Afghanistan: In London, Focus Is On Spring Security Challenges
By Jan Jun
15 February 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Taliban say their spring offensive started in southern Afghanistan when they seized the town of Musa Qala in early February. Since then, there has been a series of battles around the nearby Kajaki Dam -- the main focus of international reconstruction efforts for Afghanistan's volatile south. The former British commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan spoke at a London symposium on the strategic challenges facing Afghanistan this spring.
Although snow still blocks Afghanistan's high mountain passes, warmer temperatures have already thawed the northeastern part of Helmand Province.
That's the location of the Kajaki Dam -- the key reconstruction project in southern Afghanistan. If engineers can rebuild the hydroelectric generators -- and restore 110 kilometers of power lines to Kandahar -- some 1.8 million Afghans will have access to a reliable source of energy for the first time in decades. Thousands of jobs could be created.
Taliban fighters have held the town of Musa Qala -- about 25 kilometers from the dam -- since seizing it on February 2. The governor of Helmand Province says hundreds of Taliban fighters -- bolstered by Pakistani, Chechen, and Uzbek militants -- crossed the border from Pakistan this week in an attempt to derail the dam's reconstruction. NATO confirms that Taliban fighters have been firing rockets from a distance but causing no serious damage.
From Kajaki, "London Times" correspondent Anthony Loyd reports that the past six weeks have been "filled with fighting" for hundreds of British Royal Marines.
Targeting Kajaki Dam
But Britain's Lieutenant General David Richards -- commander of NATO-led ISAF troops in Afghanistan until the day Musa Qala was seized -- says NATO is in control of the area around the dam.
Richards told RFE/RL at the London symposium, which was organized by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, that he would not call the recent fighting a "Taliban offensive."
"It's actually the result of ISAF forces clearing the Taliban out of that area to allow the Kajaki Dam Project to take place," Richards said. "The Taliban don't want [the project] to take place, because they see that as a big propaganda coup for the government and the international community. So it's ISAF going into areas [that the Taliban] don't want to see us in."
Richards said support for the Taliban has fallen dramatically in southern Afghanistan in the past year, since militants failed to achieve their stated goal of capturing Kandahar. He said the latest Taliban violence is an attempt by militants to show that they are not defeated.
With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Chinese engineers plan to restart work on the Kajaki Dam's power station soon. Work was halted in 2006 because of almost daily mortar attacks on the project's base camp. But the Chinese subcontractors will not restart their work until a 6-kilometer security zone is created around the dam.
Richards declared early in 2007 that the security zone has already been established.
In London, he said recent fighting is the result of NATO efforts to keep Taliban fighters from returning to the area around the dam.
"Well, that's why the fighting is taking place -- because we've got to provide room to allow the development to take place," Richards said. "It is a hugely important project for the people of the whole southern region."
Many experts speaking at the London symposium agreed that the Taliban appears to be losing momentum.
David Kilcullen, chief strategist in the Office of the Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism at the U.S. State Department, said fighting already under way this spring does not signal Taliban success.
"There is a seasonal character to the war in Afghanistan, and there always has been," Kilcullen said. "You know, we call it a 'spring offensive.' They call it 'spring.' Every spring, someone is launching an offensive. So I think we don't want to overstate necessarily the strength of the Taliban in the south. And certainly NATO and the Afghan government are in a much stronger position as well in the south. So I think we can anticipate an increased Taliban effort. But that doesn't necessarily translate into Taliban success."
Killkullen claimed Taliban activities have been limited to several provinces, with nearly 90 percent of the population "living in areas not affected by them." But he warned that the Taliban is now comprised of a "third generation" of more sophisticated fighters -- a tough adversary that is far from defeat.
And he said regular reinforcements continue to cross the border from Pakistan.
'Comprehensive Approach Needed'
The London symposium was attended by 300 defense and security specialists, NATO and British Commonwealth military attaches, and British parliamentarians.
Former Afghan ministers and opposition figures, academics, and specialists were also in attendance.
The gathering came as visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai met the same day with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Ali Jalali, a professor of the Near East/South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University in Washington and a former Afghan interior minister, concluded that the current strategy needs broadening.
"Insufficient investment in Afghanistan and also failure to address strategic issues regarding the situation inside Afghanistan and in the region led to deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan," Jalali said. "So what is needed now is a comprehensive approach: troops, money, and a regional approach."
Some speakers at the symposium argued that the Taliban could have been defeated long ago, if there had been greater cooperation with Pakistan on security, more investment in reconstruction, and more troops from the 37 countries in the antiterrorism coalition.
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Upbeat Karzai, Blair press Pakistan on Afghan spring offensive
Thu Feb 15, 12:21 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have voiced confidence that Taliban insurgents can be defeated, but pressed Pakistan to help curb a planned spring offensive.
Blair, speaking after talks in London, vowed that Britain and 36 other nations led by the United States will stay the course in the violence-scarred country, which faces a resurgent Taliban threat five years after the Islamic extremists were ousted from power.
"We are determined to do everything we can to make sure that mission is successful in the south of Afghanistan as we believe it will be," Blair told a news conference at his Downing Street office on Wednesday.
"This is a common battle. This is why it's important that Britain stays the course in Afghanistan," he added.
Karzai voiced satisfaction with what he said was a trend of cooperation from neighbouring Pakistan in recent months and of reduced terrorist incidents in the country since September.
"I have been urging stronger participation in the fight against terrorism with us by our brothers in Pakistan," he said.
"I can say that with recent activities in Pakistan I can speak with satisfaction and I hope that this will continue into the future. We have been fairly secure since September last year," he said.
He also voiced confidence that a Taliban offensive, expected in the coming weeks as winter snows melt, can be contained.
"The fight against the Taliban can be strengthened, can be contained. There are already signs of that. And we hope that with the coperation that we are getting from our neighbours the fight will be won and won sooner," he said.
But both he and Blair -- whose country provides the second largest number of NATO troops fighting Taliban rebels in southern Afganistan -- pressed Pakistan to keep helping to prevent insurgents coming across the Pakistan-Afghan border.
"This succes will only come by better, stronger cooperation .. between Pakistan and Afghanistan," said the Afghan leader.
Blair echoed the message. "Let me make absolutely one thing clear to you: everything we do is about saying to Pakistan, 'you must close down the possibilities of any support coming from over the border ... for the Taliban.
"We believe that there is a strategic interest in Pakistan itself," he said.
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Negotiations delaying recapture of Afghan town: minister
KABUL (AFP) - Political "complications" have stopped Afghan and NATO troops from using force to end the seizure of a small town by Taliban fighters more than two weeks ago, the defence minister said.
The government wants to negotiate the departure of Taliban rebels from the southern town of Musa Qala, to avoid civilian casualties.
But an elder involved in the talks has said the fighters, who took the town more than two weeks ago, have refused attempts at talks.
"From day one the ANA (Afghan National Army) was ready (to) launch operations together with ISAF forces, but because of political complications, negotiations that were suggested by the governor, we have waited," Defence Minister Rahim Wardak said.
"We will be continuing to observe developments in Musa Qala but whenever the time is right and we get the approval of the political authorities, we'll launch an operation," he told reporters in the capital.
A precision strike by International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) planes killed a Taliban commander behind the uprising early Wednesday. Another key commander was killed on February 4, but this has failed to dislodge the rebels.
The Taliban overran several small towns in remote parts of southern Afghanistan last year but they were easily removed by troops from the 37-nation ISAF.
The lengthy capture of Musa Qala is significant as it comes after a controversial deal last year that gave authority of the town to elders who said they wanted Taliban and ISAF to keep out, after fighting there caused severe damage.
The provincial government has said it wants to find a peaceful means to end the occupation, but a tribal elder in the village has told AFP the rebels have twice refused to negotiate.
In other violence linked to a Taliban insurgency, rebels ambushed a police convoy in the southern province of Uruzgan, sparking a gunfight that left a policeman and two rebels dead, police said.
Two more Taliban were arrested, provincial police chief Abdul Qayoom Qayomi told AFP.
In the northern province of Jawzjan, meanwhile, police shot and wounded two men on a motorbike carrying explosives who ignored warnings to stop outside the office of the provincial governor, the governor said.
Police had been tipped off earlier that the men were planning a suicide attack, governor Gomakhan Hamdard said in the provincial capital Sheberghan. It was not clear who the men, who were in hospital, were allied to, Hamdard said.
Reports said it was the first incident involving an improvised bomb in the province in two years.
The north of Afghanistan sees little of the Taliban-linked violence that plagues the south and most of the unrest in the area is linked to factional disputes and criminality.
Taliban militants have vowed even more bloodshed this year after 2006 was the deadliest since they picked up the insurgency after being removed from government in late 2001.
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Bush Announces More Troops For Afghanistan
February 15, 2007 (RFE/RL) --U.S. President George W. Bush said today more U.S. troops will go to Afghanistan to help counter an expected spring offensive by Taliban fighters.
In an address to the American Enterprise Institute at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, Bush also called his strategy of a troop surge to secure Baghdad essential for success in Iraq.
"We have extended the stay of 3,200 troops now in the country for four months and we will deploy a replacement force that will sustain this increase for the foreseeable future," Bush said. "The forces and funds are going to help President [Hamid] Karzai defeat common enemies."
The boost in troop levels comes as Bush said the enemy "struck back with a vengeance" in Afghanistan in 2006.
'Fill In the Security Gaps'
But the U.S. president also said "remarkable progress" has been achieved in Afghanistan.
And he announced he is asking Congress for $11.8 billion in aid for the country over the next two years.
Calling Afghanistan NATO's most important operation, Bush called on alliance partners to "make sure that we fill the security gaps" there.
"In other words, when there is a need, when our commanders on the ground say to our respective countries we need additional help, our NATO countries must provide it in order to be successful in this mission," Bush said. "As well, allies must lift restrictions on the forces they do provide so NATO commanders have the flexibility they need to defeat the enemy wherever the enemy may make its stand."
Turning to Iraq, Bush called his strategy of a troop surge to secure Baghdad essential for success there.
"So far, coordination between Iraqi and coalition forces has been good," he said. "They are beginning joint operations to secure the city by chasing down the terrorists and insurgents and the criminals and the roaming death squads. They are doing what the Iraqi people want in Baghdad."
Giving The Troops What They Need
He also said both political parties in the United States -- his own Republican Party and the opposition Democrats -- have a responsibility to give U.S. troops in Iraq the resources they need:
"Now, the House [of Representatives] is debating a resolution that disapproves of our new strategy," Bush said. "This may become the first time in the history of the United States Congress that it has voted to send a new commander into battle and then voted to oppose his plan that is necessary to succeed in that battle."
The new commander is Army General David Petraeus, who was recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate to lead U.S. forces in Iraq.
Bush said that if the United States were to leave Iraq before the job is done "the enemy would follow us home."
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Bush tells NATO to reinforce Afghanistan
By JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - President Bush on Thursday chided NATO nations that have hesitated to send additional troops to Afghanistan or allow their soldiers already there to fight in the violent south and under other dangerous circumstances.
"When our commanders on the ground say to our respective countries `We need additional help,' our NATO countries must provide it," Bush said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. "As well, allies must lift restrictions on the forces they do provide so NATO commanders have the flexibility they need to defeat the enemy wherever the enemy may make its stand."
Bush said that listening to his request is not only an obligation nations make as part of NATO, but is also crucial to their own security.
"The alliance was founded on this principle: an attack on one is an attack on all. That principle holds true whether the attack is on the home soil of a NATO nation or on allied forces deployed on a NATO mission abroad," he said. "By standing together in Afghanistan, NATO forces protect their own people."
The imbalance in Afghanistan has become a sore point among allies.
Troops from Canada, Britain, the Netherlands and the United States have been doing most of the fighting and leaders of those countries have been lobbying the other 22 allied countries to do more. Countries such as Germany, for instance, don't allow their forces to deploy to the heart of the Taliban insurgency in the south and east.
Fighting in Afghanistan the past year was the bloodiest since the U.S.-led war started in 2001 and toppled the Taliban regime. Commanders anticipate a renewed offensive this spring by Taliban fighters trying to stage a comeback and topple the elected government in Kabul.
Several countries have offered recently to provide additional support to the 35,500-strong NATO force, but it remains to be seen whether coalition commanders will get the troops, equipment and rules of engagement they say they need.
Bush said the need is great as spring comes, bringing an expected new offensive by the Taliban.
"The snow is going to melt in the Hindu Kush mountains and when it does we can expect fierce fighting to continue," the president said. "The Taliban and al Qaida are preparing to launch new attacks. Our strategy is not to be on the defense but to go on the offense. This spring there's going to be a new offensive in Afghanistan and it's going to be a NATO offensive. And that's part of our strategy — relentless in our pressure. We will not give in."
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Army redeploys brigade to Afghanistan
Wed Feb 14, 1:02 PM ET
WASHINGTON - An Army unit that had been scheduled to go to Iraq is being sent instead to Afghanistan, where fighting has increased and the U.S. troop level is at its highest of the war.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, was among several units the Pentagon said in November would go to Iraq as part of the normal rotation of forces. The department said in a statement Wednesday that the brigade of some 3,200 will deploy this spring to Afghanistan instead to relieve a unit overdue to go home.
Another unit will be found to replace the 173rd in Iraq.
Fighting in Afghanistan the past year was the bloodiest since the U.S.-led war started in 2001 and toppled the Taliban regime. Commanders anticipate a renewed offensive this spring by Taliban fighters.
Deployment of the 173rd would keep the force at the current strength of 27,000 — the highest of the war. Though the Pentagon statement said the future level of troops will depend on conditions on the ground, it is expected to be a year-long deployment, and officials have said they want to keep the number of brigades in Afghanistan — increased from one to two this month — at that level until the spring of 2008 and possibly beyond.
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US ambassador to Afghanistan optimistic despite NATO failings
by Bronwen Roberts Thu Feb 15, 3:14 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The failure of NATO allies to meet a shortfall in troops needed to end the Taliban insurgency will not sink the effort, which should "do better this year," the US ambassador here told AFP this week.
The reluctance of some of the 37 nations in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was "influenced by a lot of, frankly, misperceptions and ignorance," ambassador Ronald Neumann said.
"Some NATO partners do a great deal -- the British, the Canadians, the Dutch, the Danes, the Romanians," he said.
But he added: "I would like to see NATO countries collectively put in place the forces that NATO and its military committee has said are necessary.
"But can we maintain it if they don't? Yes.... I hope our allies will do what they need to. But we are not going to lose it for lack of their action," he said.
"How that reverberates longer term in NATO is probably a seminar topic rather than an interview," he quipped.
NATO military commander US General Bantz Craddock said in Belgium this week that the military needs are "probably filled to 93 or 94 percent."
Neumann, perhaps the most influential diplomat in Kabul, said he had seen at a meeting in Berlin last month of Afghanistan's donors that there was poor understanding among many nations of the situation in the central Asian nation.
"Quite apart from differences of opinion, I just found the factual information poor. There are lot of people who genuinely believe that we are only interested in the military side and we are not focused enough on building," he said.
The United States led the invasion that toppled the Taliban in late 2001 and today has about 23,000 troops here working on rounding up Islamist militants and helping reconstruction.
The insurgency reached its bloodiest level last year. The death toll passed 4,000, with most of the dead being rebel fighters. There was a barrage of suicide bombings, and insurgents launched sophisticated attacks on military bases.
Neumann, whose term in Afghanistan ends in the coming months, said he expected "very hard fighting this year."
The ambassador rejected outright any notion of negotiating with the Taliban, which was excluded from talks in 2001 in Bonn, Germany, that put Afghanistan on the path to democracy.
"Negotiation implies changing the political structure, changing the process agreed to in Bonn. No way in hell. That would be a fundamentally disastrous course of action," Neumann said.
He was equally critical of "rumours and talks" that provinces where the Taliban are most entrenched should be given up to the movement, describing this as a "thoroughly bad idea" that "scares the hell out of people."
The ambassador, who took up his post in mid-2005, said he was leaving "genuinely more optimistic... than I have been at any time since I have been here."
The boosting of the security forces with an increase in US troops and the recruitment of the first members of a planned 11,200-strong auxiliary police force meant there would be the strength to deal with the insurgency "very aggressively."
Extra emphasis on building the Afghan security forces should begin to show results in 2008 and there had been improvements in government appointments, with several governors and police chiefs removed.
But Neumann said one of his biggest concerns for the future of the young nation was its booming trade in illegal opium, of which Afghanistan is the world's top supplier.
"The money of narcotics can rot the infrastructure of the state faster than we can build it," he said. The United States is one of the main backers of Afghanistan's counternarcotics efforts.
But he expressed confidence in President Hamid Karzai, who has come under growing criticism as the insurgency has deepened.
"He doesn't control all his own funds and he doesn't control all his own forces and I don't know many Western political leaders that are bold and daring when they are so dependent on others. I see steady growth," the ambassador said.
Neumann said the international effort in Afghanistan was a long-term one in which the military forces needed to provide the "shield" of security to allow for development.
For example, "It is very important we have better governance but it is really hard to get if they are killing civil servants."
He added: "I think we are going to do that better this year than last year."
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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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FEATURE-Afghanistan forgotten as U.S. focuses on Iraq
15 Feb 2007 16:44:16 GMT By Andrea Hopkins
WILMINGTON, Ohio, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Brian Spurlock is in Afghanistan with the U.S. Air Force but his wife, Eileen Brady, relies on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. rather than CNN for news of America's forgotten war.
Her reliance on Canada, which sent troops to Afghanistan but not to Iraq, for news is testament to how much the Afghan war has faded next to the daily death toll in Iraq.
"That's how I get my daily news fix -- The (Toronto) Globe and Mail and the CBC," said Brady, a stay-at-home mother and sometimes journalist living in central Ohio.
While the U.S. public rallied behind the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the start of the Iraq war 17 months later quickly stole the spotlight -- and has kept it ever since.
"I think people believe the fighting's over in Afghanistan, that we're just hanging out there as some kind of noble presence," said Brady, 36.
Her husband is a nurse stationed at Bagram Air Base, treating the injured from all sides in the war. "When I tell people he's been deployed, they assume he's gone to Iraq."
While a grim death toll keeps Iraq in the news, Afghanistan is far from peaceful.
More than 4,000 people were killed in violence last year, the bloodiest since the Taliban was toppled in 2001.
On Thursday, U.S. President George W. Bush said the United States and NATO would increase in troops in Afghanistan in preparation for an expected spring offensive from Taliban fighters.
"The situation has actually declined significantly," said Sean Kay, a security expert and professor of international relations at Ohio Wesleyan University. "Some of the combat in the south has been even more intensive than in Iraq."
Some 27,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, compared with 140,000 in Iraq. More than 350 U.S. troops have been killed, about a tenth of Iraq's 3,100 death toll. The civilian death toll has also been much higher in Iraq.
Kay said Afghanistan needs more than a return of media attention -- it needs money and troops, a big ask in a political climate where Bush plan to increase troops in Iraq is under attack from all sides.
"If you really want to make a case for a surge in military forces where it could make a difference, then the argument is actually much stronger for Afghanistan right now than Iraq," Kay said, dismissing recent small increases in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan as insignificant.
While some U.S. presidential candidates, including Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton, have argued against sending more troops to Iraq in part because it would siphon off military strength in Afghanistan, Kay is not optimistic that political focus can be shifted.
"It may be too late before any real action is taken," he said.
GLAD TO GO TO AFGHANISTAN
In 2005, with two wars on and troops being shipped off every day, Maj. William Ewing was waiting his turn to be deployed. He didn't lobby the Kentucky National Guard to send him to one war over another, but the father of three said he was happy when it wasn't Iraq.
"I was glad to be going to Afghanistan, but wrongly so. Americans tend to think ... that soldiers going to Afghanistan have it easier or better, or it's not as dangerous there," said Ewing, a Marine veteran of the 1991 Gulf War. "But I soon learned that was not the case."
Ewing, 39, spent a year from mid-2005 to 2006 teaching Afghan soldiers to use computers and improve communications. The base came under rocket attack, but Ewing was lucky and said no one he knew personally was killed.
Now back in Kentucky, Ewing said he doesn't feel like Americans are less supportive of the war in Afghanistan -- it's simply less noticed because it's a smaller deployment.
He gets his news about Afghanistan from military news services, after scrolling past stories about Iraq.
"At the bottom of the page there's always two or three stories about Afghanistan, after 10 or 15 on Iraq."
Back in Ohio, Brady exchanges regular e-mails with her husband and he phones most days to talk to their daughter Pearl, 4.
Husband and wife have pledged to be honest with each other about what they are facing: the attacks on his base, Pearl's grief at his absence. But Brady can't bring herself to tell him everything.
"I don't tell him: 'People don't even know we're in Afghanistan, honey.' I can't tell him that."
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US troop numbers in Afghanistan hit all-time peak
by Jim Mannion Wed Feb 14, 1:59 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Pentagon announced plans to maintain some 27,000 US troops in Afghanistan -- the most since it went to war there more than five years ago -- to try to crush a resurgence of the Taliban.
Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the 173rd Airborne Brigade based in Vicenza, Italy will deploy in the spring to replace a brigade from the 10th Mountain Division whose tour has been extended for 120 days.
The moves have pushed US force levels in the country to 27,000, the most US boots on the ground since the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001 in retaliation for Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States, Pentagon officials said.
The 173rd "has been preparing to go and today we're announcing that instead of going to Iraq it's going to Afghanistan," Whitman told reporters.
He said it "will continue the commitment to the same level of effort" as with the extension of the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division brigade.
Both units would fall under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force which also has grown to some 35,000 troops.
Whitman said another brigade will be identified to take the place of the 173rd in the rotation of forces to Iraq, which also are being increased by more than 21,500 troops over the next few months.
He said the change will have no impact on the pace of the buildup in Iraq.
The all-time peak in US force levels in Afghanistan comes amid a major military buildup aimed at crushing a resurgence of the Taliban.
The militant Islamic movement last year unleashed its bloodiest offensive since being driven from power in late 2001.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates spent last week lobbying European allies for more troops and equipment for Afghanistan, insisting that they move quickly to seize the initiative against the Taliban.
A Pentagon statement said Gates' approval of the deployment of the 173rd "will maintain the current level of forces necessary to provide sufficient military capability for the NATO-International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to further improve security and stability operations."
"Two US brigade combat teams in Afghanistan provide military capability and combat power required for NATO to continue its initiatives in promoting stability and security in the winter and spring, while denying safe haven for the Taliban," he said.
The 173rd will deploy for a year but it was unclear whether the Pentagon planned to maintain force levels at current levels throughout that period.
"Force levels in Afghanistan are conditions-based and will be determined in consultation with the Afghan government and NATO," the Pentagon said.
The previous peak was in April 2006 at the start of the Taliban spring offensive when there were 23,300 US troops in the country.
During the first two years of the US military presence in Afghanistan, US forces levels rarely exceeded 10,000. They rose gradually after 2004 as US forces attempted to extend the Afghan government's reach beyond Kabul.
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Musharraf suggests Waziristan-like deal in Afghanistan
ISLAMABAD, Feb 14 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has suggested to the Afghan government and NAOT forces to enter into Waziristan style of peace agreements with the Taliban.
Addressing a two-day roundtable international conference on "Voices from Asia: Towards a process for cooperation and security" in Islamabad on Wednesday, the Pakistani president said security situation in Afghanistan could improve if the government struck peace deal with the Taliban.
He said Pakistan wanted Afghanistan to sign a truce with Taliban like the one inked by Pakistan in its tribal area of North Waziristan. He said the situation would improve in the country if such a deal was signed.
About the security situation in North Waziristan, Musharraf said there were improvements. He said dialogue was the only way to resolve disputes in Asia and that Pakistan joined the war against al-Qaeda and regional militants only to secure its national interests.
Rejecting the statements from Afghan government that Pakistan was not doing enough in curbing al-Qaeda and Taliban, Musharraf said his country was faced with the same threat from the militants as faced by Afghanistan.
He said they had become part of the anti-terror war keeping the national interest of the country and their participation was needed for the survival and progress of Pakistan.
He urged upon the international community to play its due role in resolving disputes like Kashmir and Palestine and remove economic disparities to promote peace and stability in the region.
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Afghanistan: Winning or losing?
By Paul Reynolds World affairs correspondent, BBC News Wednesday, 14 February 2007
Sharp disagreements over the conduct of the war against the Taleban in Afghanistan emerged at a seminar in London timed to coincide with a visit to Britain by the Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
An international think-tank, the Senlis Council, called for major changes in tactics, including the licensing of poppy growing, to be used for medicines.
The British Medical Association also advocated such a policy recently.
But a senior strategist on counter-terrorism in the US government said that both the strategy and the current counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan were correct.
'Reality check needed'
Criticism of the anti-Taleban campaign came in a 187-page document from the Senlis Council, whose subtitle "Losing Friends and Making Enemies" summed up what it researchers have concluded.
The lead researcher (and president and founder of the Council) Norine MacDonald, a Canadian lawyer, told the meeting: "We are winning the battle but losing the war."
She said that the international community had reached the "tipping point" in Afghanistan. "The military has done an excellent job but, despite our good intentions, our policies are having a negative effect."
She said that Nato, which is leading the fighting, needed a "reality check and a frank assessment".
"The international community has failed to convince local people, especially in the south, that it is there to help them," she claimed.
She castigated the failure to provide decent hospitals in the main towns of Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, even though civilians were being wounded by Nato bombings. Both cities were in Taleban sights for their expected spring offensive.
She attacked the current counter-narcotics policy, which relies in part on eradication of the poppy fields.
Noting that the United States already manufactured morphine and codeine from poppies grown under license in Turkey and India, she called for a similar approach in Afghanistan.
Otherwise, she warned, the Taleban would gain in support.
"Our policies are failing President Karzai."
After this onslaught, the audience at the International Institute for Strategic Studies might have expected a defensive display from Dr David Kilcullen, Chief Strategist in the Office of the Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism at the US State Department.
A former Lt Colonel in the Australian army, Dr Kilcullen has become influential in counter-insurgency thinking.
He presented a very different view of Afghanistan.
"The fundamentals, the bones of the situation, in Afghanistan are quite sound," he said.
"Challenges remain and will have to be tackled but the prospect for success remains good."
He said that the Taleban offensive of last year had failed. It had a narrow base of appeal and most Afghans supported the Karzai government.
He conceded that the Taleban were "the toughest enemy anywhere and I have seen the enemy up close. They are professional as a military force and also as a subversive force."
He also rejected the suggestion that opium production should be licensed.
A "hearts and minds" strategy, he said, did not mean that you simply had to be nice to the civilian population.
"You have to persuade their hearts that it is in their interest that you win but their minds that you will win. Gratitude does not work in Afghanistan. You have got to get them to make a choice.
"The Taleban has a political strategy of defending the poppy fields, in order to detach the people from the government and we have to counter that."
It was at times difficult to accept that the speakers were talking of the same country but Dr Kilcullen declared to a sceptical questioner: "I am not painting a rosy picture but simply the facts."
The main address of the day came from a senior British military figure who has had close knowledge of the situation in Afghanistan.
He spoke off the record so cannot be directly quoted but it would be fair to say that he, too, expressed some optimism about the future and seemed somewhat irritated that the media did not always share this.
However he also cautioned against over-optimism and pointed to a gap in Nato troop deployment along the Afghan side of the frontier with Pakistan, which allowed the Taleban to come and go.
The meeting gave a glimpse of the issues being discussed at about the same time by President Karzai with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
More than five years after the war that removed the Taleban from power, they have again become a force to be reckoned with.
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Brunei and Afghanistan establish diplomatic relations
By Sonia K Borneo Bulletin (Brunei) February 15, 2007
The Government of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan have decided to establish diplomatic relations with effect from yesterday (Feb 14).
The signing of the Joint Communique took place at the Office of the High Commission of Brunei Darussalam in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade stated.
The press statement added that the Government of His Majesty the Sultan was represented by Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Amin bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Dewa Dato Paduka Haji Abd Rahim, High Commissioner of Brunei Darussalam to Malaysia, while the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was represented by Mohammad Yunos Farman, Ambassador of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
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Typhoid claims five lives in Afghanistan
Xinhua / February 15, 2007
Typhoid has claimed five lives and infected some 200 others, mostly children, in Afghanistan's central Ghor province over the past 10 days, a local newspaper reported Wednesday.
The epidemic broke out in Charsada district 10 days ago and a team of doctors has been sent to the area to control it, daily Outlook quoted the director of the provincial Health Department Abdul Qayum Paknijad as saying.
He said the provincial administration had taken all possible measures to control the epidemic and provided medical treatment to infected individuals at their doorsteps.
About symptoms of the disease, the official said high grade fever and anorexia grip the patient at the initial stage which might result in death if immediate treatment was not provided to the affected person.
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Pakistan denies border charges
Wednesday, 14 February 2007 BBC News
Pakistan's foreign minister has denied accusations Islamabad is not doing enough to stop militants crossing over the border into Afghanistan.
Khurshid Kasuri said Pakistan had more than 80,000 soldiers along the border and suffered more casualties than international forces there.
Afghanistan and Pakistan share a 1,400 mile (2,250km) border.
Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters are thought to be operating on both sides of the mountainous border.
On Monday, the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said during a visit to Pakistan that he had talked to President Pervez Musharraf about ways in which Pakistan could put pressure on the Taleban on both sides of the border.
Mr Kasuri told the BBC that Pakistan would try to do more, but he was sure that Afghanistan, the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), the US and the European Union could also make more effort to stop militants crossing the border.
He said Pakistani soldiers along the border had suffered significantly more casualties than Isaf, Nato and the Americans combined.
President Musharraf has admitted there are weak points in policing the border and that the Taleban do get support from within Pakistan.
But he has strongly denied any official backing for the Taleban.
He has also refused to take sole responsibility for the border, saying that border security must be a joint effort with forces on the Afghan side.
Our correspondent says that Western officials acknowledge President Musharraf's difficulties, but they are afraid that the Taleban are using Pakistan to prepare for a spring offensive.
President Musharraf's government has also come under fire for pacts with tribal militants in the North and South Waziristan areas. Critics say the deals give Taleban fighters based there freedom to go where they please.
The new Nato commander in Afghanistan, Gen Dan McNeill, says that 2,000 extra troops are needed to patrol the border with Pakistan. There are currently around 33,000 troops from 37 nations in Afghanistan.
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Next two months 'make or break' in Afghanistan, says report
London, Feb 14, IRNA
A 'make or break' situation is facing NATO forces in southern Afghanistan in the coming months, with the threat of a major Taliban spring office, an international think-tank warned Wednesday.
After Musa Qala fell two weeks ago, the Taliban now have the big towns in their sights and anyone who can leave has already left, the Senlis Council said in its latest field report on the Counter Insurgency in Afghanistan.
The council, which has offices in London, Brussels, Paris and Kabul, concluded that the international community's own policies are responsible for the dramatic loss of support for the Afghan government and for the rise in the insurgency.
"With our own policies, we have created our own enemies," said the founding president of Senlis, Norine MacDonald, who has lived and worked in Afghanistan for the past two years.
"The policies implemented by the international community have created these resentful and poor young men who cannot feed their families, and they are now being easily recruited by the Taliban," MacDonald warned.
He said that it was 'through these misguided policies, the international community has turned southern Afghanistan into a recruitment camp for the Taliban'.
Senlis said that there were many legitimate grievances of the local Afghan population which needed and could be simply and inexpensively be addressed.
Legitimate grievances include the large numbers of civilian deaths, injuries and displacements caused by fighting; forced poppy crop eradication while many farmers were still fully dependent; the lack of food aid and humanitarian assistance; the overall lack of development; the perception that the Karzai government is a puppet regime; the lack of public facilities such as hospitals and schools and the perception that culture and traditions are not respected.
The under-funding of humanitarian and development aid was a 'blatant disregard of the established counter insurgency theories, which advocate a complete package of diverse development based interventions', the report said.
"The people of Afghanistan have become the unwilling victims of a war which is not their own," said MacDonald. "Proper provision has not been made according to the Geneva Conventions for civilian casualties in a war zone," he said.
"Hospitals have no equipment, no medicines, no blood, no heating.
For the most part, civilians injured in the bombing campaigns are abandoned by the international community," he added.
The report also pointed out that in 2006, some 2000 NATO bombing campaigns were executed over southern Afghanistan, causing an estimated 4,000 civilian deaths and an untold number of casualties, for which there is practically no possibility of treatment.
"The insurgency in southern Afghanistan has been fuelled by the neglect of the international community to address vital issues such as emergency treatment for victims of the international forces bombing campaigns, or the widespread starvation," MacDonald said.
The report made several recommendations including the immediate cessation of forced poppy crop eradication and bombing raids, immediate widespread food aid and compensation to civilian victims of bombings.
It also called for military paramedics and field hospitals to aid civilian war casualties, the rebuilding of existent hospitals and the construction of new ones and a complete overhaul of failed counter-narcotics strategies.
Senlis work encompasses foreign policy, security, development and counter-narcotics policies and aims to provide innovative analysis and proposals within these areas.
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End Corruption or Rethink Funding: Senate Report
Embassy, February 14th, 2007- By Lee Berthiaume
Senator Colin Kenny worries that donor funds for Afghanistan are being diverted, but the ambassador says that's beyond his government's control.
Afghanistan's government must within the next year provide a comprehensive plan to reduce corruption as a condition of Canada's continued long-term commitment to the Central Asian country, a Senate committee has recommended.
"The fish rots from the head down and the head must demonstrate that it is dealing with corruption in a serious way," Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, chairman of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, told reporters Monday.
"Canadians aren't going to send money over there to make a few Afghans rich."
Mr. Kenny's comments came as the Senate committee unveiled its report on Afghanistan, the result of a two-year study by the committee, which presented 11 recommendations on how the Canadian government should move forward on the mission in Afghanistan, which has already cost the government billions and resulted in the deaths of 44 Canadians.
More than five years after the Taliban were overthrown, Mr. Kenny said, many Afghans are still unsure whether to support Hamid Karzai's government or throw their lot behind the insurgents.
"It's like an ongoing election where they're trying to make up their minds," said Mr. Kenny, who presented the report with committee deputy chairman Conservative Senator Michael Meighen.
"Nobody wants to live in the middle of a war, and so they start looking for options. All of a sudden, even the Taliban, with all of the problems that they bring, may bring stability."
Afghans are also wondering how long NATO troops, who have stabilized some provinces, will remain in the country and whether the Taliban will manage to outlast foreign involvement.
Mr. Kenny said corruption is a contributing factor to instability throughout Afghanistan. "We've had estimates that as much as 90 per cent of the money coming in is getting diverted," he said. "It's all anecdotal, very hard to verify what the precise amount is.
"But if the funding isn't going to the people who need it...then you're going nowhere in terms of winning the hearts and minds of people. You're building up bank accounts in Switzerland."
Mr. Kenny said the Afghan government must prove the money is being spent where it's needed since "corruption is fundamental to the whole exercise."
Corruption Tied to Drugs - Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada, Omar Samad, welcomed the committee's report as it provides more information on the debate over Canada's involvement in the Central Asian country, and said some of the recommendations could prove beneficial to the reconstruction.
However, he felt there were parts that conveyed a sense of skepticism, while different recommendations and sections of the report should be discussed individually.
As for the corruption, Mr. Samad said there is petty corruption because of the country's weak economy and ties to the drug trade.
Mr. Samad said his government, as well as the international community, have committed to fighting corruption, strengthening Afghan governance and building institutional capacities through the Afghanistan Compact.
But with the majority of international donor money going through channels outside the Afghanistan government's control, he said, the government is not responsible for most of the mismanagement.
"As far as large scale, sophisticated, white-collar corruption is concerned, that is outside the purview of the Afghan government, if it exists. If there are allegations and proof of that, we have to look at it.
"There's a difference between waste of money, which alludes to mismanagement, versus diversion, which alludes to corruption," he said. "Diversion is somewhat new to us and we have not seen many instances of that happening in Afghanistan, especially given the fact that at least 80 to 85 per cent of foreign aid money to Afghanistan does not pass through the Afghan government's hands.
"Is there room for improvement? Yes. Has there been waste in the past? Yes, but the Afghans are not responsible for it. We only take responsibility for what money has gone through our channels, and I think we have a pretty transparent system in place."
The Senate committee also called on the government to continue pressuring its NATO allies to provide more troops while at the same time contributing 250 additional instructors for the Afghan National Army and 50 more police trainers for the national police.
In addition, it recommended the government tell NATO members that if they do not contribute more troops that can be fully engaged in Kandahar, Canada will reconsider its involvement in Afghanistan.
Committee members also recommended CIDA provide $20 million from its budget to the Canadian Forces for local development projects, establish a defensible buffer zone on the border with Pakistan, and increase agricultural and commercial assistance to Afghan farmers to curb poppy production.
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Senators foresee long Afghan effort
GLORIA GALLOWAY – Globe and Mail
OTTAWA -- Members of the Senate defence committee say anyone who expects Afghanistan to become a modern democracy capable of delivering justice and amenities to its people within a couple of decades is "dreaming in Technicolor."
But, in a report made public yesterday, they still urge the Canadian government to spend more money, time and resources to rebuild what they describe as a "corrupt" nation that is still, for all intents and purposes, a "medieval" society.
In particular, the senators recommend that Canada devote an additional 250 military instructors to train members of the Afghan military and an additional 60 instructors to train the local police.
And they say a significant portion of the money sent to Afghanistan by the Canadian International Development Agency should be funnelled through the Canadian Forces teams operating in the dangerous Kandahar province.
"Although CIDA insists that it has a number of development projects under way [in Kandahar], no one was able to show us," the senators said.
"The non-governmental organizations can't work in Kandahar at present because of the lack of a secure environment. As we wait for them to be able to return, we have suggested that the soldiers are in the best position to provide reconstruction assistance in Afghanistan," Senator Michael Meighen told a news conference yesterday.
There has been much debate in the House of Commons over the appropriate focus of the mission in Afghanistan.
In a speech last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that his government "will be making a significant announcement about the next steps we will be taking in that war-ravaged country."
That was interpreted as a signal that the Conservatives are preparing to channel more money into development of the infrastructure and the democratic institutions that are needed to rebuild the country. It may also have been a nod to those Canadians who remain unsure about Canada's involvement in Afghanistan.
Documents marked "Secret" and obtained under access-to-information legislation by Ottawa-based researcher Jeff Esau show the government was told last spring that it would have more success in selling the mission to Canadians if its purpose could be framed in terms of development.
One Strategic Counsel poll conducted in May of 2006 found that just 40 per cent of Canadians support the job that the Canadian Forces were doing in Afghanistan, wrote Kevin Lynch, the Clerk of the Privy Council, in a memorandum to the Prime Minister. But that poll focused on Canada's military action alone. ". . . If put in a broader context of helping the Afghan people -- especially if the diplomacy and development elements are mentioned alongside the defence efforts -- the mission still elicits support of a solid majority of people," Mr. Lynch wrote.
Josée Verner, the federal Development Minister, refused to comment yesterday on when the government might make the announcement promised by Mr. Harper. She also rejected the senators' assertion that aid was not reaching Kandahar.
"It's not true," Ms. Verner said. "We have international organizations like Unicef and even from Quebec . . . who work with us in Kandahar specifically. . . . And we have other NGOs who work with us across all the country in Afghanistan. So we increased our budget for development in Afghanistan last year, and this year, and for until 2011. . . . And we are confident that we are making progress."
But the senators question whether any amount of money will pull Afghanistan into the 21st century.
"We're talking about a medieval society that has a very different attitude about democracy than people who have grown up taking civics classes," said Senator Colin Kenny, chairman of the Senate defence committee.
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Al-Qaida's No. 2 calls Bush an alcoholic
By MAAMOUN YOUSSEF Associated Press Tue Feb 13, 6:40 PM ET
CAIRO, Egypt - Al-Qaida's No. 2 said President Bush was an alcoholic and a lying gambler who wagered on Iraq and lost, according to a new audiotape released Tuesday.
Ayman al-Zawahri said in the tape that Bush has been forced to admit his failure in Iraq after he was "stubborn" and repeated the "lie, which he became addicted to, that he is winning" in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Bush suffers from an addictive personality, and was an alcoholic. I don't know his present condition ... but the one who examines his personality finds that he is addicted to two other faults — lying and gambling," al-Zawahri said in the audiotape.
Bush, who is now 60, has acknowledged he had a problem with drinking but gave up alcohol when he was 40 years old.
The 41-minute audiotape could not immediately be authenticated but was seen by The Associated Press on a Web site commonly used by insurgent groups and carried the logo of the multimedia arm of al-Qaida, as-Sahab.
The audio was accompanied by a video that showed a still picture of al-Zawahri and featured an English translation of the audio at the bottom of the screen.
Transcripts of the audiotape were first released by two U.S. groups that track extremist messages, the SITE Institute and the IntelCenter.
On the tape, al-Zawahri said Bush has gone down in history as one of the world's "most notorious liars."
"So pay attention before it's too late, and beware of Bush's losing gambler's lie which claims that he, with the corpses of your killed and limbs of your wounded, is spreading democracy around the world," said al-Zawahri, apparently addressing the American people.
Al-Zawahri also said recent congressional elections in the United States that elected a majority of Democrats would change nothing.
"The people chose you due to your opposition to Bush's policy in Iraq, but it appears that you are marching with him to the same abyss," al-Zawahri said of the Democrats according to the transcript.
He repeated an earlier condemnation of the Palestinian Fatah movement led by Mahmoud Abbas for seeking to establish a secular state.
"I'm not asking them to join Hamas, the Islamic Jihad or al-Qaida, but rather, I'm asking them to return to Islam, in order to fight for the establishment of an Islamic state over all of Palestine and not for the establishment of a secularist state which will please America," al-Zawahri said.
He also warned of an escalating threat from the Taliban in Afghanistan and called on all Muslims to strive for unity, "even if they are Afghans, Persians, Turks or Kurds."
It was the fourth message by Osama bin Laden's deputy since the beginning of the year. The last was on Jan. 22, when he mocked Bush's plan to send an additional 21,000 troops to Iraq.
Al-Zawahri called what he described as Bush' failure in Iraq and the growing Taliban resistance in Afghanistan the "most important events" of the past year. He also said "the people cooperating with the United States in Afghanistan and in Iraq would be abandoned by the Americans once they fail, the same way they did in Vietnam."
Muslims around the world, he added, should go to "Afghanistan, Iraq, Algeria and Somalia, because your brothers the Mujahedeen are in need of men, money, materiel, opinion, expertise and information."
The al-Qaida leader also threatened that countries allied to the United States in the region "must reap their bitter harvest," specifically naming Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
He described calls by such countries to protect Iraq's Sunni Arabs as "charlatanism," and said the Arab League had become a "museum for mummified Arab dignity and a home for special occasions."
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Victory over Afghanistan sends Vietnam to second qualifying stage
Nhan Dan February 14, 2007 Ngoc Khanh
Two goals by Huynh Phuc Hiep and Nguyen Vu Phong helped Olympic Vietnam beat Olympic Afghanistan 2-0, thus qualify for the second qualifying round for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games with Lebanon.
Phuc Hiep opened the scoring in the first half while Vu Phong slotted the ball in from a close range one minute into the second half.
The Vietnamese Olympic team started the match with Afghanistan with forward Nguyen Anh Duc and Huynh Phuc Hiep. Anh Duc was recalled to replace injured Le Cong Vinh. Cong Vinh’s partner at the national team Phan Thanh Binh started on bench.
The Olympic team were also added with three other players who competed at the 2007 Southeast Asian/AFF championship, midfielders Nguyen Vu Phong and Tran Minh Chuyen and leftback Nguyen Van Bien.
The hosts dominated the game from kick-off. Vu Phong came close as his 16 metre free-kick went wide after five minutes.
Three minutes later, skipper Van Bien headed wide after Vu Phong’s freekick.
Despite their dominance, the hosts had to wait until the 34th minute to break the deadlock. Phuc Hiep slotted the ball in after a good pass from Mai Tien Thanh.
After Phuc Hiep’s opener, the Vietnamese team created some more opportunities. In the 40th minute, Anh Duc was in a head-to-head with goalkeeper Shamsuddin Arimi but failed to beat the Afghan goalkeeper.
The hosts extended the lead after the break. Tien Thanh’s superb run down to the left set up Anh Duc, who backheeled the ball for Vu Phong to find the net from a close range.
The Vietnamese side continued to dominated the game and had a good opportunity to make it 3-0 when they were given a penalty kick after Anh Duc was challenged down in the box. However, Anh Duc’s half-hit spot kick was saved by goalkeeper Amiri.
Winning 2-0, Olympic Vietnam have qualified for the second qualifying round with Lebanon. They will play the first game on February 28.
Talking after the match, coach Riedl said his players had a good game in the first half, which helped them win the game. He said he was satisfied with the 2-0 result.
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Afghan Deaths, Poppy Clearance, Aid Insurgency, Reseachers Say
By Patrick Donahue - Feb. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Civilian casualties in Afghanistan and U.S.-supported policies such as forced poppy destruction are driving increasingly impoverished Afghans in the south into a ``grassroots'' Taliban insurgency that's jeopardizing attempts to stabilize the country, a research group said.
Some 4,000 civilians were killed last year in the violence blighting Afghanistan, the Senlis Council said in a report presented in London. The group called for a less military- centered approach to establishing security and greater promotion of development aid and medical care. Crop destruction is also driving up poverty among Afghan families dependent on opium production for their livelihoods, it said.
``Through these misguided policies, the international community has turned southern Afghanistan into a recruitment camp for the Taliban,'' Senlis President Norine MacDonald said in an e-mailed statement. A soldier in the Afghan military earns $2 a day, while the Taliban can offer $12, she said.
Lack of attention to civilian suffering and development aid will hamper efforts by the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization to stabilize Afghanistan under the leadership of President Hamid Karzai, Senlis said. The Islamist Taliban movement, which seized the southern district of Musa Qala two weeks ago, may take aim at larger towns when spring arrives, leading to a ``make or break'' situation, the group said.
NATO and U.S. forces are bracing for a spring offensive. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher and former U.S. commander Karl Eikenberry have played down, though, the ability of the Taliban to mount a strong assault.
`Grassroots' Insurgency - While the ``core'' Taliban insurgency is linked to global jihad and al-Qaeda terrorism, a parallel ``grassroots'' insurgency is being fueled primarily by poverty, said Senlis, an international policy research group with offices in Kabul, London, Paris and Brussels.
Afghanistan's medical infrastructure is unable to function properly in a war zone, with hospitals in Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, which are meant to serve some 4 million people, ``in a state of total disrepair,'' the group said in its report, titled ``Countering the Insurgency in Afghanistan: Losing Friends and Making Enemies.''
The southern Helmand province is the center of the country's opium production, which increased 60 percent last year and played a major role in funding the insurgency. Senlis favors a licensing system that would divert opium production to medicines such as morphine and codeine, rather than eradication.
This year's eradication effort ``has already brought with it new fighting -- a foretaste of the carnage we can expect as the eradication unfolds this spring,'' MacDonald said.
Today, NATO forces carried out an air strike in Helmand that targeted a senior Taliban leader who the alliance said is tied to the strengthened insurgency in the area. NATO said in an e-mailed statement it destroyed one building in a remote compound between the Musa Qala and Kajaki districts, killing the leader and ``several of his associates.''
The strike killed several civilians as well as militants, Agence France-Presse reported, citing local residents. NATO rejected the charge. A local Taliban commander, Mullah Nizamuddin, told the newswire the attack appeared to have targeted him. The strike killed 13 members of a family and four of his men, Nizamuddin told AFP.
Another, unidentified village chief told AFP that 30 people were killed in the raid, including 20 Taliban fighters. NATO's International Security Assistance Force said it observed the removal of 11 ``fighting-age'' males who had been killed following the strike, and no women and children.
``ISAF takes allegations of civilian casualties very seriously and we do everything in our power to prevent them,'' NATO spokesman, Colonel Tom Collins, said in a statement. ``We remain confident that only enemy forces were killed.''
NATO said the Taliban commander was linked to the seizure of Musa Qala and was ``personally responsible'' for a rocket attack on its troops yesterday near Kajaki Dam, where foreign and Afghan forces are trying to flush out insurgents.
NATO forces have been in the area for the past six weeks as small-arms, mortar and rocket clashes with Taliban militants have forced civilians in the region to flee.
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Ulema, elders demand release of teachers
KHOST CITY, Feb 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Tribal elders and religious scholars from the southeastern Khost province have demanded of the government to ensure release of the three teachers and two students of a religious madressa detained at the Bagram base of the US-led coalition troops.
In this connection, a gathering was held in Baak district, which was largely attended by elders, ulema, government officials, representatives of the foreign troops and common citizens.
Addressing the gathering, tribal elder Haji Mamur said the foreign forces had arrested the five people during a search operation in Baak district of the province. He said they were picked from the madressa in the area. The elders said the teachers and students were innocent and must be released immediately.
Malim Qadir Gul, another elder and resident of the district, said the madressa was constructed with the contributions of people working in Arab countries. He said some 700,000 afghanis were also seized by the troops during the raid. The amount was sent by the people as donations for the religious seminary, he added.
A teacher at the madressa Maulvi Mujahidur Rahman said they were running the seminary on self-help basis. It was free from the influence of any group or sect and had nothing to do with militancy, he added.
Abdul Majid Arif
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One injured as Dostum, Bai men exchange fire in Kabul
KABUL, Feb 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): One person was wounded as men loyal to former warlord and President Karzai's military chief Abdul Rashid Dostum and the chief of Turk Tabari Islamic Shura Mohammad Akbar Bai exchanged fire in the high security zone of Wazir Akbar Khan on Tuesday.
Press office of the Interior Ministry said one person was injured as the two sides exchanged fire in the posh locality, housing embassies and offices of diplomatic missions.
The incident happened around 4:45pm and the exchange of fire continued for a few minutes, said the officials, who said police personnel from the 10th police station immediately controlled the situation by arresting a suspect.
Crime branch chief of the Kabul police headquarters General Alishah Paktiawal told Pajhwok Afghan News situation was under control and investigations had been ordered into the incident.
Without giving more details about the fight, Paktiawal said no one was killed or injured in the skirmish.
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Afghan domestic income up 450 pct over past 4 years
Xinhua 02/13/2007 - Afghanistan's domestic income grew to 22.6 billion Afghanis (450 million U.S. dollars) in 2006, a drastic increase of 450 percent over the past four years, a senior official said Monday.
The income was expected to reach 35.7 billion Afghanis (714 million dollars) in 2007, said Finance Minister Anwarul Haq Ahadi. Afghanistan's budget in 2007 will include the normal budget, the development budget and the foreign budget, he said.
The total budget was set at 53.6 billion Afghanis, which comprises 35.7 billion Afghanis (714 million dollars) from domestic income and 17.8 billion (356 million dollars) from foreign aid.
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Bank vehicle looted in Kabul
KABUL, Feb 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Armed robbers looted a bank vehicle in broad daylight and decamped with 500,000 afghanis ($10,000) in the Shah Shaheed locality of this capital city on Tuesday.
The official in possession of the amount, who wished not to be named, said he was shifting the money from headquarters of the private First Micro Finance Bank, located in Shar-i-Naw, to a branch of the bank in Shah Shaheed area when intercepted by armed men.
The unnamed official said the robbers suddenly got into the vehicle and snatched the money from them at gunpoint. No one was hurt during the incident.
Police said they had cordoned the area to arrest the culprits. Alishah Paktiawal, crime branch chief of the Kabul police headquarters, told Pajhwok Afghan News the bank official had also been taken into custody for investigations.
This is the fifth case of bank robbery in Kabul over the previous 12 months. Most of such incidents have been registered in high-security zones of this central capital. The last such incident happened on January 11 when armed men looted vehicle of the London-based Standard Chartered Bank near the Foreign Ministry.
Habib Rahman Ibrahimi
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Canada rules out troops' withdrawal
NEW YORK, Feb 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Ruling out any withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, the Canadian government on Monday reiterated its commitment to the Afghan mission.
"This government is committed to our mission in Afghanistan," said spokesman for the Canadian Foreign Ministry after a key parliamentary committee asked the government to withdraw from its long term commitment in Afghanistan if more troops were not sent by NATO countries and steps were not taken to curb corruption by the incumbent Afghan government within the next 12 months.
At present Canada has some 2,500 troops stationed in Kandahar.
Speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News, the spokesman said the government of Canada was currently examining recommendations and contents of the report by the Standing Committee on National Security and Defense headed by Senator Colin Kenny of the opposition Liberal Party.
"The report discusses several important issues regarding Canada's engagement in Afghanistan, all of which are already areas of focus for the government of Canada," he informed.
Without going into the specifics, the spokesman said the recommendations of the committee largely fall under the three pillars of the Afghanistan Compact.
"Canada is committed to do its part to support the Compact's implementation. For example, tackling corruption, increasing security and training of police and military are the areas where Canada is actively engaged, and where we are making a real difference," he explained.
Referring to the recently held two crucial meetings of the NATO defence and foreign ministers, the spokesman said: "The meetings were very positive and successful and there is a general optimism towards Afghanistan. The US, the UK and Poland have also all agreed recently to send more troops to Afghanistan."
Lalit K. Jha
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