelevant to its people, and the goal of establishing a democratic, moderate, self-sustaining state could be lost forever."
A critical question, Eikenberry said, is whether the Afghan government is "winning." "In several critical areas -- corruption, justice, law enforcement and counter-narcotics -- it is not," he said. He called Afghan government institutions "extraordinarily weak."
Greater U.S. and international efforts are urgently needed to build a court and corrections system in Afghanistan, and to strengthen efforts to train an Afghanistan police force, which he said is "several years behind" compared with the development of the Afghan army. The Pentagon is seeking $5.9 billion this year and $2.7 billion in 2008 to build up Afghan security forces, including the police.
Eikenberry stressed that Taliban forces -- though making gains in relatively lawless regions of southern Afghanistan, which had few coalition troops until last summer -- have not been able to retake areas where the Afghan government and security forces have established a presence.
The decision to dispatch more U.S. forces is intended to bolster NATO's total contingent of 36,000 troops and to allow NATO to go on the offensive against a resurgent Taliban, Eikenberry said. NATO, which now has military oversight over all of Afghanistan, has provided only about 85 to 90 percent of the promised troops and other resources, and it faces shortages of infantry, military intelligence, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, Eikenberry said. "NATO must do more," Mary Beth Long, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security, testified in the same House hearing.
The Taliban resurgence has been supported by a strengthened command-and-control structure that moved across the border into Pakistan after U.S. forces toppled the Taliban government in 2001. Today, Eikenberry said, senior Taliban leaders from the ousted regime are collaborating with al-Qaeda leaders, as well as with other groups led by the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani clan of an ethnically Pashtun tribe.
The United States is "terribly concerned" about the Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership in Quetta, Pakistan, and other regions that direct attacks, conduct training in camps with the help of foreign fighters, and recruit from Islamic schools known as madrassas. "Action against those will be needed," Long said.
Pakistan's government in September struck a peace agreement that halted military raids in North Waziristan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, but since then the number of cross-border attacks has as much as tripled, Eikenberry said. "There've been problems with" the agreement, he said.
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To root out Taliban, Pakistan to expel 2.4 million Afghans
But simply shifting the world's largest refugee community across borders would only serve to raise tensions, analysts say.
By David Montero | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor JALOZAI, PAKISTAN
Like more than 100,000 Afghans, Maulana Mohammed Afzal has lived in the mud-baked lanes of this refugee camp ever since he fled war-ravaged Afghanistan 26 years ago. The camp is home for his family, but Pakistan's government says it's a threat to national security.
In its most recent effort to clamp down on Taliban activity within its borders, Pakistan has announced that all 2.4 million Afghan refugees, most living in camps, must return home by 2009. This and three other camps near the Afghan border, which together hold 230,000 refugees, are scheduled to be closed by the end of August.
"The problem of cross-border militancy is closely related to the presence of ... Afghan refugees in Pakistan," Munir Akram, Pakistan's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, wrote recently to the UN Security Council. "These camps have often given rise to complaints that they provide shelter to undesirable elements and Taliban."
Many disagree, however, saying Pakistan's Afghan refugees, most of whom are Pashtun and share the same tribal ethnicity as the Taliban movement, are only being made a scapegoat.
The debate comes as Robert Gates, in his first visit to Pakistan as US secretary of Defense, met with President Musharraf in Islamabad this week to discuss the Taliban's expected spring offensive in Afghanistan.
As pressure mounts on Pakistan, analysts say the fate of the Afghan refugee community – the world's largest – is an important piece in the puzzle of regional militancy. Simply shifting them across the border could flame tensions.
"[T]he Afghan government is not capable ... of providing for their rehabilitation. It will be a source of more conflict inside Afghanistan," says Aimal Khan, a political analyst at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad, which recently completed a study of Afghan refugees.
Violence draws new attention
Set against such a backdrop, a recent burst of violence radiating from Pakistan's tribal zone, including two attacks in the capital, Islamabad, has placed renewed attention on refugee camps as potential hotbeds, though no Afghan suspects have been identified.
The Jalozai camp, 18 miles from Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan, looks like a small, bustling city, with a mile-long bazaar offering a wealth of goods. But a cloud of controversy hangs over its dirt lanes. According to Western media reports, the camp has incubated several high-profile terrorists, including Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the first attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. FBI agents raided the camp in October 2002, arresting four Afghans they said were connected to Al-Qaeda.
Today Jalozai and other refugee camps, which are spread throughout the Northwest Frontier Province and Balochistan, help fuel the Taliban resurgence, the government says.
Repatriation could create new issues
Closing down the camps may ease the building pressure on Pakistan to combat militancy within its borders, but observers say the move could cause more problems than it solves.
An exodus of poor Afghans is likely to exacerbate existing social and economic problems inside Afghanistan. Moreover, refugees without a home or means to support themselves could fall in with the Taliban, either out of resentment or a practical need to survive.
"They're made a scapegoat," says Behroz Khan, a prominent journalist in Peshawar. "If these families are sent back by force ... these people will turn toward those forces that are against Pakistan."
Some 2.8 million Afghans have already voluntarily repatriated since 2002. Those who remain in camps feel they would be vulnerable if they return to Afghanistan, mostly because they are without land or shelter.
"I want to stay here. The government [in Afghanistan] is not in a favorable position. We have no residence in Afghanistan," says Mr. Afzal, originally from Kunduz Province in Afghanistan.
Better life in camps than back home
While conditions are poor in the Jalozai camp, many Afghans live better here than they would in Afghanistan, with well-built mud houses and well-kept schools. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, provides mobile health-care centers and water, amenities they may lack in a land many of them barely know.
Whether the largely Pashtun refugee population stays or goes, many in Washington say that assisting them is crucial in stemming the tide of Taliban militancy.
"[W]e need programs that address the grievances, the aspirations of the Pashtun population on both sides of that border," James Dobbins, an analyst at the RAND Corporation, told a recent Congressional hearing about Afghanistan's security.
Last week, a tripartite meeting of officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and UNHCR decided that refugees in the four camps scheduled to be closed this year will be given a choice: either to repatriate with assistance from UNHCR or to move to other camps that will remain open until 2009. In addition, more than 2 million Afghans recently registered with the government under a UNHCR program, granting them temporary resident status in Pakistan for three years.
Finding a solution to the problem is likely to be difficult, observers agree. Pakistan is not a signatory to the UN's 1951 Refugee Convention or its subsequent protocols, meaning there is no clear-cut policy on how to handle refugees here.
Many hope alternative solutions can be agreed upon. "We believe there should be a number of options. We have to look at ... how to address those who can't go home," says Vivian Tan, UNHCR's senior regional public information officer in Islamabad.
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Situation in Afghanistan's Musa Qala complex: NATO forces
People's Daily - Feb 14 1:14 AM
NATO troops in Afghanistan on Wednesday described the situation in the Taliban-held Musa Qala district center of the southern Helmand province as complex and the alliance had not taken any step to evict militants.
The situation in Musa Qala is complex and I need to reiterate again that the government remains a lead for the efforts there, a spokesman of NATO forces Tom Collins told newsmen at a news briefing.
He also said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is committed to supporting the Afghan government to retake it if asked. "ISAF remains its capability to provide whatever support the government wants but we have not been asked at this point to provide anything," he noted.
Some 300 Taliban fighters overran Musa Qala district center two weeks ago and the government has yet to take any step for its recapturing.
The Taliban, according to Helmand governor Assadullah Wafa, has reinforced some 700 fighters including Arabs and Chechens to the area to exert more pressure on the government and occupy more lands.
About 400 people, mostly Taliban insurgents, have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year.
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Casting call put out for Muslim volunteers for mock Afghan village in Alberta
Wednesday, February 14, 2007 Canadian Press
Afghans and Muslims between the ages of 18 and 60 - especially those who speak Farsi - are being asked to audition for roles in a virtual Afghan village being put together by members of the film industry. The village will be located in Wainwright, Alta., and will be used to train members of the military who are headed over to Afghanistan.
Auditioners could end up in a range of roles, from village leaders to interpreters and police chiefs.
Those who are chosen will be given between $150 and $250 per day, as well as travel expenses, meals and accommodations.
"By having the motion picture industry re-create a dramatic village setting with real civilians and real dramatic situations, military recruits will come to understand cultural, religious and political issues that will help them assist the Afghan people on their own terms," said casting director Rhonda Fisekci in a news release.
She said similar training has helped the United States and Great Britain reduce their injury and death rates.
The re-creation will be held from mid-April to mid-May. Participants will have to pass security clearance.
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Afghan villagers told they'll be expelled again if Canadian troops attacked
Tue Feb 13, 10:26 AM By Murray Brewster
PANJWAII, Afghanistan (CP) - NATO commanders and the governor of Kandahar have warned Afghan villagers returning to their shattered homes west of the city that they may be expelled again if Canadian troops face renewed attacks this spring.
The warning does not sit well with refugees, many of whom believe they're being forced to account for the actions of insurgents they can't control - or for accidents which may be of the military allies own making. In being allowed to return to their villages throughout Panjwaii and Zhari districts, "the condition was the Canadians shouldn't be shot again; they shouldn't be attacked," said Haji Abdul Rahim, a village elder from Talukan, about 50 kilometres from the provincial capital.
NATO has set up a one-kilometre buffer zone around its bases and convoys, Rahim said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press, conducted through a translator.
Incidents within those areas, he said, could be used as justification to eject civilians.
A forced evacuation could not, however, take place without the consent of Kandahar Gov. Assadullah Khalid.
A senior Canadian officer, who was present at a recent district meeting where resettlement was discussed, said the policy is not meant to be punitive, but is intended for public safety.
"The point I expressed to the elders and the governor backed me up on it: This is very much for the sake of people returning," said Lt.-Col. Omer Lavoie, commander of the Canadian battle group.
"The last thing we would ever want to happen is to have them caught between insurgent forces and coalition -or Afghan national security forces."
But for Rahim, the people of his village are already caught in the middle even before another shot is fired, and it will only get worse with the approach of spring, when fighting traditionally escalates.
"The Taliban are going to pressure the civilians to be with (them)," he said waving his arms excitedly.
"And from the other respect, the government is going to pressure the civilians to be (with them). Of the course the civilians are with the government, but how could the civilians take the responsibility of those things which they are not aware of?"
Regardless of the claimed benign intent of the warning, many of those being resettled were worried about whether the policy will be arbitrarily enforced. That is a legitimate fear in a land where many dealings still take place at the end of a gun barrel, rather than by the rule of law.
"Everyone does cruel things to us," Aghagul Asha, a Zhari district resident, said with a weary shrug.
Rahim, 58, who is also a member of the provincial council, told of an incident about two weeks ago when an Afghan army unit swooped down on a farmer's field after someone in the area reportedly took pot shots at a patrol.
Up to 25 farmhands were apparently arrested and some were allegedly beaten as troops looked for the source of the shooting, which had injured no one. The Afghan army would not confirm the incident, but Rahim said all but two of the suspects have now been released.
That kind of drumhead justice is what people have come to expect in this war-torn region.
But Lavoie tried to ease fears by saying there would be no "knee jerk" reaction from Canadian commanders.
In Zhari district, he said, some Taliban fighters have re-entered the village of Pasab and taken the occasional shots at them "and we certainly haven't gone in and evicted" any locals.
Throughout much of last summer and fall, Canadian troops led NATO in a string of engagements throughout this bone-dry, rock-ribbed farmland.
Taliban guerrillas were dug into fortified positions, mingled with the fields of marijuana and mined pathways. It produced a conventional battle the likes of which the Canadian army hadn't fought in nearly half a century. For weeks the countryside was churned with the grinding fire of heavy artillery and cratered by the burst of bombs.
Defeated by better trained and equipped western troops, the insurgents have since reverted to the guerrilla-style tactics of roadside bombings and mine-based booby traps.
Roughly 80,000 people were displaced by the fighting, many fleeing to either Kandahar city or squalid refugee camps. The process to repatriate them and deliver aid to the homeless began in early January, but it's been plagued with inaptitude and in some cases local corruption.
"The people of these villages have requested the governor that the areas be cleaned (of mines and other debris)," said Rahim.
While demining and explosive clearance has been underway for weeks, there is concern, particularly in Zhari district, that in the haste to get people back into their homes not all of unexploded munitions and leftover Taliban booby traps have been removed.
Those charges could still be out there waiting for a NATO soldier to step on, said Rahim.
"If they cannot clean it up, what could the civilian do?" asked Asha.
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Former Commander Sees Progress in Afghanistan
NPR - Feb 13 6:04 AM
Morning Edition, February 13, 2007 · Afghanistan remains a dangerous place, but a former commander of U.S. forces there says progress is being made as the country's weak government slowly extends its reach. Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry reviews the war in Afghanistan with Steve Inskeep.
Do Taliban forces pose a military threat in Afghanistan?
The Taliban military forces remain a much weaker enemy. Whenever the Taliban masses on the battlefield, those Taliban forces are defeated, always in very short order.
If the Taliban is not a significant military threat, then what is the challenge in Afghanistan?
We may have underestimated the amount of investment that would be needed in the country, which has got an extraordinarily difficult topography, several generations without education, several generations that knew nothing except the rule of [the] gun, that had not seen the rule of law. This is a generational effort.
When you say, "long-term conflict, trouble building a state, problems with corruption," some people will ask, is this on its way to being another Iraq?
It's on the steady path, right now … to, I believe, success.
Is the situation in any way comparable to Iraq at this time?
No. Afghanistan is Afghanistan; Iraq is Iraq. They're two very different campaigns.
Even though insurgents in Afghanistan are borrowing tactics from insurgents in Iraq, or so it seems?
I haven't served in Iraq. Here's how I'd categorize Afghanistan, though, [it's a] question of not a strong enemy … the challenge has been building the state of Afghanistan, extending the writ of governance. That has been a very steady growth of progress that we've had with the government of Afghanistan over the last six years.
Would you say that more of the country is secure and under the control of the central government than a few years ago?
Absolutely. Now, you'll say, paradoxically, how is that possible? There's been more incidence of violence, so how is [it] that there's more control now?
It's as the government of Afghanistan … continues to advance into its own ungoverned spaces that there are places in those ungoverned spaces where … Taliban influence, criminal influence, has increased. And so there's fighting as the government advances. It's a battle for ungoverned space.
I want to ask about a difference, perhaps, between the U.S. approach in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Iraq right now there's an increase in U.S. troops, by the tens of thousands, as well as an increase in reconstruction money. In Afghanistan there's also an increase in some troops, but it's much more a question of trying to spend more. Why focus more on the money?
Well, in Afghanistan, if the paradigm is not a strong enemy but a weak state, it makes great sense for further investments.
To give an example, we had a stretch of road, about 50 miles long. We had 50 improvised explosive attacks along that road. We went in and we improved that road. We've cut the travel time from 12 hours to two hours. Now you've got gas stations, now you've got health clinics and schools. Since we've improved that road, there has not been one improvised explosive device attack.
So, we could defend that road with 1,000 troops and keep it the way it was, or we can make an investment to improve the road. And now the Afghans are defending it.
Is there a limited amount of time before Afghans get tired of so many foreigners running around their country and simply want you out?
Well, that's a great question. The Afghans have been through 30 years of warfare. They still realize that if the international community leaves at this point, they will return to violence among themselves, and the hellhole that Afghanistan became.
So, I wouldn't say that time is necessarily against us. If we mismanage the campaign in Afghanistan, if the Afghans themselves don't stand up to their daunting challenges … time could start to work against us.
But still today, I think we're making significant enough progress that time's with us and with the Afghans.
In your almost two years in command in Afghanistan, can you recall any time that you knew where Osama bin Laden had been at some point?
No. No. Steve, if we go back to the time of [2001, yes], but subsequently no, we do not know where bin Laden is.Back to Top
Japan provides 6.7-mln-dollar aid to Afghanistan
People's Daily - Feb 13 4:15 PM
The Afghan Foreign Ministry said Tuesday Japan has agreed to provide a grant of 6.7 million U.S. dollars to Afghanistan.
According to a statement from the ministry, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta and Japan's ambassador to Afghanistan Junichi Kosuge inked the agreement on the grant on Tuesday.
The grant spent in a project called Program for Improvement of Kabul Road Engineering Center (KREC) includes construction and renovation of various buildings such as the repair workshop, administration building and heavy machinery parking buildings.
Japan has contributed more than 800 million U.S. dollars to this post-Taliban state over the past five years, officials say.
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Ex-CIA contractor gets 8 years for prisoner abuse
By Gene Cherry Tue Feb 13, 6:04 PM ET
RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - A former CIA contractor who was the first civilian charged with detainee abuse in the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was sentenced on Tuesday to more than eight years in prison for assaulting an Afghan prisoner who later died.
David Passaro, a former Special Forces medic, was convicted last August in a case that raised questions about the treatment of war detainees by U.S. interrogators.
U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle sentenced Passaro to 100 months in prison on a felony count of assault causing serious injury and six months each on three misdemeanor counts of simple assault, to run concurrently, for a total of eight years and four months.
Passaro was convicted of beating Abdul Wali, who died of his injuries two days after a June 2003 interrogation. Prosecutors said Passaro hurt the prisoner so badly that he pleaded to be shot to end his pain.
"I didn't show Wali the compassion he deserved," Passaro told Boyle in the federal court in Raleigh, North Carolina. "I'm ashamed of it."
The indictment said Passaro worked at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan that was frequently subjected to rocket attacks and Wali was a suspect in the attacks.
During trial, Passaro's lawyers portrayed their client as someone who went out of his way to offer care to Wali. They said Passaro even performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in an unsuccessful attempt to revive him.
Guidelines given to U.S. interrogators have been an issue since a scandal broke over the abuse and humiliation of prisoners by Americans at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in 2004.
Prisoners released from the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where the United States is holding suspected Taliban and al Qaeda members, also say they were tortured or abused.
Critics say U.S. government guidelines on what constitutes torture, issued since the September 11 attacks, have created a climate in which abuses of detainees have flourished.
In a letter to the judge, the former governor of Afghanistan's Kunar province, Said Fazel Akbar, said the prisoner's death did "tremendous damage" to the credibility of the American-led coalition there and was used as propaganda by al Qaeda and Taliban forces.
"The distrust of the Americans increased, the security and reconstruction efforts of Afghanistan were dealt a blow, and the only people to gain from Dave Passaro's actions were al Qaeda and their partners," he wrote.
Although the government for a sentence of 11 1/2 years, U.S. Attorney George Holding applauded the sentence.
"Passaro's conduct was truly a heinous crime," he said. "It is an affront and insult to every man and woman serving overseas trying to bring freedom and the rule of law to those who are oppressed."
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Afghanistan: Inadequate care for trauma victims
KABUL, 13 Feb 2007 (IRIN) - In October 2006, Jamila, a resident of Panjwai district in the southern province of Kandahar, fled to Kandahar city after heavy fighting between the anti-government insurgents and NATO-led forces. Every day she has flashbacks to the planes flying overhead and bombs being dropped. She knows these images are not real but cannot stop herself from shouting out.
Jamila’s experience is not unusual. The psychological fallout from the conflict over the past three decades continues to be neglected, although estimates suggest huge numbers suffer from varying degrees of trauma. A spokesman for the Ministry of Health, Abdullah Fahim, said psychological disorders could be affecting up to 85 percent of the population, while the World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman, Sayed Saeid Azimi, said the WHO estimated half the population had some psychological problems or disorders.
Often invisible and largely unquantifiable, mental health has been pushed into the background while agencies and health personnel focus on the more visible physical ailments.
“Only [having] medicine, food, clothes and household appliances cannot help them recover,” says Hafizullah Hafiz, programme manager of mental health at Healthnet, a non-governmental agency.
WHO estimates the country has just two qualified psychologists in its health system and there is only one mental health hospital, in Kabul.
Traumatised by bombing
Mahmood, a resident ofa Sperwan village of Panjwayi district, has personal experience of the inadequate mental health facilities. A young girl from his village was traumatised by the bombing. Mahmood and others have taken her to “all the doctors in Kandahar city”; the doctors say the girl is mentally ill but have not been able to help. “We cannot tolerate listening to her crying. We are so troubled about her. We would be happy if she dies.”
According to a 2006 WHO report on the mental health system in Afghanistan, the budget allocation for mental health in 2004 was US$100,000 out of a total health budget of $289.4 million.
“Taking into account the budgetary problems, the Ministry of Health has identified a series of basic health services to address the health emergency problems of the patients and psychological/mental problems are prioritised in the second line of this process,” said Health Ministry spokesman, Abdullah Fahim.
Ruhullah Nassery, the national mental health coordinator in the Ministry of Public Health, reckoned mental health was the most neglected aspect of healthcare in Afghanistan and said a larger allocation for the sector had been sought in the forthcoming budget. Nassery expressed hope that the donor community would pay more attention to this aspect of healthcare.
Despite earlier declarations by the Ministry of Public Health, the country has yet to initiate a mental health policy and legislation.
Nassery said there was a need for integrated mental health services in the provinces as part of basic primary healthcare. However, although training in mental health issues has begun, funding constraints have limited numbers.
Efforts by NGOs have been sporadic and are largely limited to urban centres, especially the capital, Kabul. Yet the effects of psychological trauma are being felt most acutely in the rural areas of the southern provinces where violent fighting increased dramatically in 2006, and is expected to worsen in 2007. Several agencies IRIN spoke to, including the Afghan Red Crescent, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the International Security Assistance Force’s provincial reconstruction team, all said they had no programmes for mental health in the south.
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35 kms along Pak-Afghan border to be fenced: Kasuri
Islamabad, Feb 13 (ANI): Five points along 35 kilometres of the 1491 mile long Durand Line, Pakistan shares with Afghanistan will be fenced, but not mined, the country's Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri has said.
He said Pakistan's borders with Afghanistan had always been open and Islamabad wouldn't want to mine certain portions along the border, as it had earlier envisaged.
However, five points along the border would be fenced and Afghans will be issued with bio-metric cards to stop instances of cross border infiltration.
"Pak-Afghan borders have been open for centuries but what should we do? We want to stop wrong elements from entering Afghanistan that is why we have decided to fence five points on the borders. Pakistan Army has already been given the task to do this work. Thirty-five kilometres of this long border would be fenced. To stop alleged infiltration, we have introduced bio-metric cards," said Kasuri.
Pakistan's move to fence and mine its border with Afghanistan had come in for flak from Afghanistan, the UN and the six party religious alliance, MMA.
While Kabul and the MMA said the move would besides endangering lives divide the ethnic Pashtoon community, the UN said the move had the possibility of causing more casualties in a region already littered with ordnance.
Pakistan had in December announced its plan to fence and mine parts of its border with Afghanistan to prevent cross border movement of terrorists.
Afghanistan has repeatedly accused Pakistan of not doing enough to control al Qaeda and Taliban elements from carrying out insurgent raids into southern and south-eastern Afghanistan.
Afghanistan also doesn't recognise the recognize the 1491 mile long Durand line as the international border demarcating the ethnic Pashtoon dominated areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In a hard hitting statement, Kabul had said the move to fence and mine the border would fail to 'confront terrorists in a real manner', adding that Islamabad should rather concentrate on containing the militant elements from sneaking into Afghan border regions to attack Afghan and NATO forces.
Interestingly, tribesmen from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) had announced support for the federal government's decision to fence the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
In a grand jirga at Wana, capital of South Waziristan, last month, tribesmen said the measure would bring an end to the Afghan authorities' accusations of terrorist infiltration.
The jirga however, opposed the mining of the border, saying it would risk the lives of innocent people and wildlife.
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Afghan schools face murderous challenge
IWPR February 13, 2007 Middle East Times, Egypt
HELMAND, Afghanistan -- The Afghan success story of getting both boys and girls back into school is failing badly in Helmand province. In the post-Taliban era, going to school was meant to have become easier, but teachers and pupils at the Chan Junior High School for Boys have been threatened regularly. Then, January 7 this year, the headmaster of this school in Helmand province was murdered.
The threats continued. "Teachers have been warned that if they re-open the school, the same thing will happen to them," said one teacher from the school, too afraid to give his name because he feared reprisals. "But we do not know who is threatening us."
As a result of the warnings, the school remains closed, leaving 1,700 students without an education and 35 teachers out of work.
This came as a blow to one of Chan Junior's students, 19-year-old Rahimullah. Under new reforms, he and his fellow students are now able to study subjects once banned under the Taliban, such as mathematics and science, and girls are allowed to attend school again. But when the headmaster was killed, his school shut down before he could graduate.
"I had many hopes," said Rahimullah. "I worked for 12 years and had just four months left to graduate. When our principal was killed, everything was destroyed. And [now] parents are too afraid to send their daughters to school."
Progress on education has been heralded as one of Afghanistan's great triumphs since the fall of the Taliban, who ruled from 1996 to 2001. But residents of Helmand, one of the country's largest provinces, have steadily seen their schools close and class attendance decline.
From 2001 to 2003 no schools were burned in Helmand. But, as in many provinces that border Pakistan, warfare with insurgent forces swelled there in the years that followed. According to local people and education officials, the worsening breaches in security in Helmand have sometimes been directed toward schools, teachers, and students.
Saiful Maluk Noori, head of the provincial education department, said that of the 224 schools in Helmand, approximately 111 are closed. Schools are operating in only three of the province's 14 districts.
In the last five years, Helmand has built 80 new schools and rebuilt 16. But within that same period 36 schools have been torched, and the Taliban and other insurgents have killed 30 teachers and students, Noori claims.
Overall, the Afghan education ministry says 2006 was the worst year for school violence since 2001, with 64 students and education staff killed, and 191 schools burned nationwide. Most of the attacks have occurred in provinces that border Pakistan.
Like most government officials, Noori blamed the Taliban for the violence, though many in Helmand admit they cannot be certain of who the perpetrators of the attacks on schools are.
The growing violence has compelled Hamayoon, a 32-year-old mother from the Marja district, to halt her children's education.
"Months ago, I stopped letting my children go to school because my children and I received threats from the Taliban, or some other people," she said, echoing many parents' concerns. "They warned me: 'If you go to school we will kill you.' I know my children's future will be worse if they do not go to school; they will not learn and they will not be educated. I have asked the government to improve security in Marja district, especially for the schools."
The Taliban are often accused of targeting girls-only and co-education schools. When they ruled Afghanistan they forbade education for girls and banned most non-Islamic studies.
Once the Taliban government was toppled after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, girls were able to return to school again. But in Helmand, like many parts of the country, the percentage of girls attending school is far smaller than it is for boys. According to Noori, of the 111,000 pupils registered in Helmand, 99,000 are boys. The education ministry says that, countrywide, there are roughly 6 million children enrolled in state schools, of whom 35 percent are girls.
Yet Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesperson, pledges that once they return to power: "We will educate girls. We did not do so previously because the situation was not good. Just when we were ready to open schools, our government was overthrown."
Ahmadi added that such schools would essentially be religious schools, or madrassas, where Islamic subjects are taught. "We will not teach subjects like maths and science," he said. "We want to bring people over to our side; that is why we will be opening schools."
Ahmadi denied that the Taliban were behind the violence that has targeted school buildings, teachers, and pupils.
"We do not burn schools or kill teachers," he said. "We have only burned two schools in Afghanistan - one in Ghazni and one in Zabul. [And] that is because they were preaching Christianity. Those who are burning schools are just trying to vilify the Taliban."
The threat of violence is not the only hindrance to Afghan schooling. Helmand province is the country's largest producer of opium, accounting for about 40 percent of Afghanistan's total, and nearly 40 percent of the world's, supply.
During harvest season, from late May to late June, many pupils leave their classes to work on poppy fields, where they can earn up to $330 in two weeks.
Interviews with pupils from five Helmand schools indicated that about half of them drop out during the poppy harvest. According to one teacher, opium cultivation removes most of her class during the spring season. "If there are 2,000 pupils in the school, 1,500 of them leave to harvest poppy," she said.
But this teacher added that school staff also work in the fields during the poppy harvest, to augment their meager incomes.
Despite these deterrents, some parents remain dedicated to providing their children with an education. Huma, a mother from Helmand's provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, is one such parent who braves myriad challenges for her children.
"Last year, unidentified gunmen fired on a school in the city and killed a pupil and a school guard," she said. "That means the schools are not safe for our children. Things can happen at any time." Yet Huma still allows her children to go to school. "When they leave the house in the morning, I pray to God until they are back at noon," she added.
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Afghan President To Visit Turkmenistan, Britain, Italy
Radio Free Afghanistan, Afghanistan
KABUL, February 13, 2007 -- The office of Hamid Karzai says the Afghan President is to travel to Britain and Italy this week, after visiting Turkmenistan for the inauguration of the country's new leader on Wednesday (February 14).
Karzai's office said he was due to meet Prime Minister Tony Blair in London to discuss the fight against terrorism and narcotics, and Britain's assistance to Afghanistan. In Rome, Karzai is due to meet President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Romano Prodi. Britain and Italy have about 5,200 and 2,000 troops in Afghanistan, respectively.
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Win not top target for Afghanistan in Olympic qualifier: coach
Thanh Nien Daily (Vietnam) February 13, 2007
A win over Vietnam is not the main goal but displaying Afghanistan’s aspiration to play football, the country’s coach, Sung Jea Lee, told the press upon arrival in Hanoi Monday for an Olympic qualifier.
The U23 teams are scheduled to play Tuesday with the winner going through to the next round. Originally scheduled for last Wednesday, the game was postponed after Afghanistan failed to turn up because of flight problems.
The Korean coach said his players had trained for two months but the harsh climate in the country had hampered their drills.
“We did not play a match last year and our last match was in late 2005 in the South Asian Football Championship in Pakistan.”
Afghanistan beat Sri Lanka 2-1 and lost 1-9 and 0-1 to the Maldives and Pakistan respectively.
Source: VietnamNet – Translated by Minh Phat
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A church open to the public still a ‘remote’ dream in Afghanistan
‘Missio sui iuris’ superior talks about the growing number of Catholic expatriates attending his church. He hopes to see the existing mother church inside the Italian Embassy in Kabul widened. The prospect of a Christian place of worship outside diplomatic missions or military camps remains however virtually impossible.
AsiaNews.it / February 13, 2007
Kabul (AsiaNews) – Afghanistan’s expatriate Catholic community is growing and its pastor, Fr Giuseppe Moretti, would like to see the “existing mother church widened.” The place of worship itself has stood inside the compound of the Italian Embassy since it was built in the 1930s. And it is also very likely that it will stay that way because there is little hope that any church can be built outside foreign compounds or diplomatic missions.
Speaking to AsiaNews Fr Moretti, missio sui iuris superior to Afghanistan, described how Christians are able to worship today in what is still in many ways Taliban country. He explained that “in addition to the historic church in the Italian Embassy, there is a multifunctional centre under construction inside the Italian compound in Herat where the holy mass can be celebrated. Until it is finished religious services are performed under a tent.”
Like Italy’s base in Heart, other military bases have chapels. Some like that of Canada also have a mosque for Afghan soldiers.
In Kabul’s Camp Invicta the church is actually in brick and mortar, separate from other buildings.
“Last December 8 a short circuit virtually destroyed the church. But it was rebuilt, better and more beautiful than before,” Fr Moretti said.
Other foreign military contingents operating in Afghanistan like the French, the Portuguese, the Americans and the Greeks have a chapel in their own camps.
“Afghans working with foreigners are glad to see that Westerners have a place of worship to profess their faith,” he added. “It is a reason for greater respect on the part of the population”.
Despite all the obstacles, Fr Moretti’s dream of seeing a Catholic church open to the public has not died. In 1992 an agreement in principle had been reached when a representative of the last pro-Communist government under Najibullah met the missio sui iuris superior with plans to build a church. The evolution of Afghanistan’s political situation with the renewed civil war, the Taliban takeover and the US invasion prevented those plans from being implemented.
“Who knows when it will happen? Maybe in a century,” the Barnabite priest said. “But fortunately God’s timing is not ours. I’d be happy just to see the existing mother church widened because of the growing number of faithful.”
About 150 people now attend Sunday mass in a place built for a maximum of 100.
“The community of faithful, all foreigners, is very lively,” Fr Moretti said. “Just last week I was asked when Ash Wednesday would be celebrated. That is a sign of great interest, let us hope.”
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A Celebration for Afghan's World-Renowned Rugs
Voice of America By Tony Budny Atlanta, Georgia 12 February 2007
The southeastern U.S city of Atlanta recently hosted an exhibition celebrating Afghanistan's world-renowned rugs and the part they have played in shaping the nation's heritage and culture. Sponsored by the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC and the U.S. Department of Commerce, the show was designed to attract buyers and re-energize the product identity, or "brand," that Afghanistan's rugs have developed over centuries. VOA's George Dwyer narrates for producer Tony Budny.
It is the most prestigious event of its kind in the United States -- Atlanta's annual International Area Rug Market at the city's AmericasMart Exposition Center.
This year the show featured a major exhibit on the rugs of Afghanistan, sponsored in part by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce David Sampson says, "This Afghan rug trade mission is an important part of the Commerce Department's strategy to help develop Afghanistan's private sector and increase trade between the U.S. and Afghanistan and we invited them to showcase their best products at America's premier rug show."
Sampson says the goal of the exhibit organizers is to encourage better commercial relationships between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Trade between the two nations has been seriously weakened by decades of armed conflict in Afghanistan. Now there is an effort to turn that around.
"We believe that it is possible to build a very broad-based export-based economy within Afghanistan and the commitment of the United States and certainly the Department of Commerce is long-term to help build this economic recovery."
Those sentiments were echoed by Afghanistan's Ambassador to the United States Said Tayeb Jawad. "The possibilities for the expansion of the Afghan rug market into the U.S. is big as you know. Fortunately there is a lot of good will in the United States for Afghanistan, for the Afghan culture. Most of the Afghan products -- including rugs -- have duty free access to U.S. markets and with your support and assistance we are hopeful to re-establish the share of the Afghan market in the United States once again."
Sharon Kerwick came to Atlanta as a professional appraiser representing potential buyers. She acknowledges there is a lot of work put into production. "This is interesting to me as a collector because it is a particular design I have not seen before and there is a lot of work involved.”
Looking closer she adds, "There are quite a few techniques in this particular piece. The quality is the full range. Afghanistan wools are fine; sometimes you even find a little silk."
The large turnout at this event helped remind visitors here that, for all the turmoil of recent decades, Afghanistan is still among the world's most important producers of handmade ornamental rugs. Growth in this market sector offers the promise of growth and stability as a whole for a national transitioning into increased participation in the global economy.
Mohammad Amin Farhang is Afghanistan's Minister for Commerce. He says the country is trying to improve. "This is a very important and critical time. Before, the government has control over all markets and trade. But now the country is trying to improve its private sector so that people from different areas are encouraged to work together and take this private sector to the next level."
The exhibit also helped to reinforce the fact that Afghanistan's rugs are a vital part of its national identity, and serve as powerful symbols of building on the past to create a better future for the country.
"President Bush is committed to helping rebuild Afghanistan and achieve great security and prosperity for its people and this exhibit is a down payment on that commitment," Sampson said.
It is also a colorful reminder of the ancient roots of Afghanistan's international trade.
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Violence against women: 300 cases registered in '06
KABUL, Feb 12 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The Ministry of Women Affairs on Monday announced that 300 cases of violation of women rights were registered in the country over the previous year.
Speaking at a news conference here, Qazi Fauzia Amini, head of the women rights department said some 530 such cases were registered in 2005. However, the ratio had dropped to 300 during 2006.
Those cases included forced marriages, murder, rape, beating, self-immolation and suicides. She said decades of war and civil strife, illiteracy, widespread poverty and respect for outdated customs and tradition were the main elements responsible for violence against women in the country.
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Would-be suicide bomber arrested in Uruzgan
KABUL, Feb 12 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Intelligence officials in Kabul said on Monday police had arrested a would-be suicide bomber in the southern province of Uruzgan while planning to target the US troops.
Identified as Ali Gul Malakhel, the would-be suicide bomber admitted a former Taliban police chief of Kabul, now residing in Pakistan's Quetta, had assigned him the task to target the US forces.
In a video-tape handed over to Pajhwok Afghan News by the intelligence directorate, the detainee revealed that he had been given 400,000 Pakistani rupees for the task.
Sitting in an overstretched sofa, the video is showing the apparently relaxed man telling his interrogators that he belonged to the Ajristan district of the southern Ghazni province.
Intelligence officials said the man in his twenties was captured along with explosives and other devices in Tirinkot, capital of the southern Uruzgan province.
The detainee recalls his trip to Pakistan, Iran and back to Quetta. "In Quetta city of Pakistan, I came across a Taliban member, whom I knew long ago," narrates the young man with dark complexion.
From there, he said, the Taliban started efforts to prepare him for suicide attack in Afghanistan. Asked why he opted for the extreme step, the young said he was told that it was jihad or holy war. "I opt for the step to get Shahadat (martyrdom) by carrying out a suicide attack," he added.
Asked why he failed to carry out suicide attack, the detainee said he was waiting for the US forces. He said he was trying to avoid civilian casualties and target only the US troops.
About the sanctuaries of Taliban in Quetta, he named some areas in a single breath and said Taliban commanders were freely operating in that city. He said they had their homes as well as running training camps.
However, he would not say as how he came to know about those camps and houses of the Taliban commanders.
Ahmad Khalid Moahid
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MPs concerned over display of 'vulgar photographs'
KABUL, Feb 12 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Members of the Wolesi Jirga on Monday expressed concern over display of half-naked photographs in the city and asked security officials to take action against people responsible for the act.
The issue was raised in the parliament by Noorzia Atmar, female MP from the eastern Nangarhar province. She said she himself observed such photographs of men and women pasted on walls in front of Pamir Cinema in the city.
She said display of such photographs was against Islam as well as the culture of Afghanistan. How could we call it an Islamic society when half-naked photos were on display even in the capital, she questioned.
The female MP asked the speaker of the House to summon the Minister for Information, Culture and Youth Affairs to the parliament to explain why action was not being initiated against the responsible individuals.
Mohammad Khalid Farooqi, head of the media commission of the lower house of parliament, said they would handover a policy to the minister concerned regarding the display of vulgar literature in the country.
Speaker of the Wolesi Jirga Younus Qanuni also resented the display of unwanted photographs in front of cinema houses or at other places and said they would recommend serious action to discourage display of such pictures.
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Governor for end to corruption
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Feb 12 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Dr Ahmad Mushahid, chief of the Independent Administration Reforms Civil Service Commission (IARCSC), has lauded the role of the commission in bringing reforms in governmental departments.
He said this during his visit to the northern province of Balkh on Monday. Mushahid attended a gathering on reforms in governmental offices which was largely attended by provincial officials.
Speaking on the occasion, the CSC director said they had planned to start the reforms programme in all offices in the province. "In the past, appointments were used to be made on the basis of ethnicities, but the establishment of the commission had improved the situation and people are now employed on the basis of merit."
Dr Mushahid said they had established 40 capacity building centres in which some 2,500 civil servants had so far been imparted training on management and computer applications.
Regarding corruption in the government departments, Mushahid said it was still existing in some offices which often create law and order situation for the local administration.
Addressing the gathering, Governor of the province Ata Mohammad Noor said the reform programme should be started from courts. He said courts were the key organs in ensuring the writ of law in the country and it must be purged of corrupt elements.
Ahmad Naim Qadiri
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