Cheney leaves Afghanistan after visit marred by bombing
KABUL (AFP) - US Vice President Dick Cheney left Afghanistan after talks Tuesday with President Hamid Karzai on a visit overshadowed by a suicide bombing that killed at least 14 people.
Cheney met Karzai at the presidential palace for about two hours and then left the country, an official at the US embassy told AFP.
The talks focused on the security situation in Afghanistan and increased US aid to the country, an Afghan government official said.
The vice president arrived Monday at Bagram Air Base, about 60 kilometres (40 miles) from Kabul.
A suicide attacker blew himself up outside the base Tuesday, highlighting the chronic insecurity still blighting the country.
The US-led coalition said three foreign nationals were killed, while an AFP reporter at the scene said he saw 11 corpses of Afghan nationals being brought out of the base in coffins and body bags, or wrapped in cloth.
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Cheney OK after explosion in Afghanistan
By ALISA TANG, Associated Press Writer
BAGRAM, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber killed and wounded some two dozen people outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan on Tuesday during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney. The Taliban claimed responsibility and said Cheney was the target.
The blast happened outside the base at Bagram, north of the capital, Kabul. Cheney's spokeswoman said he was fine, and the U.S. Embassy said the vice president later met with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.
There were conflicting reports on the death toll. Provincial Gov. Abdul Jabar Taqwa said 20 people were killed, but NATO said initial reports indicated only three were killed, including a U.S. soldier, a South Korean coalition soldier and a U.S. government contractor whose nationality wasn't immediately known. NATO said 27 people were also wounded.
It was unclear why there was such a large discrepancy in the reports.
Associated Press reporters at the scene said they had seen at least eight dead bodies carried in black body bags and wooden coffins from the base area and into the market area, where hundreds of Afghans had gathered to mourn.
Maj. William Mitchell said it did not appear the explosion was intended as a threat to the vice president. "He wasn't near the site of the explosion," Mitchell said. "He was safely within the base at the time of the explosion."
However, a purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said Cheney was the target of the attack.
"We knew that Dick Cheney would be staying inside the base," Ahmadi told AP telephone from an undisclosed location. "The attacker was trying to reach Cheney."
Ahmadi said the attack was carried out by an Afghan, Mullah Abdul Rahim from Logar province.
The explosion happened near the first of at least three gated checkpoints vehicles must pass through before gaining access to Bagram, meaning the attacker did not get near Cheney's location.
"We maintain a high-level of security here at all times. Our security measures were in place and the killer never had access to the base," said Lt. Col. James E. Bonner, the base operations commander. "When he realized he would not be able to get onto the base he attacked the local population."
It was not the first attack apparently aimed at a top U.S. official in Afghanistan. In January 2006, a militant blew himself up in Uruzgan province during a supposedly secret visit by the U.S. ambassador, killing 10 Afghans.
Ajmall, a shopkeeper, said the "huge" blast shook a small market where he has a stall about 500 yards from the Bagram base. Ajmall, who goes by one name, said those wounded in the blast were taken inside the U.S. base for treatment.
South Korea's Defense Ministry said one of its troops stationed in Bagram, Pfc. Yoon Jang-ho, 27, was killed in the explosion. South Korea has about 200 engineers and medics in Bagram.
Cheney, who spent the night at Bagram, left the base about two hours after the 10 a.m. blast. The explosion sent up a plume of smoke visible by reporters inside the base traveling with Cheney, and American military officials declared a "red alert" inside the base.
"The vice president is fine," said his spokeswoman, Lea Anne McBride.
Cheney later flew by plane to Kabul, 30 miles south of Bagram, to meet Karzai after a planned meeting on Monday was canceled because of bad weather that prevented the vice president from making the trip to the capital.
Cheney was met by armed guards with guns drawn on the tarmac and was rushed by ground convoy to the presidential palace, where he and Karzai walked a long receiving line and past oriental rugs laid out on the wet, stone pavement.
Earlier, he ate with soldiers, telling reporters that "breakfast was excellent" but making no other comments.
Cheney and Karzai were expected to discuss the surge in violence in Afghanistan. Five years after their fundamentalist regime was toppled, Taliban-led militants have stepped up attacks and Afghan, U.S. and NATO forces are bracing for a fresh wave of violence in the spring.
There were 139 suicide bombings last year, a five-fold increase over 2005, and Rodriguez has said he expects the number of suicide bombs to rise even further in 2007.
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Suicide raid kills, wounds several in Afghan south
Tue Feb 27, 2:07 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide attack killed and wounded several people in Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar on Tuesday, in what is seen as part of the start of a spring offensive by Taliban guerrillas.
The bomber blew himself up near a top provincial official's vehicle in the heart of the city, but the official escaped unhurt, witnesses said.
At least two of those killed were civilians, officials said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility, but the Taliban have unleashed a series of such attacks against foreign troops and Afghan government personnel in the past.
The attack comes during a visit to Afghanistan by Vice President Dick Cheney for talks with President Hamid Karzai and U.S. commanders.
And on Monday a policeman was killed in the southeastern town of Khost after the bomber detonated his explosives at the gate of a police station.
After months of a lull because of the harsh winter, the Taliban have carried out a series of attacks, including suicide raids against foreign troops and government forces recently.
Last year was the bloodiest since the Taliban's ouster in 2001 and there is concern this year could be as bad or worse after a Taliban threat of a spring offensive and a jump in suicide attacks.
More than 4,000 people, a quarter of them civilians, died in fighting last year, mostly in the south and east where the Taliban are most active.
With an upsurge in fighting expected, Britain on Monday said it would send another 1,400 troops to Afghanistan because most NATO allies have refused appeals for more forces.
Britain has 6,300 soldiers in Afghanistan -- the largest force after the United States, which has 27,000.
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Pakistan must clamp down on Afghan border: Canada
Mon Feb 26, 2:23 PM ET
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada told Pakistan on Monday it had improve the control of its border with Afghanistan to stop the flow of militants seeking to attack NATO troops.
The comments by Prime Minister Stephen Harper represented the first time Canada has publicly criticized Pakistan for not doing enough to block Taliban fighters from crossing its mountainous border into Afghanistan.
"We will concede that the Pakistan situation remains a long-term problem and we do need better efforts from Pakistan on that problem, not just for the security of Afghanistan but for the security of the region," Harper told reporters.
Canada has 2,500 troops in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar who clashed frequently with Taliban militants in 2006. So far, 44 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat have been killed, most of them last year.
Separately, Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday urged Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to step up efforts to combat a new Taliban offensive in Afghanistan.
Musharraf says Taliban fighters do operate from Pakistan, but says the militants' leaders are in Afghanistan.
Harper's comments came after he announced a two-year reconstruction and development package for Afghanistan which would be worth up to C$200 million ($170 million).
Opposition parties have complained that Canada spends too much time fighting the Taliban and not enough helping to rebuild the war-shattered country.
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Gov't flounders in north Afghanistan
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Tue Feb 27, 3:51 AM ET
PUL-E-KHUMRI, Afghanistan - The disarmament of Afghanistan's illegal private militias has ground to a halt and the price of weapons in the country's relatively quiet north is skyrocketing — a sign of the embattled central government's failure to assert its control, Afghan and Western officials say.
This mountainous, ethnically diverse region has been spared the intense violence in the past year that has rocked the south and the east, where the Taliban has staged a violent comeback, launching scores of suicide bombings and brazen guerrilla attacks on Afghan, U.S. and NATO forces.
But the relative calm has not helped President Hamid Karzai's government extend its influence here, despite the presence of NATO security forces.
"No (provincial) governor has stayed for more than three or four months in the job because there are powerful people and networks" who force them out, said Habibullah, a car mechanic in Pul-e-Khumri, the provincial capital of Baghlan, where the top Kabul-appointed administrator was replaced three times during 2006.
Ethnic Tajik and Uzbek warlords from the Northern Alliance that helped the U.S. defeat the hardline Taliban regime still dominate and local citizens are increasingly seeking guns for self-protection because of rampant criminality and distrust of the police, residents say.
The price of a Russian-made AK-47 assault rifle has risen in the past three years from $100 to $400, officials and local commanders said.
"The price of weapons is going up as the people do not trust police, government or the army ... to protect them against thieves, terrorism, crime," former northern strongman Alhaj Abdul Malek said at his privately guarded compound in the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif.
"Everybody is looking after themselves," said Malek, who today heads Afghanistan's Liberty Party.
After the ouster of the Taliban regime for harboring al-Qaida, Western donors led by Japan spent $141 million to demobilize 63,000 out of an estimated 100,000 former militia fighters — most from the Northern Alliance.
That was supposed to support a parallel effort to build a strong national army and police force.
About half of the disarmed militia fighters entered the mainstream, many becoming farmers, but many others kept their weapons.
A subsequent U.N.-Afghan effort then was launched to disarm and disband illegal armed groups with up to 120,000 members involved in crime, extortion and drug smuggling.
That effort has foundered.
Some 2,000 illegal armed groups — each with at least five fighters — remain active, including new groups that have popped up across the country, said Ahmad Jan Nawzadi, a spokesman for the disarmament program. It originally hoped to disarm all fighters by the end of 2007.
"As the security environment in the country, particularly in the south, began to deteriorate the whole process of voluntary weapons handovers ... began to grind to a halt," said a Western official involved in the process who would only speak on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject.
That has worrying implications for the Western-backed project to rebuild a country scarred by the civil war between rival mujahedeen factions that broke out after the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
The Western official said the Taliban resurgence and government drive to establish an 11,000-strong auxiliary police force among Pashtun tribal militias in the south to combat the Taliban has generated suspicion among Northern Alliance factions who fear being outgunned by their tribal rivals.
A new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, based on more than 1,000 interviews with Afghans and 200 experts, says that northern militia commanders who took part in the initial disarmament drive have begun to rearm, and former warlords retain de facto control, blunting Karzai's influence in the region.
Mohammad Zamir, a 25-year-old shopkeeper, said people in Baghlan dare not go out after nightfall.
"Even in my house I have weapons to ensure the security and dignity of my family," Zamir said.
But rising weapons prices in the north, where there are large arms stockpiles left over from the civil war, are not just stimulated by local demand.
Arms dealers are "buying and smuggling to the Taliban areas in the south," according Bashir Khan Baghlani, a former senior commander of the Islamist militant group Hezb-i-Islami.
"These smugglers buy from the locals, put them in their vehicles and pay off the corrupt local police, who turn a blind eye to the trade," Baghlani said.
Western officials confirm that trend, which presents a threat to the 47,000 U.S.-led coalition and NATO forces that are bracing for a surge in Taliban attacks this spring. Thousands of people were killed in violence last year that shook confidence in Karzai's weak government.
"The north is a place from where the weapons go to the south," said 1st Lt. Laslo Tor, safety and security adviser to the Hungarian Provincial Reconstruction Team in Baghlan province.
Associated Press Writer Amir Shah contributed to this report.
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Turkey will continue to support Afghanistan: FM
People's Daily Online
Visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul on Monday reiterated Ankara's continued support to the post-Taliban Afghanistan.
At a joint press conference with his Afghan counterpart Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Gul said that like in the past, Turkey would continue to stand alongside Afghanistan and support it to recover.
Gul, who had visited his troops in Maidan Shar, the capital of Wardak province, also said that the Turkish government would build a hospital in the Afghan capital of Kabul this year.
Turkey has pledged to contribute 110 million U.S. dollars to the war-ravaged Afghanistan.
About 800 Turkish soldiers have been serving under the command of NATO in Afghanistan to help stabilize security here.
Gul who earlier exchanged views on bilateral relations with Spanta will call on Afghan President Karzai and discuss with him matters pertaining mutual interests.
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UK to send 1,400 more troops to Afghanistan
7:11 a.m. EST, February 27, 2007
LONDON, England (AP ) -- Britain's defense secretary has authorized the deployment of an additional 1,400 troops to Afghanistan, bolstering NATO's mission to oust the resurgent Taliban only days after Prime Minister Tony Blair disclosed plans to trim British forces in Iraq.
The deployment will bring British troop levels in Afghanistan to around 7,700 until 2009, meaning Britain will have more forces based there than in Iraq for the first time since the 2003 Iraq invasion. Blair said on Wednesday that Britain would soon reduce troop levels in Iraq to 5,500.
Defense Secretary Des Browne authorized deployment of an extra 800 troops to the region on February 1. But some NATO countries refused to contribute new combat troops for Afghanistan during a summit in Seville, Spain, this month.
"It is increasingly clear, that at present, when it comes to the most demanding tasks in the most challenging parts of Afghanistan, only a small number of key allies are prepared to step forward," Browne told the House of Commons on Monday.
Lawmakers in Britain, the United States, Canada and other nations with troops in southern Afghanistan have been angered by the reluctance of some European allies to commit extra troops to the 35,500-strong NATO force, and in particular to allow their soldiers to be deployed to the Taliban's heartland in the south and east.
Both France and Germany raised doubts about the need for more troops during the NATO conference.
Britain has around 5,500 troops in Afghanistan, mainly based in the volatile southern province of Helmand, a Taliban stronghold and center of the country's opium trade.
Browne said the extra 1,400 troops would form a battalion charged with roving across a swathe of southern Afghanistan, mounting attacks on Taliban targets and responding to insurgent offensives.
The soldiers will work across the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul and in the sparsely populated desert region of Nimroz -- which borders eastern Iran -- and in the mountain region of Daikondi, he said.
Deploying in Nimroz will mean Britain has a presence close to both Iran's western and eastern borders. Blair said on Wednesday that the remaining troops in southern Iraq would be responsible for securing stretches of Iraq's frontier with western Iran.
Browne acknowledged Britain, the United States and others were "shouldering a greater burden than we like" in leading the alliance's mission to combat Taliban loyalists and extend the reach of President Hamid Karzai's Kabul government.
But he told lawmakers that failing to deploy additional combat troops posed "too great a risk to progress achieved" so far by the mission.
Opposition Conservative lawmaker Liam Fox said the failure of several NATO countries to match the commitment shown by Britain, the United States, Canada and the Netherlands, called the future of the alliance into question.
"If NATO is to exist and flourish in the future, this is not a tenable position," Fox told lawmakers during the session.
However, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on Monday he believed alliance members were aiding the mission.
"I do not share the analysis that other nations are not stepping up to the plate because we have seen many allies ... announcing or making effective an increase in their contribution," he said.
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Britain launches reconciliation drive to undermine Taliban
Tue Feb 27, 2:31 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - Britain has launched a reconciliation drive in Afghanistan in an effort to undermine the radical Islamist Taliban militia, The Guardian reported in an early edition of its Tuesday newspaper.
According to the daily, which cited unnamed senior British officials, Britain is now trying to identify Taliban fighters who are sick of fighting, and will attempt to persuade them to rejoin their tribes instead.
The news came after Defence Secretary Des Browne announced on Monday that 1,400 extra troops would be sent to southern Afghanistan, where NATO forces are bracing for a Taliban spring offensive.
"We do not use the word 'win' ... We can't kill our way out of this problem," a source told the paper.
Captured Taliban fighters may be offered alternatives to jail terms, and Britain will seek to negotiate more deals with tribal elders, The Guardian said.
"We are convinced most people do not support the Taliban and want to take a route through it," another source was quoted as saying by the daily.
An unidentified official familiar with British policy on Afghanistan told The Guardian: "The Taliban is not a homogenous group. It is a mixture of characters -- criminals, drug dealers, people out of work."
"The Taliban pays them to carry out these attacks so there are ways to tackle the problem, to split off the disillusioned."
The additional 1,400 British troops in Afghanistan takes the total number of British soldiers there from 6,300 to 7,700, with the announcement of the surge coming less than a week after Prime Minister Tony Blair announced a cut of 1,600 troops serving in Iraq.
Nearly 50 British troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the US-led war was launched in October 2001, many since last summer when Britain took over NATO command, spearheading a push into the volatile south.
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Afghanistan funding boost too little, too late?
Feb 27, 2007 04:30 AM James Travers Toronto Star, Canada
For mostly the wrong reasons, Afghanistan is again the talk of two villages. In the tiny one on Parliament Hill, Stephen Harper is committing more aid and Stéphane Dion, with an equally sharp eye on the coming election, is promising to bring home the troops in 2009. In the bigger global village, the United States and Britain are rediscovering the front on the "war on terror."
All that chatter is a warning. Progress in Afghanistan's relatively stable north isn't mirrored in the wobbly south where generals now warn the situation is precarious.
It's not just that the Taliban is regrouping for a spring replay of the last offensive that for months put Canadian casualties in headlines.
Half a world away in Washington, the intelligence community that waved red flags before 9/11 is again sniffing trouble in the easterly wind.
Those currents converge along Afghanistan's disputed border with Pakistan. Protected by overarching regional and international preoccupations, the Taliban and its malignant parasite Al Qaeda are free to raid and plot.
Countering those threats is suddenly an allied priority.
As Canadian soldiers again brace for the worst, the not-so-new Conservative government is throwing more money at the hearts-and-minds campaign there hoping both voters and the anti-war NDP here will support the tactical shift toward reconstruction.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Britain are refocusing their attention from the lost Iraq cause to the central Afghan one that might still be won.
Since governments prefer root-canal surgery to candour, no one anywhere is confirming the obvious.
Stabilizing and rebuilding Afghanistan on the cheap isn't working and the job is now more problematic than on the day when the U.S. wandered off to topple Saddam Hussein.
Students of current history will recall that the Bush administration justified that gross miscalculation by fancifully connecting Iraq's secular despot with Islam's sectarian fanatics.
They will remember, too, that Harper saw merit in a reckless invasion that more savvy foreign policy analysts correctly warned would create a power vacuum and a civil war.
Pointing to past misjudgment is more than churlish hindsight.
It's also a more useful reminder that, like the rest of us, politicians suffer from human frailty as well as the compulsion to arrange selected facts in the most favourable order.
That puts the onus on voters to subject government explanations to microscopic scrutiny when lives are at risk.
On one level, applying that examination to yesterday's announcement isn't particularly scary for the Prime Minister.
Bitter experience proves it will take many more millions and many more troops to rescue Afghanistan.
By adding $200 million to Canada's current $1 billion, 10-year commitment, Harper is making a significant contribution to reconstruction while the U.S. and Britain add the commitment to security so urgently needed immediately after the Taliban was driven from Kabul and power.
But two nagging questions remain: Is this renewed effort too little, too late and is this Afghanistan strategy in Canada's best interest?
The wait for the first answer will be short.
NATO commanders are now making it unusually clear that Kandahar is now at the tipping point.
In a place where decisions are life-and-death, ordinary people must now choose between local insurgents apparently willing to fight forever and foreigners who say they will stay as long as it takes.
As this month's Senate report found, geography and history tilt to the Taliban. Worse still, there are legitimate doubts about the effectiveness of the Afghanistan model.
It's awkward to admit, but in important ways this mission is at least as much about us as it is about them.
Canada's Afghanistan fixation is a post-9/11 phenomenon driven by everything from Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor's disturbing appetite for "retribution" to Ottawa's eagerness to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Washington.
Neither is as widely appealing as the notions that we are there to free Afghan men and, particularly, women, or that Canada's security rises as the Taliban and Al Qaeda fall.
Those arguments were front and centre again yesterday as the government offered a generally upbeat "progress" report.
But optimism alone isn't about to dispel lingering skepticism about the effort to morph tribal country with an opium economy into a model market democracy.
No compelling argument can yet be made that the three Ds of defence, development and diplomacy is making a successful transition from public relations sloganeering to successful strategy. Pumping even more millions into a sea of corruption is self-evidently risky.
And it's mostly wishful thinking that war over there makes anyone safer here, while there's reason to fear that infidel boots on Muslim soil may stimulate the opposite.
Aligned against those negatives is this positive: The Afghan project is now facing an acid test and the more thoughtfully it's discussed, the greater the hope of moving past flag waving to creative responses.
James Travers's national affairs column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
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Pressure Grows On Musharraf After U.S. Vice President's Visit
February 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise visit to Pakistan today amid international concerns over Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's efforts to fight Al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists.
Musharraf is under growing Western pressure to act against Islamic militants thought to be using Pakistan's tribal regions to carry out cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.
Cheney's met with Musharraf in Islamabad today only hours after "The New York Times" reported that U.S. President George W. Bush had decided to send a tough message to Musharraf.
Reports from Pakistan say Cheney expressed "apprehensions" to Musharraf about the regrouping of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan's tribal areas. Islamabad says Cheney also communicated "serious U.S. concerns" over intelligence about a Taliban spring offensive against Western forces in Afghanistan.
Najib Aamir , RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent in Pakistan, says Pakistan's official news agency emphasized Cheney's positive comments to Musharraf.
"Musharraf claims that Pakistan has destroyed many hideouts of Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistani territory and captured their leaders," Aamir said. "Pakistani state sources quote Dick Cheney as praising Pakistan's efforts. But independent sources report that the U.S. vice president told Musharraf that Islamabad has to do more."
Pakistani Foreign Minister Kurshid Mahmud Kasuri said Cheney's talks with Musharraf were not limited to the military situation in Afghanistan and along the border.
U.K. Offers Praise
"We also discussed regional and international issues of mutual interest including Pakistan-India relations and the composite dialogue for resolution of core issues -- including the Kashmir dispute, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Middle East," Kasuri said.
Cheney's visit took place at the same time that British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett was in Islamabad for talks with Musharraf. Beckett offered some praise for Pakistan after a meeting in Islamabad with Foreign Minister Kasuri today.
"It is true of all of us that we have not yet been able to do enough in order to stem some of these threats [by militants]," she said. "We do welcome the efforts that are made by the government of Pakistan, the strength of the cooperation that exists between our two countries, and the foreign minister, and I have both said that we want to see that cooperation strengthened and deepened."
British forces are currently fighting against militants in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand.
Meanwhile, "The New York Times" reported that Bush's message warns Musharraf that a new majority of Democrats in the U.S. Congress could cut aid to Islamabad unless Pakistani forces become more aggressive in their hunt for militants.
The report added that the White House has concluded that Musharraf is failing to live up to commitments he made to Bush during a visit to Washington in September.
Terrorist Infrastructure Being Rebuilt?
Musharraf insisted then -- both in private and public -- that a peace deal he struck with tribal leaders in the border area of North Waziristan would not disadvantage the hunt for the leaders of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban or their training camps.
But U.S. intelligence officials now conclude that the terrorist infrastructure is being rebuilt in Pakistan -- and that while Pakistani troops have attacked some of their camps, its overall effort has been waning.
An unnamed senior U.S. official who deals with South Asian issues was quoted as saying that Musharraf is being told that his forces need to achieve better results in the war against terrorists. The Democrats -- who took control of the U.S. Congress last month -- have urged the Bush administration to put greater pressure on Musharraf.
Although Bush publicly praises Musharraf's support on counterterrorism, there has been increasing U.S. frustration over Taliban sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the porous border with Afghanistan.
U.S. officials say the White House has ruled out unilateral strikes against militant training camps that U.S. surveillance satellites have been monitoring in North Waziristan. The fear is that U.S. strikes could damage the stability of Musharraf’s government.
The United States is increasing its military presence in Afghanistan by adding 3,200 troops to help with the spring offensive that is anticipated by the United States and NATO after the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the Taliban was ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001.
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Peaceful, vibrant Afghanistan in interest of Pak: Aziz
Tuesday February 27, 2007 (0402 PST) PakTribune.com
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has said that a peaceful, growing and a vibrant Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan, the region and the World and Pakistan will continue to extend its support to the Karzai government.
The Prime Minister said this while talking to British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Ms. Margaret Beckett, who called on him at the Prime Minster`s House Monday.
The Prime Minister said that all stakeholders in Afghanistan have an important role to play in repatriating the three million Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan and in reducing the growing drug production in that country. He also emphasized the need to set up more borders posts and intensify efforts for patrolling to prevent illegal cross border movement between the two countries.
The Prime Minister said that Pakistan is fighting the war against terrorism out of conviction and will continue to play its part in it. It however feels that there is a need to adopt a Marshall plan type approach to accelerate reconstruction in Afghanistan so as to bring about a palpable change in the quality of lives of the people of Afghanistan, the Prime Minister said.
Talking about bilateral relations, the Prime Minister said Pakistan has a multifaceted relationship with the United Kingdom which is rooted in history and shared objectives. He said that the large Pakistani community living in the UK provides a vital bridge between the two countries. Pakistan, he said, highly values this relationship as the UK is a major trading partner and aid giver to Pakistan. The Prime Minister particularly appreciated the role of the DFID which, he said, has truly been a strategic partner in Pakistan`s development and progress. He, however, said Pakistan needs Britain`s help in getting access to international markets especially its support in concluding a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union.
The Prime Minister apprised Ms. Margaret Beckett of President Pervez Musharraf`s initiative on the Middle East and his efforts to resolve the Palestine issue. The Prime Minister said that the President visited several countries in this connection where his initiative was well received and has elicited positive response. He also apprised Ms. Backett of the OIC Foreign Ministers` recent meeting in Islamabad and its efforts to resolve the various problems facing the Middle East.
About the situation in the country, the Prime Minister said that all elements of a functioning democracy are in place in Pakistan. He said the media is totally free and there are no restrictions on political activity and the opposition is active both within and outside the Parliament. The general elections in the country will be held in a free and transparent manner and all political parties will be free to contest them. The elections will also be open to inspection by the national and international observers and representatives of the media, he said.
Giving an overview of the economy, the Prime Minister said that Pakistan has been transformed in the last seven years during which the size of the economy and per capita income has doubled. He said Pakistan is fast emerging as a destination of choice for investors and foreign investment reached its highest ever level of $ 3.8 billion last year. In the first half of current year, Pakistan has already received foreign investment of over $ 3 billion and by the end of the current financial year it is expected to cross $ 5 billion, the Prime Minister added. He said that Pakistan wants British private sector to invest in Pakistan as Pakistan has become a regional hub of investment.
The Prime Minister also discussed Pakistan`s efforts to improve environment and said that Pakistan would welcome UK`s expertise in the context of climate change.
Ms. Margaret Beckett appreciated Pakistan`s efforts to fight the scourge of terrorism-an objective which, she said, her country fully shares with Pakistan. She also briefed the Prime Minister of the proposed deployment of extra British troops in Afghanistan to strengthen the efforts to fight terrorism.
She said that the UK will continue to extend its financial support and technical expertise to Pakistan to help consolidate its economic development.
The meeting was also attended by Foreign Secretary Riaz Muhammad Khan, British Ambassador to Pakistan H. E. Robert Brinkley and others.
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Bush White House defends Musharraf even as Cheney urges stronger fight against militants
The Associated Press February 26, 2007
WASHINGTON: The White House is expressing its support for Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf even as Vice President Dick Cheney presses Pakistan to crack down on extremists along its lawless border with Afghanistan.
U.S. lawmakers and Bush administration officials are eager to see Musharraf's government make stronger efforts against militants said to be using Pakistan as a base for attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But the White House also wants to defend Musharraf, a crucial U.S. ally who has been targeted by extremists.
Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would withhold U.S. military aid until President George W. Bush has certified that Pakistan had made every effort to counter militant operations in his country and secure the long Afghan frontier.
It was unclear when the bill might be considered by the Senate. Lawmakers are locked in a fierce debate on the direction of the war in Iraq. Democrats, who control Congress, are making efforts to force Bush and his Republican allies to change the war's course.
When pressed by reporters, White House spokesman Tony Snow refused on Monday to criticize directly Musharraf's efforts to fight terror, despite Cheney's trip to Pakistan to secure more help.
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On the campaign trail, Obama plays up early opposition to war In Paraguay, 'Bishop of the Poor' out front in 2008 presidential race Cheney makes secret trip to Pakistan"President Musharraf is committed to winning this, and we are committed to working with him in this war on terror," Snow said.
He spoke of Pakistan working on "being more effective at going after the bad guys" and "the importance of making even greater progress against al-Qaida, against the Taliban."
Still, Cheney's visit with Musharraf on Monday was an effort to press for Pakistan to help counter a spike in extremism in the region. Musharraf's office said Cheney spoke of U.S. fear of terrorists regrouping and urged stronger efforts to counter the threat.
Musharraf, according to his office, insisted his forces already have "done the maximum" possible.
Musharraf came to power in a military coup in 1999, but the Bush administration, an ardent advocate of democracy everywhere, supports his government because of its help for U.S. efforts to fight al-Qaida and other terror groups.
Pakistan, a nuclear-armed Islamic country, has deployed about 80,000 troops in its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan to try to stop militants from crossing into Afghanistan, where U.S.-led coalition and NATO forces operate.
Militants have regained ground in the region, sparking criticism in the United States and leading to the bill in the House seeking to condition Pakistani aid.
Pakistan is among the biggest beneficiaries of U.S. foreign aid. It received more than $3.5 billion (€2.7 billion) in direct U.S. assistance from 2002 through 2006, including $1.5 billion (€1.1 billion) in aid to military and police agencies, according to Congress' independent research service.
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As Afghanistan thaws into spring, experts wonder if troops are ready to confront a new Taliban push
By Laura King Los Angeles Times
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - As the U.S. Black Hawk helicopter skimmed low over the desert, the signs of approaching spring were everywhere: melting frost in the hollows, the first shoots of green in the nearby fields, shrinking snowcaps on distant peaks.
In coming weeks, winter will loosen its grip on Afghanistan. Senior NATO generals insist that their troops are well-positioned to confront the Taliban offensive that is expected to follow.
But some analysts, diplomats and other observers believe the Western alliance, and the Afghan government it supports, has failed to use winter's relative lull in fighting to seize the initiative in advance of a new battle with the insurgents.
The NATO forces in the south are being bolstered, but the influx of about 3,000 additional soldiers privately is described by field commanders as both tardy and considerably smaller than what they had hoped.
The reinforcements will come almost exclusively from the United States and Britain; troop commitments by other alliance members have failed to materialize.
In some key districts, Taliban militants have reinfiltrated areas they were driven from months ago. Even before the start of any large-scale offensive, the insurgents are demonstrating an ability to capture territory, including their brazen seizure of the town of Musa Qala in Helmand province this month.
With Western troop levels at their highest since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, including a record 26,000 U.S. soldiers, senior NATO officials in Kabul, the capital, described the insurgents as scattered and demoralized after battlefield defeats last year -- the bloodiest year of the conflict, with about 4,000 people killed.
The Taliban harbored ambitions of seizing Kandahar, the movement's onetime stronghold, but were blocked in that drive in the autumn, although fighting came within 10 miles of the city.
``2006 was a year of Taliban failure,'' said British Gen. David Richards, who turned over command of NATO forces to U.S. Army Gen. Dan McNeill this month. ``The Taliban did not achieve a single objective. . . . We proved that NATO can and will defeat the Taliban militarily.''
But commanders of remote coalition outposts that have come under frequent hit-and-run attacks this winter describe a resourceful and determined foe they believe will be back in force to fight again.
``They're hard-core -- very determined, very disciplined. They know the ground and they know how to fight, and they know how to adapt to changing conditions,'' said Canadian army Capt. Piers Pappin, whose mud-walled, thatched-roof outpost in the desert west of Kandahar was attacked repeatedly by bands of insurgents, even during the supposed winter lull.
Insurgent commandants have boasted that in coming months they will step up the use of crude yet lethal tactics such as suicide and roadside bombings, with which they can counter NATO troops' vastly superior firepower.
Suicide attacks increased fivefold in 2006, and the use of remotely detonated devices nearly doubled from the previous year, according to U.S. military figures.
In Afghanistan's impoverished south, which is expected to be the focal point of fighting in the spring and summer, the slow pace of reconstruction has hurt allied military efforts to build the trust of villagers.
``While the growing insurgency is attracting increasing attention, long-term efforts to build the solid governmental institutions a stable Afghanistan requires are faltering,'' the Brussels, Belgium-based International Crisis Group said in a report released at the end of January. As a result, ``disillusioned, disenfranchised Afghans are . . . responding to the call of extremists,'' it said.
Aid groups and non-governmental organizations have characterized the reconstruction effort as falling far short of the targets set a year ago by Western nations and the Afghan government.
``So much could have been done over the winter to make these people's lives better,'' said Norine MacDonald, who works in Kandahar province in village outreach programs sponsored by the non-profit Senlis Council. ``Instead, their situation is getting worse all the time.''
Heading into the next round of fighting, the dubious efficacy of the Afghan army also is a growing cause for concern. Coalition goals call for the force to expand to 80,000 soldiers by next year, but at this point, struggling with a high desertion rate, it is fielding only about 20,000.
Senior Western military officials put a positive face on the progress made in arming and training the force. But field-level allied officers who work closely with the Afghan troops privately predict that it will take many years to shape them into a professional army capable of confronting the insurgents on their own.
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UNODC proposes plan for improving border security between Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan
Vienna, Feb 27, IRNA
The head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, has proposed an action plan to improve border security between Afghanistan and its neighbours Iran and Pakistan.
"At the moment, drug traffickers cooperate better than the regional governments," he said during a visit to Pakistan on Monday.
While roughly a quarter of all opium and heroin produced in 2005 was seized up from 10 per cent in 1990 this was still well below the global interception rate for cocaine.
Costa stressed that Afghanistan needed to do more to control its sovereign territory, but added: "There are two sides to every border and Afghanistan's neighbours have a vested interest in stopping the flow of drugs, laundered money and chemical precursors." He noted that, during a recent visit to Iran, he had been impressed by the steps taken to prevent drug traffickers from entering that country.
Afghanistan's 5,800-km long border is difficult to guard because of high mountains and desert terrain. Some sections are well protected while others, particularly in the South, are extremely porous, allowing drug traffickers, smugglers and insurgents to operate with impunity, a press release issued by the UN Information Center (UNIC) said here Tuesday.
The Baluchistan region, straddling the borders of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, is particularly vulnerable to illicit activity.
The plan outlined by the UNODC executive director would include parallel and joint border patrols, joint training exercises, setting up border liaison offices and introducing compatible radio communications systems. At sea borders and high-volume freight crossings, special attention would be devoted to container security and the interception of chemical precursors needed to produce heroin.
During a visit to Islamabad from February 24 to 26, Costa outlined his plan to Pakistan's ministers of the interior and anti-narcotics and invited them to a meeting in Vienna on March 1 with their Afghan and Iranian counterparts.
A Joint activities and better information sharing are badly needed to fight drug trafficking and build security and confidence in this part of the world," he said. "This is a regional problem that requires a regional solution with the support of all those who have a stake in controlling drugs and preventing instability. This is a shared responsibility."
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Upsurge in Afghan suicide attacks
By Ian MacWilliam BBC regional analyst Tuesday, 27 February 2007, 11:37 GMT
Suicide bombing was once unheard of in Afghanistan, but it has now become common as insurgents seek to destabilise the internationally-backed government in Kabul.
The latest figures show there were five times more suicide attacks in Afghanistan last year than in the previous year.
The tribal people of Afghanistan have a proud warrior tradition, and historically suicide attacks have never been a part of it.
Warriors known as ghazis might die fighting those they considered infidels, but would not set out to kill themselves.
One of the earliest suicide attacks in Afghanistan happened four years ago when a taxi packed with explosives blew up near a bus carrying German peacekeepers.
There was a sharp upsurge last year, and suicide killings have now become a common tactic used by Taleban and other insurgents opposed to Kabul's popularly elected government.
The attack at Bagram was the fourth in the past week. Suicide attacks have been most commonly used by Arab militants who oppose any Western involvement in Muslim countries.
A Taleban spokesman claimed the Bagram attack was carried out by an Afghan but reports suggest that many, if not most, suicide attackers in Afghanistan are foreign militants.
They have imported the tactic, particularly from Iraq, to pursue what they see as their jihad in Afghanistan, despite the support of most Afghans for the international forces trying to bring peace there.
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New Zealand studies request to boost troop numbers in Afghanistan
The Associated Press February 26, 2007
WELLINGTON, New Zealand: New Zealand is studying a request to increase its troop numbers in Afghanistan ahead of an expected northern offensive by insurgents but has yet to make a decision, its defense minister said Tuesday.
New Zealand currently has 116 troops deployed on provincial reconstruction work in Bamiyan province.
Afghanistan has asked for the deployment, due to end in September, to be extended and for an increase in troop numbers, Defense Minister Phil Goff said.
Cabinet is yet to make a decision on the request, but he said there were already plans for a small increase in the coming months as international forces brace for an increased threat of attack. The decision to send those extra troops was not linked to the latest requested by the Afghan government.
There have been reports that insurgent fighters are gathering on the Pakistan and Afghanistan border for a new offensive as spring thaws mountain snows.
Today in Asia - Pacific
Blast outside U.S. base in Afghanistan during Cheney visit Cheney makes secret trip to Pakistan Afghan tribal elders call for help to expel Taliban"We are aware that when the winter ends in Afghanistan there is likely to be a greater level of activity from al-Qaida and the Taliban, that is something the international forces take into account," Goff said.
"It's not an immediate high level threat in Bamiyan, but naturally we are not complacent about the risk that can exist, even in an area where our presence is welcomed," he said.
A spokesman for Goff said New Zealand troop numbers in Bamiyan will rise to 130 shortly. Others are helping to train the Afghan National Army and working with the international security assistance force.
New Zealand has taken part in military operations in Afghanistan since December 2001 and the reconstruction team has been there since September 2003.
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"Afghan soldier" jailed for blackmail in Beijing
www.chinaview.cn 2007-02-27 19:43:16
BEIJING, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- A man from east China's Shandong province has been sentenced to four years in jail by a Beijing court for claiming to be an Afghan soldier and trying to blackmail seven supermarkets including French retail giant Carrefour.
Wang Yongjian, 30, sent 16 threatening letters to Carrefour, Wumart and other chain stores in Beijing and asked each supermarket for 200,000 yuan (25,806 U.S. dollars) to stop him poisoning their products, according to the Shijingshan District People's Court.
"We are Afghan soldiers. We need money to go back home and fight for our country. Please bury 200,000 yuan in the hole under the advertising billboard at ..., otherwise we will inject poison into 20 products you are selling," said Wang in a letter.
"As a soldier, I really feel sorry for this. Please forgive me," read the letter.
Most of the supermarkets handed the letters to the police, according to one of the prosecutors.
It transpired from Wang's defense that he had downloaded the letter from the internet to vent the anger of his friends. They had been told by the supermarkets to remove the book stands they had set up outside the shop windows.
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Two Afghan Officials Detained For 'Links' With Taliban
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
February 26, 2007 -- Afghan authorities say they have detained a district administrator and his police commander for alleged "links" with the Taliban.
An Interior Ministry spokesman, Zemarai Bashary, says Mohammmad Ismail and Haikal Khan were detained after militants seized the Bakwa district in the western province of Farah in mid-February.
The town of Bakwa has been recaptured by Afghan and NATO troops but the surrounding areas remain volatile.
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Turkey to increase troops' strength in Afghanistan
KABUL, Feb 26 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul on Monday said his country would construct a modern hospital in Kabul.
Addressing a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta here, the Turkish FM said work on the hospital would be completed by the end of the current year.
He said Turkey would increase the number of its troops under the NATO peacekeeping force to 1,000 from the current 800 in the coming spring.
Spanta appreciated Turkey's commitment to the reconstruction and security in Afghanistan. He told journalists the two countries had signed 21 agreements and MoUs in different sectors.
Earlier, the Turkish FM also paid a visit to the central Maidan Wardak province, where he performed groundbreaking ceremony of a police training centre.
Ahmad Khalid Moahid
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New Taliban group named after Tora Bora
By Rahimullah Yusufzai The News International (Pakistan) February 26, 2007
PESHAWAR: A new Taliban group named after Tora Bora has been set up by the son of late Afghan Mujahideen leader Maulvi Yunis Khalis to organise resistance to US-led foreign forces primarily in eastern Afghanistan.
Qari Sajjad, a spokesman for the new Taliban group, told The News that their fighters were active in the eastern Nangarhar province and other parts of Afghanistan. He explained that the group was named Tora Bora because it had old bases in the Tora Bora mountain range dating from the days of the Afghan “Jihad.”
Tora Bora became known worldwide when the US warplanes bombed it for several days in December 2001 to kill Osama bin Laden, who was believed to be trapped there, and his al-Qaeda fighters. Most of the Afghan fighters hired by the US military to lay siege to Tora Bora were once members of Maulvi Khalis’s Hezb-i-Islami.
Speaking from an undisclosed location, he said Maulvi Khalis’ eldest son Anwarul Haq Mujahid was head of the Tora Bora Nizami Mahaz, or Tora Bora Military Front. He reminded that Mujahid was a former Taliban military commander and was presently leader of Hezb-i-Islami (Khalis), which barely exists after becoming faction-ridden and weak.
Mujahid had gone underground after the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Later, he prevailed upon his ailing father to join hands with the Taliban and declare “Jihad” against the foreign forces in the country.
He was able to hide his father until his death but was unable to attend his funeral in a village near Jalalabad. A bomb explosion had taken place during the funeral killing several people and the Taliban, who apparently wanted to kill the Governor of Nangarhar, Gul Agha Sherzoi, and other top government officials, were blamed for the attack.
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Afghan officers exchange ideas with Air Force counterparts
by Staff Sgt. Kevin Tomko
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
2/26/2007 - BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (AFNEWS) -- Eight Afghan army air corps officers recently visited the 455th Expeditionary Mission Support Group here. The group came to exchange ideas with their Air Force counterparts.
"They learned a lot," said Capt. Tommy Butler, who is an air corps advisory group mentor. "The Afghans don't have a complete infrastructure yet. They came to see what a full operation looks like."
Squadron commanders from the 455th EMSG accompanied their Afghan counterparts throughout the seven-hour visit. The Afghan officers were briefed on the Air Force organizational structure and were provided an overview of the Joint Logistics Center.
"They also came to see our organizational structure," said Col. Terri Chaney, the 455th EMSG commander. "It is actually a mentoring program for the Afghan officers. Their organization has a structure similar to ours with only slight differences."
The group toured such departments as services, security forces, personnel, supply, vehicle operations, civil engineering, aerial port and communications. At each location the Afghans were shown how that organization worked.
One of the main differences the Afghans noticed is chain-of-command duties. The Afghan officers said they handle even the smallest tasks themselves rather than delegating them to the lower ranks. Also, in their units it is common for visitors to walk right in to speak with a commanding officer without speaking to an executive officer or NCO first.
"The thing that impressed the Afghans the most was the duties of our non-commissioned officers," said Lt. Col. Steven Johnson, the 455th Expeditionary Mission Support Squadron commander. This was the first time he got a chance to speak to Afghans since he arrived at Bagram. "They were surprised at how much responsibility we gave our NCOs."
Captain Butler said the Army is setting up mentoring programs such as this all over Afghanistan.
"I think this was a ground breaking event," said Maj. Corey Ramsby, the 54th Expeditionary Combat Communications Squadron commander. "It's quite humbling to see the beginnings of a new country's air force," he said.
"My counterpart was impressed with what we have here, but I think he had mixed emotions because he was in Bagram in 1999. This was actually his base at one time, and now we're here."
The Air Force squadron commanders were impressed at the Afghans' dedication and how hard they were trying to make their air corps work.
"We will continue to support the Afghan army air corps," Colonel Chaney said. "Next time, we will go to their base in Kabul and exchange more ideas."
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Belgian soldiers leave for Afghanistan
Brussels, Feb 26, IRNA
A group of 50 Belgian soldiers from the anti-aircraft artillery regiment left for Afghanistan Sunday to replace an equal number of their colleagues, whose tour of duty there has come to an end.
They will be deployed to protect Kabul airport as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operation. There are currently some 300 Belgian soldiers in Kabul.
Moreover, the Belgian Army has soldiers stationed at Kunduz in the south of Afghanistan. Their mission is to track and destroy landmines, the local media has reported.
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Computers, Mercy Corps lead Afghan to Lewis & Clark
Translator - Mahmoud Khan couldn't go to college in Afghanistan or Pakistan
Tuesday, February 27, 2007 by ANGIE CHUANG The Oregonian
Mahmoud Khan, a Lewis & Clark College student, has helped Mercy Corps set up computer systems in post-invasion Afghanistan and Iraq, tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka, as well as Sudan, Kenya and Jordan.
He's a technical whiz who measures his travels not by the land or the culture, but by the computing challenges they presented -- the more complex, the better. Khan has devised ways to keep Afghanistan's ever-present dust out of delicate machines, guard against the effects of Iraq's 120-degree summers and restore Sri Lanka's relatively high level of computer infrastructure destroyed by killer waves.
So it's surprising to learn that Khan, 26, who grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, never had a computer at home. He taught himself much of what he knows, studying computer manuals and working at Internet cafes, and mastered his skills in a one-year certificate course in Pakistan.
He never knew computers would be the ticket to employment with Portland-based Mercy Corps. That, in turn, opened the doors to gaining the university education that eluded him in a post-civil war, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
Now Khan is a first-year computer science major at Lewis & Clark, working part-time in Mercy Corps' headquarters as -- what else? -- an IT system administrator.
Recently, he took time from troubleshooting computer problems from the field offices around the world to talk about his winding path to Portland. Answers have been edited for brevity.
What was growing up in Afghanistan like?
I was born in Kandahar and grew up in Kabul. My family went to Pakistan during the civil war. I went to high school there. I wanted to go to university, but it was not possible at that time. In 1997, there were no functioning universities in Afghanistan. I could not go in Pakistan (there were restrictions that prevented Afghan refugees from going to Pakistani schools).
How did you get the job with Mercy Corps?
In 2002, my uncle was working there, and he suggested I apply for a translator job there. I had learned English because I had to know the English operating systems in order to learn computers. For two to three months, I did verbal and written translation between expatriates and local workers in the office, as well as out in the field.
Then Mercy Corps asked me to do IT stuff for them. We had 25 to 30 desktop computers and seven to eight laptops in the Kandahar office. The electricity was not stable. We had big generators, but power was always a problem. We had problems with dust, with the satellite system we used for Internet; when a lot of NGOs (non-governmental agencies) got to the area, the performance became pretty bad.
When did you start thinking about going to college in the United States?
It started when I got my first international assignment with Mercy Corps. They wanted me to go to Iraq in the summer of 2003 to help set up Mercy Corps there. It was a good experience. After that, I went to different countries, wherever Mercy Corps was setting up a field office.
Before Iraq, when I was in Afghanistan, I didn't feel the need for higher education. I interacted with a lot of people who were very well-educated. That's when I felt I needed to go to university.
What similarities or differences did you see between Iraq and Afghanistan?
Some of the infrastructure in Iraq is much better than in Afghanistan. Their roads and highways are better. They had problems with no electricity and water, though. From what I could tell by going out in the field, Iraq is not as poor as Afghanistan. I mean, people there were poor, but not as poor.
How did you decide to apply for school in Portland?
I had been to Portland once in 2004, for computer training with Mercy Corps. I stayed for two months. I liked Portland. The weather was nice. I knew a lot of people here because of Mercy Corps. I thought America was a very rich country, where everything was functioning. When you go somewhere, you can expect that everything is supposed to work right.
My friends at Mercy Corps told me that Lewis & Clark was a very prestigious school in Portland. It was my first choice. I started preparing to take the TOEFL and SAT in the beginning of 2005. I was a little nervous about applying and getting a visa. When I got the (acceptance) letter, I was very happy and excited. The visa took awhile, with the background check and security clearance, but it worked out.
What did you expect American college life to be like? What has it really been like?
I just thought that it would be different. I didn't really think about a lot of stuff about my life here. I had heard that studying in America is not that easy, so I was just thinking about how I could do well and keep up.
I like it. I have a lot of friends. They are younger than me, and we may not have everything in common, but I think that makes it more fun. We do find things in common. I play soccer with a club at school. We go to restaurants, and we talk about classes. Sometimes people are interested in my life experiences, but I don't have to discuss them all the time.
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The Kite Maker
By Aryn Baker Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007 TIME Magazine
As anyone who has read the best-selling novel The Kite Runner knows, springtime in Kabul is heralded by flocks of dipping, looping and diving kites. But these aren't the kites of lazy weekend picnics. They are finely tuned flying machines sensitive to the slightest tug of a master's hand. The Afghan penchant for competition and (though few will admit it) gambling means that almost anything offers opportunity for a fight and a punt, from dogs to cocks, quail, sheep, boiled eggs and, yes, even kites. The object of this cruel ballet is to slice your opponents' string with yours, sending the vanquished tissue-paper jewel spiraling to the streets below. Packs of boys too poor to buy their own kites race for the downed warcraft so that they too can enter the fray. They are the kite runners.
In a country where most success stories are haunted by failure--more than 1.6 million girls are getting an education, but hundreds of schools have been torched by insurgents--about the only thing going right these days is the kitemaking industry. One of the more capricious moves of the Taliban regime, along with the banning of music and the requirement that all men grow beards, was a total prohibition of kite flying. In the first heady days after the fall of the Taliban in December 2001, men shaved, music blasted on car stereos and kites took to the air. For Noor Agha, Kabul's best kite maker, business has been soaring ever since.
Not that you would know it looking at his house. Agha lives in a graveyard. Land is at such a premium in Kabul these days that the dead compete with the living for space. A massive influx of refugees returning from exile following the Taliban's retreat has forced the near deserted neighborhoods fringing an old cemetery to squeeze between its graves. Agha's factory is his living room, where he has put his two wives and 11 children to work, cutting, shaping and gluing the intricate tissue-paper mosaics that make his kites stand out for their beauty and superior handling. The secret is in the glue, he says, holding up a pot of evil-smelling green paste. "No one knows my recipe for making a glue that stays perfectly flat when it dries, without rippling the tissue paper," he says. Business is so good these days that Agha has had to teach his wives how to make kites. He proudly calls one of them "the second best kite maker in Kabul," although he insists that she will never be as good as he is. "I have 45 years' experience. She'll never be able to catch up." His 6-year-old daughter may have a better chance. Already she is making her own kites to sell to neighborhood children at one afghani (2¢) apiece.
Agha has been feverishly at work producing hundreds of kites for use in China on the set of the highly anticipated adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. Agha says he treats every kite he is making for the movie as a work of art, marking each with his name and signature scorpion image. Even though few of the kites will be used in competition, he incorporates in their manufacture the techniques he has honed through years of flying and fighting--using precision to curve the bamboo frame, creating invisible joints and employing a method for impregnating cotton twine with ground glass, the better to cut down competitors.
The glass technique is something the fourth-generation kite maker learned from his father. For kite fighters it was the equivalent of graduating from bow and arrow to gunpowder. But increasingly there is a risk that the fighting kites are becoming too effective. For a while, those made with Pakistani nylon fishing line were all but impervious to attack. Then canny arms dealers started importing flexible, razor-sharp wire from China. The escalating threat of mutually assured destruction, according to Agha, widely recognized as the best kite fighter around, has taken the artistry out of the game. "Now it's like children fighting," he complains. "No skill, no technique." So Agha leaves the hilltops of Kabul to a younger generation, who will find new ways to win. These days he heads north on Fridays--kite day--to the Shomali Plains, where he gathers with other old-school flyers in intense matches in which the victor is the last kite flying. In most cases it's Agha's. "Making kites is my job," he says. "Fighting them is my disease."
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Remarks by Amb. Omar Samad on Capitol Hill On the occasion of new Canadian aid announcement to Afghanistan by H.E. Prime Minister Stephen Harper
February 26, 2007, Ottawa
Media release – Mix English-French text
Excellence, le très honorable Premier Ministre Stephen Harper,
Mesdames et messieurs,
Permettez-moi tout d’abord en tant qu’Afghan et représentant d’un pays qui a tellement souffert pendant de nombreuses années, un pays où les espoirs d’un peuple pour un meilleur avenir restent très réels, de remercier le Canada pour sa générosité envers le développement et la reconstruction à long-terme de l’Afghanistan.
Je veux aussi rendre hommage a la vaillance et aux sacrifices des membres des Forces canadiennes qui parmi d’autres nations de l’OTAN, nous aident à stabiliser la région cible du sud, et à tout ceux qui réalisent l’importance stratégique et les dimensions humanitaires, économiques et régionales de la mission internationale en Afghanistan.
Mr. Prime Minister, the Afghan people join President Hamid Karzai and our government in extending their sincere appreciation for today’s significant multi-purpose increase in Canadian aid to Afghanistan. The President has asked me to thank you, and through you, all Canadians for reaching from one corner of the world to another to lend a stronger hand of friendship, compassion and support.
Your government’s decision to increase Canada’s non-military commitment to the Afghan people by three-fold at this crucial juncture will not only help improve the lives of Afghan men, women and children, but it will also assist the Afghans to reach the goals set out in the internationally-binding Afghanistan Compact, mainly in terms of development, governance, law-and-order, counter-narcotics, de-mining and poverty reduction.
However, it is a fact that Afghanistan continues to face numerous challenges, despite concrete achievements in many areas over the past five years. To overcome these hurdles, it is imperative that with continued international engagement, we implement well-managed, pragmatic and effective measures, backed by long-term support, to bring even more tangible changes to the lives of Afghans.
Mr. Prime Minister, just a few days ago I joined you and others in Mississauga, at the opening of a distribution center for medical aid to countries like Afghanistan through a giving Canadian NGO, and you paid tribute, not only to the work of such groups, but also to the generosity of the private sector, civil society and individual citizens as well.
Over the past couple of years, I have witnessed, first-hand, the caring spirit shown by Canadians, not only towards my country, but towards others in need as well. In the case of Afghanistan, we see your citizens empowering women and war-widows, building schools in remote Afghan villages, providing firefighting equipment, donating wheelchairs, supplying medicines, offering scholarships and books, and supporting Afghans through many other people-to-people initiatives.
On this occasion and on behalf of all Afghans, I would like to tell you that from our perspective, Canada stands proud and tall among nations for making good on its pledges to support one of the world’s most war-torn and impoverished countries.
Afghans yearn to live in a stable environment that would enable them to build a thriving and prosperous democracy that works for them. To this end, piece-by-piece, we are laying the foundation for such a society, and to help us fulfill those aspirations, Canada is proving once again today, that not only does it care, but it also delivers. Your continued commitment will not be forgotten in Afghanistan. Thank you.
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Foreign investment increased in Herat
HERAT CITY, Feb 25 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The direct foreign investment has recorded $15 million increase in one year in the western province of Herat, officials said on Sunday.
The investment had been made in industrial, construction and public services sectors, said Mir Mohammad Yaqoob Mashoof, secretary of Industrials Association in Herat. He said the investors mainly included Iranian, Germans, Turkish and American firms and individuals.
Mashoof said more than 200 factories were currently operational in the Herat industrial zone, producing motorbikes, tractors, electric instruments, food stuff and drinking juices. He said about 13,000 locals had been employed in the factories.
Tamim Kakar, head of Afghanistan Investment Support Agency (AISA) in Herat, told Pajhwok Afghan News the number of foreign and domestic investors had increased. The agency had issued licenses to 18 foreign and 623 local companies so far, he added.
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Wahaj Clinic offers diagnostic facilities for breast cancer
KABUL, Feb 25 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Wahaj Diagnostic Clinic and Institute is going to launch diagnostic facilities for breast cancer in Kabul.
Dr Mohammad Hashim Wahaj, head of the clinic, told Pajhwok Afghan News on Sunday they would diagnose the disease by using mammography.
He said the people would not need to go abroad for diagnosis of breast cancer after the opening of the mammography branch of the health clinic.
Dr Wahaj is optimistic about the future and said treatment of cancer was possible in Afghanistan. He said it was easy to control the killer disease in the early stage.
Dr Abdullah Fahim, spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health, welcomed the launching of mammography service at the Wahaj clinic. "We hope Wahaj clinic will be able to hire professional staff for diagnosis."
Wahaj Diagnostic Clinic and Institute was established in 1992 in Kabul. At that time, there were some ultra-sound machines. However, the clinic has now facilities like CT Scan, angiography and encephalography.
Dr Wahaj said an average of 200 patients visit his diagnostic clinic on daily basis.
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Amnesty against Sharia: Clerics
KABUL, Feb 25 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Some local clerics believe approval of the amnesty bill by the two houses of parliament is against Sharia (Islamic laws).
The bill, called the Reconciliation Draft Law, seeks amnesty for all those accused of war crimes and human rights violations during the more than two and a half decades of war and civil strife in the country.
The 11-article draft law was approved by the lower house of parliament last month and the upper house or Meshrano Jirga also followed suit last week. The draft is now awaiting President Karzai's signature to become a law.
Maulvi Din Khabar, a local cleric and former member of court in Bagrami district of Kabul, says only the victims of the war can give amnesty to those accused of war crimes under Sharia.
"No third party can forgive a crime committed by someone, but the victims," said Din Khabar. He termed parliament's approval of the draft law as against Sharia.
At the same time, he suggested the government should organise a referendum if it was so much interested in the issue and get the views of the people. He said the people elected the MPs to represent them in the parliament, but they (MPs) were violating the rights of their electorates.
Shaiq Ahmad, another mullah from the eastern Nangarhar province, told Pajhwok Afghan News forgiving 'criminals' by the government would encourage them to commit more such crimes. The country would be dropped into chaos if the draft was signed into law by the president.
Professor Abdul Samad Karamat of the Kabul University's Islamic Law Department said the judiciary must act and brought those to justice who had committed crimes against humanity.
He said judiciary must be independent and it was its jurisdiction to challenge the law even if signed by the president. Those accused of war crimes must be brought to justice, he stressed.
The draft law has already been criticised by the international community and human rights organisations, who asked the president not to give his approval. However, the big show of power by former mujahideen commanders, majority of whom are either key members of the Karzai-led government or sitting in the parliament, was aimed at mounting pressure on the president to sign the bill into law.
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Five injured in Bagram clash
CHARIKAR, Feb 25 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Five people have been wounded in an armed clash between bodyguards of head of the Parwan provincial council and unidentified armed men in Bagram town, north of Kabul.
Major General Mohammad Salim Hassas, police chief of Parwan province, told Pajhwok Afghan News a verbal dispute between bodyguards of the provincial council head Farid Ahmad Shafaq and unidentified armed men led to the armed clash last evening.
Three passers-by and two bodyguards of Farid Ahmad injured in the clash. Hassas suspected some personal dispute behind the fighting.
He said two of the bodyguards had been arrested for triggering the clash. He said both parties were equally responsible for involving in the clash at such a sensitive site.
Abdul Alim, a shopkeeper in Bagram, said people run for cover and shopkeepers left their shops as the two sides started firing at each other.
Farid Ahmad Shafaq, head of the provincial council, told Pajhwok Afghan News the armed men were quarrelling among themselves over some issue. They started firing at his bodyguards as the latter get closer to resolve the dispute, he argued.
Police in the central Maidan Wardak province said they had arrested four robbers in Tangi area of the Saidabad district last night.
Provincial police chief Mahboob Amiri said the gang of robbers was arrested red-handed while trying to rob passengers from cash and valuables on Kabul - Kandahar Highway.
He said the snatched money and valuables were recovered from the robbers and handed over the passengers. They were being investigated at the police headquarters, said the officer.
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