Afghans flee town as Taliban dig in for NATO raid
By Saeed Ali Achakzai
SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (Reuters) - More than 1,000 villagers have fled a southern Afghan town as Taliban fighters dig in to repel NATO efforts to drive them out, residents and officials said on Wednesday.
Helmand provincial governor Haji Assadullah Wafa told Reuters by phone a military operation would soon be launched to recapture Musa Qala, which the Taliban over-ran last week.
British-led NATO forces had struck a deal with tribal elders after months of heavy fighting to withdraw from the town if the Taliban were also kept out.
"The Taliban are only in the town to create problems for the people," he said. "They do not have the ability to seize an area and maintain their control over it."
It is not uncommon for the Taliban to seize a town or district center, but they do not hold them for long.
A large number of Taliban fighters had reinforced the town with heavy weapons, a resident told Reuters by phone, and NATO spy planes could be heard overhead.
The Taliban have accused foreign troops of violating the truce with an air strike that killed the brother of local Taliban leader Mullah Ghafour. NATO commanders and villager elders say that strike was outside the area covered by the truce.
Ghafour was himself killed in an air strike on Sunday.
Separately, U.S.-led forces said they arrested two suspected al Qaeda members on Wednesday in eastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.
Both were Afghans, the force said in a statement, but it did not identify them.
"The operation was conducted based on information provided about an al Qaeda member known to pass correspondence for al Qaeda senior leaders," the force said. It did not elaborate.
BLASTS KILL FIVE
Also on Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed two Afghan guards working for a U.S. security company in the southern province of Kandahar, provincial officials said. Six guards were wounded.
Three police officers were killed while defusing a mine planted by the Taliban on a road in the west of the country on Tuesday night, police said.
After the bloodiest year since the Taliban was ousted in 2001, NATO and the insurgents are gearing up for a major offensive when the snow melts in the spring.
The new commander of NATO's 33,000-strong International Security Assistance Force, U.S. General Dan McNeill is expected to take a more aggressive approach than his British predecessor, General David Richards, after taking over on Sunday.
NATO's top operational commander wants more troops to help crush the Taliban, but faces widespread reluctance among allies to come forward, alliance officials said in Brussels on Tuesday.
U.S. General Bantz Craddock will present a request for 3- extra battalions -- the equivalent of more than 2,000 troops -- at a meeting of national defense ministers in Seville on Thursday and Friday, they said.
(Additional reporting by Mark John in Brussels)
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Afghanistan: NATO Struggles With Security, Rebuilding In Helmand
By Ahto Lobjakas
LASHKAR GAH, AFGHANISTAN; February 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Once referred to as Afghanistan's "breadbasket," this is among Afghanistan's the most developed regions. Some of Helmand Province's infrastructure -- including irrigation networks and roads donated a half-century ago by the United States and the Soviet Union -- could be returned to use with a minimum of effort.
But Helmand is also home to Taliban militants, opium production, and tribal tensions.
Taliban fighters' brazen takeover of a town in southern Afghanistan this month marked a major setback for NATO and its Afghan allies. Just days before that seizure, British officers were touting the power-sharing deal that kept Taliban fighters out the town of Musa Qala as a possible blueprint for other parts of Helmand Province.
These problems are hampering NATO's British-led efforts to rebuild the province.
Winning Afghan "hearts and minds" is the overriding ambition of nearly every NATO official or soldier here. Military and other officials acknowledge that the Taliban-led insurgency cannot be defeated without improving the lives of ordinary Afghans.
But they also express a frustrating sense that locals are simply willing to side with whichever side offers better terms.
NATO officials say they try to hire local contractors for their projects. In Lashkar Gah, the PRT has distributed nearly $3 million in cash to Afghan contractors in since July.The provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in Helmand's Lashkar Gah is part of NATO's effort to win public trust.
Tens of millions of dollars are pouring into the province. Much of that money is provided by Britain, but junior partners Denmark and Estonia play a part in Lashkar Gah, too.
"Those projects vary enormously, but there are small infrastructure-type projects, such as providing covered stalls at the Friday market, and some work to prevent [the Helmand River] from eroding the bridge, the Bolan bridge, and also rehabilitating some of the police checkpoints, and that sort of thing," says British diplomat Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, acting head of the Helmand PRT. "But also we've worked with a women's center in that regard. I think we've done a children's play area."
A NATO source says the market and the bridge were not necessarily among NATO's top priorities, but they were essential to securing the good will of the provincial leadership.
Cochrane-Dyet says Britain is investing $38 million into longer-term projects, mostly focused on rural infrastructure. He says the money will translate into 1,000 wells and 49 kilometers of roads that are crucial for local economic development.
A recurring theme at NATO briefings is the contribution that roads can make to opening markets for alternatives to Helmand's opium poppies -- the source of more than half of Europe's heroin.
Promoting The Kabul Government
Ian Huntley, deputy commander of the military component of the PRT in Lashkar Gah, stresses that NATO wants its aid to be regarded as an Afghan achievement -- for a variety of reasons.
"The other point about it is, of course, that we're trying to win hearts and minds not for ourselves, but for the Afghan government," Huntley says. "So the fact that there's a Union Jack on something wouldn't help; [it] would probably just make something a target...associated with outsiders, with foreigners. But what you want is for the locals to see that their standard of living is going up and [to] associate that with the government of Afghanistan -- not with outsiders."
NATO officials say they try to hire local contractors for their projects. In Lashkar Gah, the PRT has distributed nearly $3 million in cash to Afghan contractors in since July.
The Security Problem
But security remains a major obstacle. For example, Estonia is providing equipment to a local hospital, in that country's first-ever development-aid experience.
The city of Lashkar Gah provides the backdrop for that Baltic state's first-ever experience providing development aid.
"Estonia has decided to spend $125,000 out of its 2006 budget to provide medical equipment for the children's ward of the main hospital of Helmand Province [in Lashkar Gah]," explains Estonian diplomat Toomas Kahur. "In more precise terms, we're talking here oxygen-generators and related equipment."
However, Kahur's recent visit to the hospital was cut short after just 15 minutes when his security team decides that an altercation with locals at the gates of the hospital -- coupled with intelligence that there are as many as six suicide bombers at large in Lashkar Gah -- represents an intolerable security risk.
Danger All Around
Outside Lashkar Gah, things are much worse.
NATO's mobile operations groups (MOGs) draw insurgent fire on a daily basis. There are very few permanent bases.
NATO officers say the heavily populated Sangin Valley to the north of Lashkar Gah is effectively controlled by the Taliban.
In the south, NATO's soldiers do not venture beyond Garmsir, where well-entrenched Taliban troops have been challenging them for months.
In the north, the limits of NATO's presence end where the mountains begin. These limits are best exemplified by standoffs around the district capitals of Now Zad and -- since its storming by Taliban in last week -- Musa Qala.
Now that the deal that ostensibly kept militants out of Musa Qala has fallen apart -- and locals are fleeing in anticipation of violence -- NATO will try and reclaim the district through other means.
That places the alliance -- and its desire to play a supporting role to the Afghan government -- in a delicate situation, particularly as NATO battles for the "hearts and minds" of area residents.
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Afghan tribal elders call for talks with warlords, Taliban leader
The Associated Press February 7, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan: Tribal elders from the insurgency-plagued eastern provinces of Afghanistan want to negotiate with the country's key warlords, including Taliban leader Mullah Omar, to push for peace and stability in the region, a tribal leader said Wednesday.
The elders convened in Kabul for a two-day jirga — or tribal meeting — aimed at giving them a larger role in the country's stability, said Arsalh Rahmani, a leader from Paktika province and member of Parliament.
The elders are interested in holding talks with warlords Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Jalaluddin Haqqani and the Taliban's Mullah Omar, Rahmani said at the end of the two-day gathering with 140 tribal elders, religious leaders and government officials from six provinces.
The non-governmental Tribal Liaison Office convened the meeting with leaders from Paktia, Khost, Paktika, Logar, Ghazni and Wardak provinces to address instability and underdevelopment in their region.
Several militant groups including al-Qaida, the Taliban, and fighters for Hekmatyar and Haqqani, are believed to operate in eastern Afghanistan and over the border in Pakistan.
Today in Asia - Pacific
What role for emerging India as a U.S. ally? Indonesian deal with U.S. vaccine company worries WHO Residents cleaning up as floodwaters recede in JakartaThe Afghan government has been trying to convene a joint Pakistan-Afghanistan jirga for tribal leaders to discuss security, but the plans appear to have floundered over disagreements with Pakistan over who should attend.
Paktika Gov. Mohammed Akram Akhpelwak said that Afghanistan is "completely ready" for the jirga but that Pakistan is moving slow and was holding up the meeting.
Pakistani Foreign Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.
Wahidullah Omar, deputy secretariat for the bilateral jirga, said that the date and number of people attending the jirga were not yet clear.
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German cabinet approves sending Tornados to Afghanistan
by Emsie Ferreira Wed Feb 7, 6:56 AM ET
BERLIN (AFP) - The German cabinet has voted to send Tornado jets to Afghanistan ahead of a NATO meeting at which the United States will press its allies to commit more troops to battle the Taliban.
Germany plans to deploy six of the fighter aircraft exclusively for surveillance missions.
Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said they would be used to provide NATO allies combating the Taliban insurgency with aerial images of the militia fighters and will be manned by about 500 German soldiers.
The decision, which is expected to be approved by parliament in March, has raised fears in Germany that the country could get sucked into a spiralling conflict in southern Afghanistan.
German troops hold the command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the more stable north, but Berlin has resisted calls to extend the mandate of its 3,000 troops in Afghanistan to allow them to operate in the unrest-hit south.
In recent months, however, Germany has come under increasing pressure from its NATO allies who are expecting the deadliest Taliban uprising since they were ousted in 2001 to worsen in the spring as snows melt in Afghanistan.
Washington is expected to use an informal, two-day NATO meeting which starts in the Spanish city of Seville on Thursday to push its partners to follow it in committing more troops and resources to Afghanistan.
"We want to see a spirit of commitment and we want to see everybody give as generously as they can," a senior US official said ahead of the gathering.
Jung said that if the Bundestag gave the green light for deploying the Tornados, the aircraft could be in Afghanistan by mid-April.
The mandate for the mission will run until October 13, when the current UN mandate for the 35,000-strong ISAF operation expires, he said.
Government sources said the defence ministry ruled out sending the fighter jets into combat in a bid to bring around opponents of the mission.
It has sparked a heated debate in Germany, which remains wary of sending troops into combat because of its World War II past.
A poll published on Tuesday showed that 77 percent of the population opposed the deployment of the Tornados.
But Jung said Germany and its allies had no choice but to seek to improve the security situation in Afghanistan to ensure that their efforts to rebuild the country were not undone by violence.
"You cannot rebuild without security," he told a press conference.
The NATO-led forces are seeking to extend the power of President Hamid Karzai's government to the country's remote, lawless regions.
But the Taliban has surprised the foreign force by launching its strongest challenge since the movement was overthrown in 2001 for harbouring Osama bin Laden.
Some 4,000 people were killed in violence in Afghanistan last year and suicide attacks have increased.
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Bomb blasts kill five in Afghanistan
Wed Feb 7, 7:28 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - A series of bomb blasts in Afghanistan killed five police and guards in the latest attacks linked to a Taliban insurgency expected to intensify in the coming months.
In one incident a parked motorbike packed with explosives detonated near a van of a US-based security firm accompanying a NATO convoy through the volatile southern province of Kandahar, killing two Afghan guards, the company said on Wednesday.
Six other men in the US Protection and Investigation (USPI) vehicle were wounded in the attack and three of them were critical and in a coma, said the head of security for the convoy, Abdul Khaliq.
The van had been escorting a convoy that was supplying logistics to NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops when it was hit in the volatile Maiwand district of Kandahar, the Taliban's birthplace.
The district governor, Haji Saifullah, said it was a remote-controlled bomb.
The attack was around 100 metres (yards) far from the district headquarters on a major highway that links Kandahar city with the western capital of Herat and Kabul.
The officials did not say who might have been behind the attack but the area has seen some of the worst fighting in a Taliban-led insurgency launched after the extremist movement was driven from government in late 2001.
Another blast occurred while police were defusing a remote-controlled bomb in the Shindand district of Herat province.
It killed three of Zir Koh district's top police officers, including the criminal investigation and police operations directors, said the police commander for western Afghanistan, General Akramudin.
A third remote-controlled bomb hit a patrolling police vehicle in the southwestern province of Nimroz, the provincial police chief said.
"Their vehicle was targeted by a remote-controlled bomb. Three police were wounded and their vehicle was destroyed," Mohammad Daud Askarzada told AFP.
Insurgency-linked violence killed more than 4,000 people last year in Afghanistan, a fourfold increase on the year before, according to figures from various officials. Most of the dead were rebel fighters.
The Taliban has warned it will unleash a storm of attacks this year. ISAF has downplayed the threat but US military officers have said the violence will likely pick up after spring in March.
Foreign forces in Afghanistan, which together have around 45,000 troops here, are positioning themselves for the challenge with requests for extra troops and equipment.
The German cabinet voted Wednesday to send up to eight Tornado jets to Afghanistan for use in surveillance operations and up to 500 soldiers to man them, officials said. The decision still needs to be approved by parliament.
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US military captures 2 Al-Qaeda suspects in Afghanistan
Wed Feb 7, 2:26 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - US forces in Afghanistan said they captured two suspected Al-Qaeda operatives near the Pakistan border after following leads on a suspect "known to pass correspondence for Al-Qaeda senior leaders."
The men were arrested in an early morning raid in a town in the eastern province of Nangarhar, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the border with Pakistan, the US military said in a statement on Wednesday.
"The operation was conducted based on information provided about an Al-Qaeda member known to pass correspondence for Al-Qaeda senior leaders.
"Two Afghan men were taken into custody for further questioning to determine their association with Al-Qaeda."
About 11,500 US troops are in Afghanistan to hunt down Al-Qaeda and other insurgents and train the fledgling Afghan army and police forces.
They have claimed to have arrested or killed several Al-Qaeda suspects along the border with Pakistan in the past months although the identities of the men, or if any remained in custody, have not been publicly announced.
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U.N. rights boss Arbour condemns Afghan amnesty
Wed Feb 7, 7:24 AM ET
PARIS (Reuters) - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has criticized Afghanistan's parliament for granting immunity to all Afghans involved in the country's 25 years of war.
In an interview with Le Monde newspaper, published on Wednesday, Arbour said the parliament should have waited and not rushed into the amnesty.
"They are letting people who have committed atrocities hold on to power," Arbour was quoted as saying. "An amnesty is permanent. There is no going back on it."
The immunity bill was approved by Afghanistan's lower house last week. It covers fugitive Taliban leaders as well as some members of parliament and senior government officials who are accused of abuses during a quarter century of fighting, including during the 1980s Soviet war and battles between rival warlords.
The national assembly said the move would help reconciliation in a nation shattered by years of war and civil strife that have left almost no family untouched by tragedy.
But Arbour said an amnesty was not the answer.
"The minimum would be to maintain room for justice and not grant any amnesty," she said, adding that if trials had risked making the situation worse in Afghanistan, the authorities should have bided their time and continued their investigations.
"Don't forgive anything without establishing the facts," she said.
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AFGHANISTAN: Civil society fights immunity for warlords
KABUL, 6 February (IRIN) - An association of 58 civil society and rights groups in Afghanistan has started campaigning against a controversial bill in the upper house that would grant immunity for all war crimes.
"First, we hope that the upper house will not endorse this draft, which is entirely against the will of our people and against the laws of our constitution. We are working hard with other civil and rights groups to avoid its potential endorsement by the upper house," Azaryuon Matin, coordinator of the Civil Society and Human Rights Network (CSHRN), which encompasses 58 civil and rights groups, said on Tuesday in the capital, Kabul.
"At the same time we are asking the international community for help to press the government and upper house to prevent its [the draft bill's] possible endorsement."
On 31 January, the 249-seat lower house (Wolesi Jirga) of Afghanistan's National Assembly approved a bill granting immunity to all those who committed war crimes during the Soviet occupation from 1979 to 1989; the civil war that followed until 1996; and during the Taliban rule until late 2001.
Parliamentarians who supported the bill said the motion would boost reconciliation in the country. Others believe the draft was voted in favour because the lower house is dominated by former warlords and communist officials who allegedly have blood on their hands.
The draft bill still needs to be endorsed by the 102-member upper house (Meshrano Jirga) of parliament and then signed into law by President Hamid Karzai.
"All 58 civil society groups are planning a meeting next week to get support from the European Commission [EC], the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan [UNAMA] and other international organisations in our effort against the bill," Matin said.
Such a law would damage the support of the international community for Afghanistan, which is approaching democracy and legality, the CSHRN said in a statement.
"If the bill is endorsed as law, it will be the end of democracy, civil society and human rights in our country," Aziz Rafee, head of Afghan Civil Society Forum (ACSF), a member of the CSHRN, told IRIN. "Peace and reconciliation can never be achieved without justice in our country."
An Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) 2005 report found that 90 percent of 6,000 people interviewed across the country wanted human rights violators removed from government, while 40 percent wanted former warlords such as General Atta Mohammad, Ismail Khan and General Abdul Rashid Dustum, to be prosecuted.
The report found 69 percent of Afghans interviewed had been subjected to or affected by crimes against humanity, including torture, murder and inhumane treatment.
News of the proposed draft has angered some victims of the factional war between various Mujahideen groups in the 1990s in Kabul. Tens of thousands of citizens of Kabul were killed between 1992 and 1996 during fighting between Mujahideen groups vying for power.
Mohammad Sadiq, 23, who lost his father when his house was hit by a rocket on 22 March 1993 in Kabul city, said Parliament's decision was "treason" against the victims and war-torn people of Afghanistan. "We did not belong to any warring faction but they hit my house, killing my beloved father and injuring me and my mother," Sadiq said.
"Forgiving war criminals itself is a crime. We did not expect such action from the parliament. Those who supported this draft will encourage other criminals to commit more crimes and there won't be prosecution for them."
Zabihullah, 22, is another victim of the factional war of the 1990s in Kabul. He said his father died when a rocket hit his house in 1994. "I won't forgive those who were involved … and were guiding the fighting in Kabul city. All the innocent people who lost their family members will not forgive them," Zabihullah told IRIN. "It is not the responsibility of Parliament [to forgive them] and the Parliament cannot make any decision in this regard."
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U.S. Presses NATO to Send More Troops to Afghanistan
By James G. Neuger
Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is pressing NATO allies to send more troops to Afghanistan, calling 2007 a decisive year for defeating the Taliban and lifting Afghan society out of poverty.
The U.S. will use a meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense ministers in Seville, Spain, starting tomorrow to call on allies to follow the American lead and devote more troops and money to the war effort.
``We are putting our money and our forces where our commitment is,'' Victoria Nuland, U.S. ambassador to NATO, said in an interview in Brussels yesterday. ``We are hoping and asking our allies to do as much as they are able to do as well, both on the security side and the development side.''
NATO is pursuing a twin-track strategy in Afghanistan, vowing to take the war to Taliban strongholds in the south and east while appealing for international financial aid to upgrade the largely rural and tribal economy.
The U.S. drove the Taliban from power in 2001 and handed over the Afghan mission to the 26-nation trans-Atlantic alliance last year. The U.S. retains 12,000 troops under American command in counter-insurgency operations and the hunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
NATO's Afghan force started 2007 with 33,000 troops from 37 countries, led by the U.S. with 11,800 and Britain with 5,200. The U.S. last month extended the combat tours of 3,200 soldiers by four months to June and the U.K. announced plans to send 300 more and redeploy 500 to the south, challenging the coalition to follow suit.
Some allies such as Germany and France are confining their involvement to quieter sectors in central and northern Afghanistan, leading to criticism that they are not fully behind the war effort.
The refusal of some countries to dispatch troops to the harder-fought south and east remains ``an area of particular concern,'' John Colston, NATO assistant secretary general for defense policy and planning, told reporters yesterday. The alliance needs ``the necessary resources free from national caveats to complete the job.''
Italy's plans to maintain 1,800 troops in Kabul and western Afghanistan squeaked through Prime Minister Romano Prodi's divided cabinet last month. In an emergency coalition meeting late yesterday, dissenting communists and Greens pledged to back the deployment in a parliamentary vote due by late March.
Germany is keeping a tight leash on its 3,000 troops in the north, with parliamentary consent required for today's cabinet proposal to dispatch by mid-April as many as eight Tornado reconnaissance jets with 500 pilots and backup staff to police the skies over Taliban bastions in the south.
``Are we now at war?'' ran the headline in today's Bild, Germany's biggest-selling newspaper. Some 77 percent of Germans oppose the Tornado mission, a poll by market researcher Forsa for the association of International Doctors to Prevent a Nuclear War showed yesterday.
Nuland and other NATO officials played down expectations that the two-day Seville meeting will yield concrete pledges to make up the troop shortfall that David Richards, the British former commander of the Afghan mission, last month estimated at 4,000 to 5,000. Another hole could open up when U.S. or British soldiers rotate back home.
``This is less a numbers game than a capabilities thing where we need to strengthen our operations along the border, strengthen the work that we're doing particularly in the south and east where it's delicate, and also bring development and good governance together with security,'' Nuland said.
Germany's surveillance warplanes would arrive just in time to counter what allied commanders expect to be a Taliban ``spring offensive'' to retake the southern city of Kandahar. A Taliban revival last year led to the most intense fighting since 2001, with roadside bomb attacks on NATO forces more than doubling to 1,745 from 865 in 2005.
``This is the year that the offensive in the spring needs to be the Afghans' offensive and NATO's offensive, and that's what we're planning for,'' Nuland said.
U.S. officials are also making the case for a broader strategy that embraces economic reconstruction and support for Afghanistan's fledgling government, answering European concerns that the prior strategy was too focused on the military.
President George W. Bush this week asked Congress for an additional $5.9 billion this year for ``expedited training of the Afghan security forces,'' according to White House budget documents. In 2008, he's asking for $2.7 billion for training in Afghanistan. Bush also asked for another $698 million in 2007 to build roads, provide food aid, build out the power supply, and carry out other activities in Afghanistan.
The European Commission has offered 600 million euros ($775 million) over the next four years.
International aid is propping up the economy. President Hamid Karzai's government relies on foreign money for more than half the budget.
Poppy production soared 59 percent last year to 165,000 hectares, making Afghanistan the source of 92 percent of the world supply of opium, according to the United Nations. Nuland ruled out NATO military strikes on poppy fields, saying the crackdown on the drug trade ``works best if it's the Afghan government that's out in front.''
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More, NATO, more
International Herald Tribune Karl F. Inderfurth and Bruce Riedel Monday, February 5, 2007
NATO defense ministers need to make some tough decisions about Afghanistan when they meet in Seville this week. The violence in Afghanistan is four times more intense than it was a year ago. Suicide attacks have jumped from 27 in 2005 to 139 in 2006; the use of roadside bombs has doubled. Aid and reconstruction workers are targeted, setting back development efforts.
First and foremost, more troops are needed.
The current level of 34,000 NATO soldiers in Afghanistan is only about 85 percent of what military commanders say they need. The outgoing NATO commander, General David Richards of Britain, has estimated that NATO is 4,000 to 5,000 troops short.
The United States, which contributes 12,000 troops to the NATO mission in Afghanistan and has another 12,000 personnel there under U.S. command, recently announced that it will keep 3,200 troops in Afghanistan for an extra four months to bolster NATO forces through the spring. Britain has said it will increase its overall deployment by 300.
These are positive responses, but they are not anywhere near enough.
At the meeting in Seville, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates should announce that the United States is prepared to further increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan. That would reinforce the message Gates took last month to his first visit to NATO headquarters: "Success in Afghanistan is our top priority."
But success in Afghanistan must also become the top priority for NATO's other 25 members. The day after the Defense Department announced plans to extend the tour of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, Richards said he anticipated that at least another brigade of combat troops would be coming shortly from the other countries making up the international force in Afghanistan, and more after that. Yet the NATO secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, seemed less certain, saying only that he is "relatively optimistic" that more troops will be forthcoming.
Seville must be the occasion for that new combat brigade to be confirmed. The United States and Britain should not bear the entire burden of increasing military forces in Afghanistan. NATO should also encourage its partners in the NATO Mediterranean dialogue, especially Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, to offer troops to help stabilize Afghanistan.
Second, NATO must join in the fight against Afghanistan's exploding drug trade. Afghanistan is in danger of becoming a full fledged narco-state. The opium harvest rose by almost 60 percent in 2006, accounting for about 92 percent of the world's supply. Between a third and a half of Afghanistan's economy is dependent on the illegal drug trade. Drug proceeds are supporting the Taliban and helping fuel the growing insurgency.
To date, U.S.- and NATO-led forces have been reluctant to take part in combating the drug trafficking. But it is now clear that the Afghan Army, police and counternarcotics forces are not adequate to the job, and will not be for some time. NATO must assume a counter-drug mission.
Third, NATO should create a contact group led by a senior NATO diplomat to engage with all of Afghanistan's neighbors on ways to stabilize the borders, especially the 1,600 mile frontier with Pakistan. So long as the Taliban has a safe haven in Pakistan, it can continue their insurgency indefinitely.
The contact group should include Iran, which has generally been helpful in Afghanistan (unlike in Iraq). NATO should also reach out to India, which has provided substantial aid for Afghanistan and has had a strong interest in being a partner in defeating Islamic extremism.
Finally, NATO's defense ministers should adopt the recent proposal by Human Rights Watch to set up a financial compensation program for civilian deaths, injuries or property damage resulting from NATO military operations in Afghanistan. Last year at least 100 noncombatants were killed in air strikes or ground fighting.
On this, the hearts and minds of the Afghan people are at stake. Their continued support is critical for a foreign military presence in their country, a presence that may be needed for at least a decade to ensure that Afghanistan does not fall to extremist forces again.
Karl F. Inderfurth, a professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, served as U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 1997 to 2001. Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, served as Special Adviser at U.S. NATO from 2003 to 2006.
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Afghanistan Conference Set In Italy For May
via Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
February 7, 2007 -- Italy will host an international conference on judicial reform and security in Afghanistan in May, one month later than originally scheduled.
The meeting will be part of Italy's stepped-up political involvement in Afghanistan as the new UN Security Council nonpermanent member in charge of Afghan issues.
The conference will bring together the Afghan government's main backers, including Britain, Canada, the European Union, Japan, and the United States, as well as the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Judicial reform, counternarcotics, infrastructure reconstruction -- which have all been hampered by corruption and a violent insurgency -- are to feature highly at the event.
Italy was earmarked to play a prominent advisory role in reforming Afghan judiciary practices under the UN-backed stability and reconstruction plan that followed the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001.
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Italy to stay in Afghanistan, says Prodi after spat with allies
Tue Feb 6, 4:20 PM ET
ROME (AFP) - Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said that his country would keep its troops in Afghanistan, at the end of a day in which his foreign minister had attacked some allied states for interfering in the decision.
"A disengagement on our part from Kabul would be incomprehensible today," he said after a meeting with leaders of the parties forming his coalition, some of whom are reluctant to maintain the country's military presence in Afghanistan.
"We stay for the moment in Afghanistan strengthening our civil commitment and in favour of peace," Prodi said.
He said there was no comparisons between the action in Afghanistan, where NATO and the United Nations were involved, and Iraq, which Italian troops left last year.
Prodi said he had been "surprised" by a weekend open letter signed by the ambassadors in Rome of six states with troops in Afghanistan.
Foreign Minister Massimo d'Alema had used stronger language earlier to express his "disapproval" of the ambassadors' letter, which urged Italy to stay the course in war-wracked Afghanistan.
"The public intervention of six ambassadors accredited to Rome can be interpreted as an inopportune external interference in the process of the taking of a decision which remains the exclusive competence of the government and parliament," d'Alema wrote to his six fellow foreign ministers.
The letter, which had raised tensions within the Italian government, was signed by ambassadors from Australia, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, Romania and the United States -- all of which have troops in Afghanistan.
"We must remain united," the ambassadors wrote in the joint letter published Saturday in the daily La Repubblica. "We must share all of the responsibilities to sustain security in Afghanistan."
Prodi's bid Tuesday to forge a united front on Afghanistan and other key foreign policy issues followed an embarrassing defeat in a Senate debate last Thursday on the enlargement of a US base in Vicenza, northern Italy.
Some 1,800 Italian troops are deployed in Afghanistan as part of the 33,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, which is trying to expand the influence of the weak central government.
The far-left of Prodi's multi-party coalition, particularly the communists and Greens, are strongly opposed to Italy's continued military involvement in Afghanistan, as well as the enlargement of the US base.
Though the Senate defeat posed no immediate threat to the government's majority, it has set alarm bells ringing with the crucial vote on Afghanistan expected within weeks.
Three far-left ministers boycotted a recent cabinet meeting to approve the refinancing of the Afghanistan mission and threatened to vote against it in parliament.
The letter urged Italians not to confuse Afghanistan with Iraq, from which Prodi's government withdrew Italian troops last December. It said the ISAF mission in Afghanistan was fully supported by the European Union and NATO.
"In Afghanistan, it is a UN mission with the full support of the European Union and NATO," a diplomat from one of the six signatory countries told AFP.
Tuesday's meeting was intended to smooth the way for a parliamentary vote on the extension of the Italian peacekeeping mission.
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Seven killed in separate incidents in Afghanistan
(DPA) 7 February 2007 Khaleej Times Online
KABUL - Seven people including three Afghan guards for a US security company and three police were killed in two blasts in Afghanistan, while two terrorists were detained by US-led forces in country’s east, officials said.
Three Afghan guards were killed and two were wounded when an explosive-packed motorcycle exploded in Maiwand district of southern Kandahar province on Wednesday morning, Esmatullah Alizai, provincial police chief of Kandahar told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
Alizai said that the bomb which was controlled a remote control detonated when a van belonging to the US Protection and Investigation (USPI) company was passing by the area.
In another separate incident, three Afghan police were killed and one was wounded while trying to defuse a roadside bomb in the western province of Herat, said Zemarai Bashary, Interior Ministry spokesman.
The bomb was newly placed on the road, he said, blaming ‘enemies of Afghanistan,’ a term often used by Afghan officials to describe Taleban militants.
In east of Afghanistan, two suspected Al Qaeda members were detained during a raid Wednesday by US-led coalition forces near the town of Hakimabad in the eastern province of Nangarhar, the military said in a statement.
The operation followed a tip that an Al Qaeda member was passing correspondence for senior leaders of the terrorist network, the coalition said, adding that the two men taken into custody for questioning were Afghan.
There were no casualties, the coalition added.
However, Afghan police gave different accounts of the incident that took place before dawn in an area about 15 kilometres west of the provincial capital, Jalalabad.
‘One suspected terrorist who was trying to escape the compound was killed by US forces, and six others were arrested during the operation,’ said Abdul Ghafoor, provincial police spokesman.
Nangarhar province is located on the border with Pakistan, where US intelligence officials said Al Qaeda is rebuilding itself in remote tribal areas, a claim hotly disputed by authorities in Islamabad.
Also on Wednesday, a spokesman NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) acknowledged that the Taleban has still held sway in a town nearly after a week they captured; saying ‘there was no rush’, in order to avoid civilian casualties.
Hundreds of Taleban attacked the central Musa Qala district of southern Helmand on Tuesday night, partly destroying district administrative building and lowering the Afghan government flag.
‘I think the government is showing maturity by acting the way it is, we have to remember that there are civilians in Musa Qala and rush to action might cause the problems that we might don’t want,’ Colonel Tom Collins told reporters in a press conference.
Collins said that ISAF was waiting for an Afghan government decision on retaking the town.
‘There is no need to rush to action there, the situation in Musa Qala is calm, we don’t see a build-up of Taleban forces, we don’t see the violence being enacted against the people of Musa Qala, and it is up to government that what further actions to be taken,’ he added.
In a further incident, three Afghan children were wounded on Wednesday when in mortar rounds which were against ISAF base in southern Helmand province missed the base and hit a nearby village, ISAF said in a statement.
The wounded children were flown to a nearby ISAF medical facility for treatment, the statement said, adding that one child was in critical condition.
In another development, a rocket fired from an unknown location hit an open area near Kabul international airport, causing no damage or casualties, Bashary said.
The rocket attack in the capital raised concerns that Taleban-led militants have penetrated the area around Kabul, which is relatively peaceful.
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Afghanistan: Facing The Taliban Threat In The Coming Months
By Ron Synovitz
February 6, 2007 -- NATO forces in Afghanistan are preparing for an anticipated spring offensive by the Taliban. On February 2, hundreds of Taliban fighters attacked and seize the town of Musa Qala in a remote district of Helmand Province. The battle has been closely monitored by Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and author of the book "Taliban." RFE/RL spoke to Rashid today about the events at Musa Qala and what fighting there suggests about Taliban tactics in the months ahead.
RFE/RL: The thaw at the end of the winter already has begun in southern Afghanistan. Does this mean that a Taliban spring offensive is imminent?
"The construction of new Afghan National Army divisions is going to be [accelerated]. They want to try to complete the 70,000 figure by the end of 2008 rather than in 2010, as was originally planned."Ahmed Rashid: There are two parts of an offensive going on right now. One is the battle for control of the area around the Kajaki Dam, which the Dutch and the British are trying to clear so that the rebuilding of the dam and the power network of the dam can start. The Taliban are not letting up on that. And the second part [of the Taliban offensive] is the retaking of this town -- Musa Qala.
RFE/RL: Do you consider the Taliban's seizure of Musa Qala in Helmand Province -- and their continued hold on administrative buildings there -- as the beginning of this year's Taliban spring offensive?
Rashid: We still have to see whether the Taliban are going to defend it, whether they are going to reinforce it, in fact, with more Taliban troops coming in. But certainly, there has been no letup in the war through the winter. We've seen a spate of suicide bombings. And I think the danger is that a major NATO attack on Musa Qala could prompt a Taliban reaction in other provinces in the south -- which could lead to an early spring offensive.
RFE/RL: The organizer of last week's attack on Musa Qala -- a Taliban commander named Abdul Ghafour who was killed by a NATO air strike on February 4 -- appears to have been at least partially motivated by the killing of his brother by an earlier NATO air strike. Does this suggest that the seizure of Musa Qala may have been carried out by a Taliban commander who was more interested in revenge than any coordinated Taliban campaign? What does this tell us about the kind of fight that the Taliban is likely to wage in the months ahead?
Rashid: It certainly does play a role. [Abdul Ghafour's] brother was killed and he did react to his brother's death. But at the same time, I think the fact that he mobilized 200 or 300 Taliban to retake the town -- scuttling the peace accord which had been in place with the British troops for about three or four months -- I think is very significant. And clearly, I don't think he would have done this without some kind of authority from the higher Taliban leadership -- from the Taliban Shura and Mullah Omar. What we have to see is whether the Taliban force in Musa Qala is going to be reinforced [with more Taliban.] If it is, then we will be seeing wider attacks by the Taliban [across other parts of Afghanistan in the months ahead.]
RFE/RL: Why do you think the Taliban have been able this year to continue with offensive operations during the winter months when the weather has hampered their activities in previous years?
Rashid: The Taliban have been very well equipped this winter for cold weather. Some of the Taliban that have been killed in the last six to eight weeks have got very good boots, fleece jackets, warm trousers. They seem to have been very well equipped for possible fighting -- even winter fighting. There is little doubt that much of the logistics of the Taliban comes from Pakistan.
RFE/RL: What are NATO's strategic concerns about Taliban tactics in the spring and summer of 2007?
Rashid: The Taliban last year fought positional warfare -- trying to hold ground, hold territory -- in three provinces. Oruzgan, Helmand, and Kandahar. The danger this year is that they may try to launch heavy guerrilla attacks with perhaps 200 men at a time, not just in three provinces but perhaps in six or seven provinces, even in western Afghanistan. If they do that, NATO is going to be very stretched because there are a very limited number of troops and there are only a certain number who will actually fight. They will defend themselves, but [troops from countries like Spain and Italy, for example,] will not go on the offensive. That restricts NATO's maneuverability and ability to counter a widespread Taliban offensive.
RFE/RL: The buildup of the forces of the Afghan National Army is a key part of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. It is seen as a way of allowing the Afghan central government to exert its authority in provincial regions and, eventually, to allow for the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan. But there have been problems that have slowed the process of building up the Afghan army. The force now reportedly numbers about 40,000 troops with a target of expanding it to 70,000. How do you see this build up progressing in the months and years ahead?
Rashid: Much of the recent money given by the Americans -- about $10 billion for the next two years -- is going to go to the Afghan National Army. The construction of new Afghan National Army divisions is going to be [accelerated]. They want to try to complete the 70,000 figure by the end of 2008 rather than in 2010, as was originally planned.
But the biggest shortfall is in equipment. The Afghan National Army is entirely dependent on the Americans for transport, for helicopters, for evacuation, for everything. What some of this American money is going to do, I think, is to try and equip the Afghan National Army much better so that it does become a more self-contained force.
At the same time, we should remember that there [are] something like 600 Americans embedded with the Afghan National Army at the moment. If the Afghan army expands rapidly in the next two years, there is going to be an even larger number of Americans embedded with it.
RFE/RL: In the past week, the command of NATO forces in Afghanistan has been passed from British General David Richards to U.S. General Dan McNeill. How do you expect General McNeill's appointment to impact NATO's campaign in Afghanistan?
Rashid: I know General McNeill. He is a very thoughtful person. He is a very strategically minded person. He doesn't minimize the issues of development and reconstruction. And we should remember that he is the man who started the PRTs -- the Provincial Reconstruction Teams -- back in 2002, which was a way to expand ISAF outside of Kabul when McNeill did not have the necessary troops to do it. Personally, I think, he will be very careful.
RFE/RL: How does General McNeill's perspective about the challenges in Afghanistan differ from his predecessor, General Richards?
Rashid: General Richards had tried very hard to create a separate identity for NATO from the American forces. The kind of image of the Americans kicking down doors was something he wanted to avoid. And he wanted to create a softer, more pro-development image for NATO. We have to see whether McNeill is going to be able to maintain this given the American attitudes to warfare -- which are quite different from the European concepts.
RFE/RL: So will the fact that General McNeill is an American have any impact?
Rashid: The issue is what the American leadership of NATO forces [in Afghanistan] is going to do to other European countries. We have a series of problems in many European countries -- opposition parties wanting to pull out their troops, opposition parties demanding that European governments don't provide more troops. The danger is that with an American commander, more and more, the NATO force will not be seen as a kind of multinational, pan-European American force. But it will be seen under American leadership as a much more Americanized force. And I think that impact is going to be negative for the Afghans also.
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AFP officers being sent to Afghanistan
AAP via Yahoo!7 News - Feb 06 10:08 PM
Private, armed security guards will protect four Australian Federal Police officers being sent to Afghanistan to help try and curb the amount of heroin being produced in the country.
Afghanistan's opium cultivation rose a staggering 60 per cent last year, according to the UN, and Western governments fear the illicit trade is undermining the fledgling Afghan government.
The AFP will send four officers to the country to work alongside Afghan police, with two to be based in the capital Kabul and two to work in Jalalabad, in the east.
AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty said heroin overdose deaths in Australia had fallen from about 1,100 a year to just 300 over the past six years - partly because of the liaison and advisory work by the agency in Burma's drug producing areas.
Mr Keelty hopes the same pre-emptive strategies will produce results in Afghanistan.
Police believe some 20 per cent of the heroin smuggled into Australia comes from Afghanistan.
The commissioner conceded corruption of local police officers and government officials could pose a headache for AFP officers, but said the agency faced similar challenges in other countries.
"We believe that it's important now to keep an eye on what's happening in Afghanistan and the only way to do that is not to stand here in Australia and criticise what's happening in Afghanistan. We actually need to be there on the ground helping the Afghan national police," Mr Keelty said.
"Whether we are there or not, the Afghan national police still have this task and I think it's better off that we are there helping them."
He said AFP officers could provide vital intelligence for Australian law enforcement agencies about opium crops.
"What we are trying to do is keep the politics out of this and that really is the nature of policing," he said.
"I think it's important that, particularly for us in Australia, that we have an understanding of what type of heroin is coming to Australia and where it's coming from."
The AFP officers will not be involved in anti-terrorist operations.
Contingent Commander Superintendent Gary Gent, who leaves for Afghanistan next month for a year, said AFP officers would use "hardened" vehicles to get around and would be protected by armed guards from a private security firm.
The officers will carry side arms only.
"We are a very small group, it's been very much a considered approach by us ... and we are going to be in key areas and through our input we hope that we will have a good response to what's required over there," he said.
Assistant Commissioner Paul Jevtovic, head of the AFP's International Deployment Group (IDG), said the officers would be on a steep learning curve.
"We are going to be a big sponge. I think Gary and the team are going to be sponges really for the first three months or four months, to get a sense of what actually is happening on the ground."
Australia currently has some 500 troops based in south-central Afghanistan assisting with reconstruction.
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Time in Afghanistan 'rewarding'
Army surgeon inspired by Afghans, fellow soldiers
BY MICK WALSH Columbus Ledger-Enquirer - Tue, Feb 06, 2007
Sipping on a hot cup of Seattle's Best just outside an Infantry Center classroom, waiting for one final briefing before heading home, a relaxed Col. Tom Frank summed up his recent deployment to Afghanistan as "easily the most rewarding year of my life."
He talked of the contagious spirit of the Afghan people. He applauded the work of his fellow soldiers in the Fort Benning-based 14th Combat Support Hospital, an all-star collection of top Army medical personnel from across the globe. He spoke of training and mentoring Afghan medical students, both nurses and doctors.
And he brushed aside the significance of the medal he'd been awarded, one in recognition of his "exceptionally meritorious service," much like a man shooing away a pesky fly.
What the 45-year-old Tulane-trained surgeon didn't talk about is the horror that those like him see on almost a daily basis in a country ravaged by war.
He didn't really have to. He'd already told that aspect of his job in a couple of letters home, epistles that were published by his hometown newspaper. That's where he talked about a land mine that tore the feet off an Afghan man, sending one of his feet into his abdomen.
As the doctor tried to position the endotracheal tube, a large worm began crawling out of the trachea.
"We no longer recoil at the sight of worms escaping the bodies of the dying or desperately ill," he said. "This is Afghanistan."
He writes of an Afghan soldier recovering at the Bagram Airfield hospital, where Frank was chief of medicine. "He didn't take up much room in the bed. He had no legs. His right arm was missing at the elbow."
Another story he sent home to Weymouth, Mass., concerned a young helicopter pilot whose right arm has been severed from his shoulder.
"Sir," the soldier asked Frank, "have you ever known a doctor with one arm?"
It was a legitimate question. The young man was to leave the Army in July, his acceptance to med school awaiting him back home.
While Frank and the 14th CSH served in Afghanistan, the unit treated 3,000 casualties and performed 500 operations.
But it was an event requiring no life-saving measures that will stick with the doctor for life.
Last September, just a year after Frank and several members of the 14th had flown to New Orleans to treat Katrina victims, a hospital clerk in Bagram asked Frank if he could sign some death certificates at the hospital mortuary. In the middle of the room were three stretchers, each holding a body bag containing the remains of three GIs, two men and a woman.
"They were driving down the road," he said. "They never saw the blast. One died in the explosion instantly -- the top of her head cleaved off. Two jumped out... on fire. Three dead American soldiers."
Two of the dead were medics, though not members of his hospital staff. His graphic description of their bodies is best unsaid in this article.
"They were dealt a bad hand," he wrote. "Today, I considered something I had never before given much thought -- the fact that I, too, am playing at the same table."
Frank, like the entire staff of the 14th, returned last week to Fort Benning, and later to their families and friends, content with knowing they'd done their best, yet saddled with the memories of war at its worst.
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Canada's military probes Afghan prisoner abuse allegations
Tue Feb 6, 10:51 AM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - Canada's military is investigating allegations by a human rights activist that its soldiers beat Afghan captives, a spokesman told AFP.
At least one, and perhaps three, Afghan detainees "taken captive by the Canadian Forces appears to have been beaten while detained and interrogated by them," alleged Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa professor and social activist, in a letter sent to the Military Police Complaints Commission.
Portions of the letter were published Tuesday in the Globe and Mail newspaper, along with documents Attaran obtained under Canada's Access to Information Act outlining injuries the prisoners sustained while in Canadian custody.
The documents do not explain how the detainees were injured.
"We are investigating the allegations that detainees were mistreated," defense department spokesman Lieutenant Adam Thomson told AFP.
The National Investigation Service, Canada's military police, is investigating the "incident" outlined in a January 20 complaint to the defense department, Thomson said.
But no further details would be available until after the probe is completed, he added.
The three Afghans were captured near Dukah, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Kandahar where the Canadian troops are based, the Globe and mail reported.
They were described in military documents as "non-compliant," "extremely belligerent," and "totally uncooperative."
Their injuries were listed in a military police transfer log as: "Lacerations on L and R eyebrows; contusions and swelling of both eyes; lacerations on L cheek; lacerations center of forehead; abrasions on chin; multiple contusions on both upper arms, back and chest."
"Taken together, this extraordinary assortment of injuries suggests that the men, and particularly man number three, were beaten," Attaran wrote in his letter.
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Italian protest over Afghanistan letter in newspaper
EuroNews - Feb 07 12:03 AM
Italy has protested to the US and five other allies after they published a letter in a newspaper calling for greater support for the NATO mission in Afghanistan. The foreign minister in the government of Romano Prodi wrote to his counterparts in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Romania saying he was "surprised and disappointed" at the letter.
While the government later spoke of unity in the ruling coalition on foreign policy, Foreign Minister Massimo D´Alema was quoted as saying the letter could be interpreted as "outside interference".
D´Alema´s protest comes as NATO lobbies member countries to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan, while the Italian government faces infighting about maintaining commitment. Last month three leftist ministers refused to back a government decree on Italy's continued role in Afghanistan, which includes the presence of some 1900 Italian soldiers.
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'Islam and Music' hits bookstalls
KABUL, Feb 7 (Pajhwok Afghan News): 'Islam and Music', a scholarly book written in Pashto by talented poet and writer Qazi Muhammad Hassan Haqyar was published and arrived in the market on Wednesday.
The 140-page book looks into different aspects of the music under the Islamic jurisdiction, investigating the issue deeply with regard to modern fatwas (Islamic verdicts).
The author has taken painstakingly efforts to clarify the issue, which has sometimes stirred up controversial debates among Islamic scholars around the world.
Haqyar argue in his book that most of the Ulema (Muslim scholars) in the past as well as in the present are of the view that listening music is lawful unless there are other reasons for making it haraam (prohibited in Islamic law) in some cases.
"Music is also poem, but not in the shape of words and phrases, rather in the form of meaning and spirit," the book reads as in a place.
Haqyar told Pajhwok Afghan News that he worked hard to compile the book for two years.
Muhammad Hassan Haqyar was born in 1972. He got his Masters in study of Sharia (Islamic law) and has authored six books, one of them poetry collection, so far.
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How to tame the Taliban
By Amir Taheri Gulf News (UAE) / February 7, 2007
When we met Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Dr Rangin Dadfar Sepanta in London the other day, the news headlines sounded ominous for his country. One headline, running as a strip at the bottom of TV screens said: "Taliban retake Afghan city from Nato! Wow!"
Within minutes, the usual suspects of cyberspace, mostly from the incredibly large number of universities and think tanks in the US, were speculating about the ultimate failure of the democratic experience in Afghanistan and how the Pushtun warriors were poised to defeat Nato as they had defeated Alexander the Great and the British Raj so many centuries ago.
So, was this the beginning of the end? We asked Dr Sepanta who, though German educated, is as phlegmatic as the old products of British public schools. The foreign minister responded with a sigh. "There are those who wish Afghanistan to fail so that the United States and other democracies are humiliated," he said. "Some take their wishes for reality."
When deconstructed, little was left of the ominous headline. It turned out that Qala-Mussa, far from deserving description as a city, is a border village with a population of around 4,000.
Nato handed over the village to local elders months ago after clearing it of the remnants of Taliban and their allies, the Iranian-financed Hizb-e-Islami (Islamic Party) of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The elders in charge had made a deal with Taliban, allowing them to arrive in the village to discuss ending attacks on schools in nearby hamlets. The Taliban, however, broke their promise, sworn on the Holy Book and entered the village armed and overpowered the unarmed elders. There were no Nato troops within a 100 miles and no clashes took place between the Taliban and the forces of the American "Great Satan". (A few days later, Nato dispatched a unit to flush the Taliban out.)
Sepanta admits that the Taliban are preparing for a spring offensive. However, he insists that the security situation is better than last year and improving. He is critical of Nato's decision to hand over Qala-Mussa and a few other remote localities to tribal elders rather than officials from the central government in Kabul.
"We may have to face terrorism for many years," Sepanta says." But, that is not going to slow down, let alone stop, Afghanistan's strategy for democratisation and modernisation."
Do the Taliban still enjoy a popular base?
Sepanta admits that they do. The Taliban appeal to some Pushtun clans in the southeast and reflect the views of some of the most conservative segments of the clergy. All in all, however, without the support of a foreign power, they would not be able to pursue a military campaign for any length of time.
But, which foreign power?
Sepanta says he does not wish to provoke a diplomatic row with Afghanistan's neighbours by naming names.
"Those who know the region know the identity of those who keep the Taliban alive," he says. "Which regional country fears a democratic and pro-West Afghanistan? And which has always harboured the ambition of turning Afghanistan into a client state?"
It is clear that Sepanta is referring to Iran and Pakistan which, though rivals in Afghanistan in the past, now indirectly cooperate to undermine the democratically elected government of President Hamid Karzai.
Sepanta says Iran has created "a vast and solid network of influence" in Afghanistan. "No one knows what harvest Tehran hopes to reap from what it has sown," he says.
Both Iran and Pakistan have shaped their different strategies in Afghanistan on the assumption that the US, plagued by its internecine political feuds, will lack the staying power needed to reshape the Middle East. Tehran and Islamabad are preparing for the day the Americans run away from Kabul before the new Afghan regime is strong enough to ward off predatory neighbours. Once the Americans have fled, Iran will activate its network of influence, including the Hazara Shiites, some heavily armed, along with elements of the former Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban in the 1990s.
For its part, Pakistan, which had put all its chips on Taliban in the 1990s, lost everything when Mullah Omar ran away riding his Suzuki motorcycle. Since then, Pakistan has acted tough against the so-called "Arab Afghans" and members of Al Qaida while treating the Taliban with kid gloves. The reason is that Islamabad sees the Taliban as its Trojan horse in Afghanistan, when and if the Americans run away.
Pakistan has more than half a century of experience in low intensity warfare against neighbours. Until recently, it did so against India in Kashmir and seems to be doing the same in southeastern Afghanistan.
Discussing Kashmir with the then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee a few years ago, I was told what he presented as "the secret of Kashmir".
"The war in Kashmir could go on for ever," Vajpayee said. "The reason is that the Pakistanis always have some 2,000 fighters ready to come to kill and die. We kill the 2,000, the Pakistanis send another 2,000. The supply is endless."
Having ended the war in Kashmir, Pakistan can divert its mischief-making energies to Afghanistan where the numbers required may not be as large. Pakistan can always find a few hundred Puhstuns who, if adequately brainwashed and paid, are ready to become "holy warriors" under the Taliban banner.
As is the case with Iraq, the root cause of the continued conflict in Afghanistan is the perception that the Americans will run away, allowing the "holy warriors" to claim divine victory while rival neighbouring powers activate their pawns in Kabul.
If the various protagonists in Afghanistan, just as in Iraq, were persuaded that the "Great Satan" was not going to run away, few would have the incentive to keep fighting a war they know they cannot win.
Sepanta says any sign that the US and its allies may be losing interest in the democratisation project is certain to fan the flames of war.
So, what does he think of the recommendation by the now discredited Baker-Hamilton report that the US withdraw from Iraq and send more troops to Afghanistan?
The foreign minister becomes diplomatic. He does not want to intervene in a domestic American debate. But he admits that the jihadis fighting in Iraq will, if the US runs away from Baghdad, move to Afghanistan to fight the Americans that the Baker-Hamilton "Realists" want to send there.
"This is a war between two visions of the world," he says. "If one side abandons one battlefield, he will have to fight harder in another."
The Afghans are determined to fight the "obscurantist, inhumane" vision of the Taliban and their counterparts in Iraq and elsewhere for as long as it takes, Sepanta says. His hope is that the Western democracies would continue to share the same determination.
Amir Taheri is an Iranian author and journalist based in Europe.
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‘Afghanistan, Pakistan improve coordination’
By Anwar Iqbal Dawn (Pakistan) February 7, 2007 issue
WASHINGTON, Feb 6: The United States has said that Pakistan and Afghanistan have improved their cooperation to stop cross-border activities of the Taliban extremists but did not specify.
“Both Pakistan and Afghanistan have responsibilities in this regard,” said US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack when asked
at a briefing how could cross-border movement of the Taliban extremists be stopped. “They have improved their coordination.
“They have improved somewhat the effectiveness of that coordination, but there is clearly a lot more that needs to be done,” he said.
The spokesman acknowledged that despite US-led efforts to defeat the Taliban, militancy remains a problem and both Afghan and Pakistani governments were aware of the problem.
Mr McCormack said the United States had been involved with both the governments to remove their differences and improve their coordination.
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Pakistan To Close 4 Afghan Refugee Camps, Cites Security Risk
February 7, 2007
ISLAMABAD (AP)--Pakistan will close four camps for refugees from Afghanistan this year, and hopes that more than 2 million remaining refugees from its war- troubled neighbor will go home by 2009 because they are a security risk, officials said Wednesday.
The four camps in Pakistan's troubled border region will close by August, the U.N.'s refugee agency said after its representatives met with Pakistani and Afghan ministers.
Sajid Hussain Chitta, a senior Pakistani official, said he was hopeful that the majority of the camps' 240,000 inhabitants would return to Afghanistan, though some may opt to move to other camps in Pakistan.
"We're quite hopeful given the trends of recent years," Chitta said. "Security is our main concern."
More than 2 million Afghans have chosen to return home with assistance by the UNHCR refugee agency since U.S.-led forces toppled the hardline Islamic Taliban regime at the end of 2001, including 133,000 in 2006.
However, a Pakistani survey begun in October last year has registered another 2.1 million Afghan refugees still in the country, and the government is pressing hard for them to go home.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said last week that the refugee camps were a haven for Taliban militants and their supporters and that their maze-like streets were too dangerous for security forces to enter.
Wednesday's meeting was held in a five-star hotel where a suicide bomber had killed a security guard earlier this month in one of a series of blasts in Pakistan that officials suspect were the work of Taliban-linked militants in its border region.
Many of the Afghans in Pakistan arrived in the wake of the 1979 military invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union and during the vicious civil war that followed the Soviet departure a decade later.
Most live in dusty refugee camps or in squalid settlements near major cities across Pakistan.
Officials hope new housing schemes for returnees in Afghanistan will persuade more of those who fled to Pakistan and also to Iran to go home. Some 200,000 shelters have been built so far, according to the UNHCR refugee agency.
The four camps to close this summer - two each in Pakistan's Baluchistan and North West Frontier provinces - were initially supposed to close as early as 2004.
Identity cards issued to refugees during the Pakistani survey are valid through 2009, at which time Pakistan hopes all will have returned to Afghanistan, Chitta said.
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Friends Fall Out in Northern Afghanistan
A former ally of General Dostum takes him on in a battle for political power in the north.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Mazar-e-Sharif (ARR No. 240, 6-Feb-07)
Accusations of brutality are nothing new for General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who commanded an Uzbek militia faction throughout years of civil war in Afghanistan. The international watchdog group Human Rights Watch has repeatedly alleged that he is a war criminal.
Dostum has weathered the storm with relative equanimity. Not only has the burly general escaped prosecution, he enjoys the prestige of a top post in President Hamed Karzai’s administration as the Afghan army’s chief of staff.
But now one of Dostum’s closest political friends has joined the chorus of voices against him, accusing him of responsibility for killings and other atrocities during the civil war of the early Nineties, and even claiming that he plotted an armed insurrection against the present government.
Akbar Bay, a prominent Uzbek community member, broke with Dostum last month during the inauguration of his new party called the Turkic Islamic Council of Afghanistan. The event took place in the northern province of Jowzjan, which is - not coincidentally - the seat of Dostum’s power and prestige.
“I can no longer work with a criminal and killer,” Akbar Bay told IWPR. “During his years of dominance, he murdered everyone who he felt was trying to challenge him.”
During the decades of war, Dostum’s armed militia conducted brutal operations across several Afghan provinces.
Now the former deputy says he intends to mobilise all northern tribes against his former boss.
Akbar Bay himself has a somewhat chequered past. He spent the years of Soviet occupation abroad, and in 1989 he was arrested in the United States and later convicted of drug smuggling and tax evasion. He remained in prison until 2003, when he was released and came back to Afghanistan, where he took a key position in Dostum’s party, Junbesh-e-Islami.
“But after a while, when I discovered Dostum’s crimes, I realised he had misled people,” said Akbar Bay. “He violates the rights of those under his influence.
“That is why I have chosen a different path.”
Afghanistan's constitution and the law on parties support the creation of new political organisations and obliges the government to provide them with security.
But when Akbar Bay attempted to open up headquarters in Shiberghan, the main town in Jowzjan province, his office was attacked, the windows smashed and the doors blocked up. Akbar Bay insists thugs from the Junbesh party carried out the raid.
“When Dostum realised that I had influence among the Uzbeks, he tried to wipe me out. But I am not afraid of him,” he said.
Dostum is denying any involvement in the attack, but Jowzjan’s chief of police, General Fazeldin Ayar, acknowledged that the damage was done by youths from Junbesh.
“Akbar Bay is right,” he told IWPR. “It was young men from Junbesh who attacked the office, broke windows, and set fire to the guest quarters.”
Dostum allies accuse Akbar Bay of providing false information to the authorities, and staunchly refute any allegations of wrongdoing.
“Nothing he says is true,” insisted Kinja Kargar, a Dostum deputy. “It is all just hostile words. He is being used by enemies who are trying to weaken Dostum and the Junbesh party.”
Kargar was dismissive of Akbar Bay’s attempt to set up a new party. “People here have got Junbesh-e-Islami. They won’t tolerate any other party bearing the name of Turkic or Uzbek people,” he said.
Not content with bringing up Dostum’s war record, Akbar Bay alleges that the general is now intent on destabilising Afghanistan.
“I know that Dostum has hidden thousands of weapons, and is seeking an opportunity to create disturbances again,” claimed Akbar Bay. “I can even tell the government where these weapons are.”
Kargar denied the existence of hidden arms caches. The Junbesh faction went through the United Nations disarmament programmes, he said, and now has no illegal weapons.
Zamaray Bashiri, a spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, said the police were unaware of any secret arms depots.
“We need the help of the people,” he said. “If anyone knows of the whereabouts of arms, whether held by individuals or groups, they should come to us. Our doors are open.”
Many political analysts have dismissed the dispute as a typical Afghan falling-out. Akbar Bay, they say, is disgruntled by losing the power and rewards he was used to receiving from Dostum.
"People gather around warlords in anticipation of money and rewards,” said Qayum Babak, a political analyst in Mazar-e-Sharif. “But Dostum’s power is waning. He cannot dispense the kind of benefits that he could before.”
Babak said that while Dostum’s deputies were quick to defend him, even they may change their tune if is in their interests.
“In order to curry favour with another powerful man, they will disclose what they were concealing only yesterday,” he said.
Ordinary people in Balkh are similarly jaded by the spectacle.
"Akbar Bay is saying these things against Dostum to gain attention,” said Mohammad Qadir, a student at Balkh University. “But if Dostum gives him money or privileges, he will go back to being his friend.”
Many Afghans would like to see former strongmen punished for crimes committed during the savage battles that followed the end of communist rule and the capture of Kabul in 1992.
"We support efforts to unveil human rights violators and put them on trial,” said Qadir. “We do not care what their ethnic group is, or their political affiliation. We just want to see them punished.”
A resident of Sar-e-Pul province, who refused to give his name, agreed with the Akbar Bay’s assessment of Dostum.
"During the civil war, Dostum’s militia took control of our village after a week of fighting,” he said. “Those who stayed behind and survived the battle were all killed by Dostum’s men. We fled, but when we came back we found that all that remained of our home was four walls. They had stolen all the rest.”
Dostum may deserve to be prosecuted, added the man, “but we have given up hope that he and others will be punished”.
Nadir Nadiri, spokesperson for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, told IWPR, "I can neither confirm nor deny the allegations regarding crimes against humanity, because we do not have any proof of it."
The commission is trying to substantiate the accusations, he said.
“We are initiating a programme to examine all alleged crimes, but we cannot comment until the process is completed,” he said.
If a plan by the lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, makes its way into law, such moves to investigate alleged war crimes will come to nothing.
In a resolution issued on January 31, legislators said that, in the interests of national reconciliation, those involved in past hostilities - including Communist-era leaders and possibly the Taleban, too - would not face prosecution.
The move has had a negative reaction, in a society where many want to see accountability as well as reconciliation after decades of violence. The Wolesi Jirga resolution faces a number of hurdles - it must be approved by the legislature’s upper chamber and by President Karzai before it becomes law.
Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff reporter in Mazar-e-Sharif.
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Iranian Involvement in Afghanistan
Muhammed Tahir Wednesday , 07 February 2007 Journal of Turkish Weekly, Turkey
The Afghan media has published an increasing number of critical reports about Iran's secret contacts with insurgent groups in Afghanistan, specifically those groups fighting against the U.S. presence in the country. On September 5, for instance, the Pashto-language newspaper Weesa referred to unidentified local officials in Nimruz province who claimed that Tehran was financing and providing weaponry to Afghanistan's militant groups. In March 2006, the Afghan official news agency Bakhtar reported on the secret activities of Iranians, including officers belonging to the armed forces, in border towns inside Afghanistan. Bakhtar quoted a high-ranking Afghan border policeman in Herat province, General Mohammad Ayub Safi, saying that "in only the first quarter of this year , more than 10 Iranian officials have been arrested in Herat who were allegedly involved in illegal activities." These developments show that Iran has been increasing its operations in Afghanistan in an effort to gain influence with the contending insurgent factions and to hasten the departure of U.S. troops from the country.
Tehran has a long history of close contact with militant groups in the region, especially with Shiite groups in central Afghanistan. According to Kabul-based analyst Ustad Faizullah Amini, who spoke to The Jamestown Foundation in December, Iran has been against the Talibanization of Afghanistan, but the presence of U.S. troops at its doorsteps has changed the direction of its foreign policy. Now, Tehran is willing to cooperate with different groups to reach the shared goal of defeating the United States in Afghanistan. After the September 11 attacks, an unidentified official source in Tehran said that Iran's new policy in Afghanistan would be to play all available cards in its hand to defeat U.S. efforts there (Asia Times, February 14, 2002). According to Amini, this fear has led Iran to act fast, and cooperate with all anti-American forces in the region regardless of their religion and language. In addition to Amini, many other regional experts argue that the current escalation of violence in some parts of Afghanistan is a direct result of Tehran's new strategy.
Background of Iranian Involvement in Afghanistan
More than a decade ago, while mujahideen leaders were toppling the Moscow-backed Afghan leader Mohammad Najibullah, it was predicted that a strong Sunni fundamentalist regime in Kabul could come into conflict with Shiite Iran. This fear led Tehran to support groups such as the Shiite Hazara parties and the influential Tajik commander Ismail Khan in Herat province. When the Taliban finally gained control of Afghanistan, Iran referred to the development as a Sunni and U.S. plot to isolate Iran. The relationship between Kabul and Tehran took a more serious hit when Taliban forces killed seven Iranian diplomats who were serving in Mazar-e-Sharif in August 1998. This Taliban action led Tehran to announce its open support for all forces that would resist the Taliban and to increase its activities to bring anti-Taliban factions together. The most notable act by Tehran was to allow the influential Pashtun leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to be stationed in Iran.
Tehran gave thousands of Hazara leaders refuge, training and financial support to fight against the Taliban. Yet the involvement of the al-Qaeda network in the September 11 attacks and the impending U.S. invasion of Afghanistan led Iran to again re-shape its strategy in the region since it considered the U.S. presence in the region a much greater threat than the unorganized Taliban.
9/11 Changes Iranian Policy toward Afghanistan
Shortly before the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Tehran made some swift policy changes in the region, which were evidenced by comments said by the top political and religious leader in Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei. In his televised speech on September 26, Khamenei said, "The Islamic Republic of Iran will not offer any assistance to America and its alliance in their attacks [on Afghanistan]." He also accused the United States of seeking to establish itself in Central Asia—Afghanistan, Pakistan and the subcontinent—under the pretext of "establishing security."
Many regional experts argue that Tehran does not believe that a stable Afghanistan with a large, long-term U.S. troop presence is in its interests. Tehran worries that if both its neighbors, Afghanistan and Iraq, are stabilized, Iran will be sandwiched between two pro-U.S. governments. In such a situation, "If Iran has not been attacked, it will definitely be troubled by internal pressures, such as minorities, inspired by the developments in the neighborhood," said Dr. Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, a regional analyst with the Ankara-based think-tank, International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), who was interviewed in December.
The difference between new and past Iranian policies is that now Iran is ready to cooperate and support any group, regardless of their religion and language, who can fight the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, according to Bahmen Karimi's column published recently in the local Afghan paper Arman-e-Milli. The columnist also argues that the escalation in fighting in the bordering provinces with Iran and in the Shiite populated central Afghan provinces is the direct result of the Iranian strategy. For instance, on October 2, 2006, The Guardian published an article stating that "military and diplomatic sources said they had received numerous reports of Iranians meeting tribal elders in Taliban-influenced areas, bringing offers of military or more often financial support for the fight against foreign forces." In addition, Afghan analyst Amini proposes that the armed groups who have been sidelined by the current central regime in Afghanistan create potential forces for any outsider such as Iran to harness and influence. He specifically points out some of the commanders of the former Northern Alliance, as well as Shiite forces in central Afghanistan, who feel ignored by the new administration. One of these is Abdul Rashid Dostum who, according to Aina TV on November 25, 2006, met with Iranian Ambassador to Afghanistan Reza Bahrami on November 24, 2006. The influence of Iran on the charismatic Tajik leader Ismail Khan is already widely known.
Multi-Layered Iranian Policy on Afghanistan
According to reports published in local Afghan newspapers, including Weesa, Iranian involvement is not limited to unofficial cooperation with militant forces, but in fact includes official efforts to influence the Afghan administration. Some regional experts argue that Iran is using the political tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan in its favor, leveraging the fact that Iran is the only route by which Afghanistan can maintain foreign trade. Afghanistan is becoming increasingly dependent on Iran for its transit trade route as a result of the tense Afghan-Pakistan relationship. Through this route, Afghanistan receives key imports such as electronic equipment, cars and spare parts—much of which originates in Japan. Food, clothing and other essential products are also supplied through Iran. This reality limits Washington's options to pressure Tehran since if Iran blocks its border, the Afghan economy could collapse.
In the meantime, the Iranian government is active in the financial sector as well. According to the Iranian official news agency IRNA, the chambers of commerce of the two countries have recently signed a number of documents, which are expected to make Iran a major player in the Afghan economy. Iran has become one of the largest donors in the reconstruction process in Afghanistan. An Iranian Foreign Ministry official puts the total amount of aid to Afghanistan since 2001 at about $600 million.
The Iranian media is also publishing provocative reports against the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, blaming Washington for not delivering what it promised to the Afghan people. The well-known Iranian newspaper Jamhur-e-Islami published an article on the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks questioning the legacy and intentions of the United States in Afghanistan: "The Afghan people do not see any improvement in their lives and welfare as it was promised to them. Moreover, they are forced to bow to the presence of foreigners on their land and suffer the shame of occupation. Now the Afghan people know that America's goal in attacking Afghanistan and occupying it was part of the global plan America pursues for domination of the Middle East."
Iran encourages students who have graduated in Iran to be more active in establishing religious schools in Afghanistan and to strengthen Afghan-Iran ties. The education attaché at the Iranian Embassy in Kabul was quoted by Weesa on November 6 saying that "Shiite students who have graduated from Iranian universities are the messengers of Iran in Afghanistan and they should play a more important role." The Iranian official called on the Afghan government to permit Iran to launch cable network offices that operate Iranian educational programs in order to curb U.S. cultural influence in Afghanistan. Iran has recently inaugurated its huge cultural center in Kabul, which works to promote Iranian culture and to spread official propaganda by organizing workshops and literary exchange programs. In opposition to these Iranian efforts, Western countries have done little in Afghanistan, which is a result of the extensive cultural, religious and linguistic differences. Iran has used this void to change the situation in Afghanistan in its own favor.
If the increasing violence—not only on the Afghan-Pak border, but also in the areas bordering Iran and in the central Shiite populated provinces—is taken into account, the view of the aforementioned Afghan analysts seems to carry value. Experts on the region believe that the insurgency in Afghanistan has many directions, one of which is leaning toward Tehran. Insurgent fighters in Afghanistan traditionally opposed to working with Iran may have also changed their policy in light of the mutual short-term interest of removing U.S. and Western influence from the country. Due to the strategic location of Iran and its importance to the Afghan economy, however, the Kabul administration has avoided speaking publicly about Iranian influence in Afghanistan, as they believe, as a result of political tension with Pakistan, Iran is Kabul's last significant open door to the world.
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Taliban prepares suicide-bomb campaign
Source: The Australian Correspondents in Kabul 06feb07
THE Taliban threatened a bloody spring offensive involving suicide bombers yesterday as the US, doubling its combat troops in Afghanistan, took over command of the 33,000-strong NATO force.
As US General Dan McNeill assumed control of the International Security Assistance Force, NATO said a local Taliban leader in a southern district was killed in a drive to recapture the key southern town of Musa Qala from the rebels.
Military officials said privately they expected General McNeill to take a harder line with militants than his British predecessor, General David Richards.
General Richards backed a controversial peace deal in Musa Qala, strongly criticised by the US, that crumbled on Thursday when an estimated 200 Taliban fighters overran the town.
The deal between village elders and the Helmand provincial government, struck after fighting caused widespread damage to the town of about 10,000 inhabitants, prevented NATO, Afghan and Taliban fighters from coming within 5km of the town centre.
But Taliban insurgents raided the town late on Thursday, disarming police and capturing the administrative headquarters, forcing NATO to launch an offensive to retake the town and killing the local Taliban chief in an air strike.
Mullah Abdul Ghafour and "some of his aides" were killed in the strike near the town, the Afghan Interior Ministry said in a statement that described the death as a "major achievement".
The Taliban warned yesterday that this would be "the bloodiest year for foreign troops", saying they had 2000 suicide bombers ready to act when winter snows melted in a few months. "We have made 80 per cent preparations to fight American and foreign forces and we are about to start war," Mullah Hayatullah Khan, a guerilla leader, said at a secret base yesterday. He said the 2000 were just 40 per cent of fighters preparing to become suicide bombers, a tactic almost unheard of here until last year.
Hours after the NATO handover, a suicide bomber attacked a NATO convoy in Afghanistan's second city and birthplace of the Taliban, Kandahar, killing himself but no one else, police said.
Analysts believe General McNeill is taking over ISAF at a pivotal time; last year was the bloodiest since US-led forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001. More than 4000 people died, a quarter of them civilians and 170 foreign soldiers.
"The first three to five months of 2007 are absolutely crucial to the entire Afghan effort as the mission has been defined - that is, in bringing security to the southern provinces," said Sean Kay, a security expert and professor of international relations at Ohio Wesleyan University.
General McNeill - a veteran of five foreign conflicts, from Vietnam to Afghanistan - said at a handover ceremony yesterday that the mission of NATO's ISAF was to facilitate reconstruction so Afghans "might enjoy self-determination, education, health and the peaceful realisation of their hopes and dreams".
"We will quit neither post nor mission until the job is done or we are properly relieved," he said.
The US has effectively doubled its combat troops on the ground by extending the tours of duty for some soldiers by four months. This will provide a rapid reaction force General Richards long demanded but was never given.
General Richards, the outgoing NATO commander, who saw his force grow from 9000 as it expanded into the Taliban's southern heartland during his nine-month command, was upbeat about prospects.
"There was last year some scepticism about NATO," he said. "Today that has gone."
Reuters, AP, AFP
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Taliban too quick off the mark
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online February 6, 2007
KARACHI - Events in Musa Qala in Helmand province in Afghanistan over the past few days have the potential to bring forward, if not derail, the Taliban's plans for a massive spring offensive.
In October, the British military signed a peace deal with tribal elders in Musa Qala. They promised to secure the district and keep the Taliban out if the British left the city and its environs. The British, who had controlled Musa Qala throughout the summer, had been engaged in ongoing battles with the Taliban.
Crucially, though, the elders are pro-Taliban, and last week several hundred Taliban fighters took control of the city. On Sunday their flags were reported still to be flying over the regional administrative headquarters.
Media reports say a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) strike near Musa Qala on Sunday killed Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghafour, who led the takeover of Musa Qala. Some reports say Ghafour led the attack because NATO forces last month killed his brother, Mullah Ibrahim, in an air strike.
Soon after last year's agreement, this correspondent interviewed a key Taliban commander of Musa Qala, Haji Naimatullah. Even though the accord had called for the Taliban's withdrawal, many Taliban foot soldiers were openly collecting contributions and engaged in other assignments.
Indeed, all of the other ceasefire agreements signed in volatile southwestern Afghanistan similarly favor the Taliban, who use them to spread their influence, collect resources and recruit fresh blood.
The extent of the Taliban's influence can be seen from the manner in which they derailed a reconstruction program. As a part of the ceasefire deal, the Helmand government called in Afghan auxiliary police and reconstruction teams to begin work on projects for which substantial funds had already been received from Britain.
The Taliban simply marched into Musa Qala and without firing a shot "asked" the police to leave, which they did.
Backlash and blowback
Information coming across the border suggests that much of the population of Musa Qala has left the area in fear of a NATO attack to retake the city.
NATO's outgoing commander, General David Richards, said that "very surgical and deliberate" force would be used if needed to solve the crisis. Colonel Tom Collins, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, was quoted as saying, "It is only a matter of time before the government re-establishes control."
According to an Interior Ministry spokesman in Kabul, NATO-led troops dropped leaflets on Musa Qala on Sunday, urging the Taliban to leave the city.
Conscious of the Taliban's planned offensive, NATO has attempted over the winter to draw them out prematurely, to no avail. For instance, during NATO operations to take Baaz Tsuka in the Zari and Panjwai districts south of Kandahar, the Taliban initially pulled back, then slowly returned to the area once the heat was off.
Musa Qala is somewhat different, though, as it is the Taliban's most important foothold in the country, from where it draws support and vital supplies. Other important districts in Helmand province, such as Nawzad, Baghran and to some extent Sangeen, are dependent on Musa Qala as a logistical base.
If the British do launch a vigorous campaign to retake Musa Qala, and then strengthen their presence and conduct regular patrols, either with British or Afghan National Army troops, the Taliban's activities will be badly disrupted. Indeed, it would be a tactical disaster as far as preparations for the spring offensive are concerned.
At this stage the Taliban simply don't want to become involved in a serious confrontation with NATO. But even if they retreat from Musa Qala without a fight, the peace agreement will be in tatters and they will not be allowed the virtual free rein they had under the ceasefire. Further, should the Taliban resist, their peace agreements in other parts of the province will likely be scrapped.
The Taliban would therefore be forced to engage in premature battles in the southwest, and would have to shift the focus of their spring offensive to the southeast and east. This would diminish the impact of the offensive, as the Taliban's support base is strongest in the southwest, from where they were relying on a domino effect to spread their offensive to other areas of the country.
As it stands now, Musa Qala has the potential to turn southwestern Afghanistan, including Zabul, Urzgan, Kandahar and Helmand, into a battlefield much sooner than anticipated.
Spring could come early in Afghanistan, and it could be a very bloody one.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Philippines Shamed By Tag With Afghanistan As Deadly For Media
The Philippines protested a report Wednesday by an international media group that ranked the country with Afghanistan as the deadliest places for working journalists in Asia.
Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said there was no basis for comparing the state of press freedom in the Philippines with that of Afghanistan.
"The Philippines is not a war zone, we are not under military rule and no journalist is in jail for the practice of his or her profession," he said.
On Monday, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists noted the deterioration of press freedom in Asia and cited the Philippines and Afghanistan as having the highest number of journalist deaths in the region last year.
The National Union of Journalist in the Philippines said that in 2006, 11 journalists were killed.
In 2005, 10 journalists were killed in the Philippines, mostly over their reporting on corruption and illegal activities in government. Most of the killings remain unsolved.
Bunye said that law enforcement agencies were already investigating the attacks and "in many instance, suspects have been identified and cases filed."
"We have a free and untrammelled press," Bunye said. "Reporters can cover every nook and cranny of the political, economic, social and security arena every hour of the day."
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$25m project on the anvil to keep Kabul clean
KABUL, Feb 5 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Officials from the Kabul municipality and the World Bank Monday discussed ways to undertake a project of $25-million for clearing the Kabul city from garbage and pollution.
Mehdi Saqib, deputy mayor of Kabul, told Pajhwok Afghan News Monday that a meeting was held by representatives of the Kabul municipality, World Bank and private sector here to discuss details of the project.
The project included carrying solid garbage to specified locations, processing liquid garbage to change it into materials that will produce gas.
He said private companies would implement the project based on a contract while municipality would organize and supervise it.
Abdul Rauf Zia, a media officer with the World Bank, said that the project funded by WB with its fund to be delivered to concerned authorities within six months.
He said the planned project needed more fund and the World Bank would try to attract more assistance from donor countries for the scheme.
Many residents in the capital have been complaining about the polluted environment with the municipality officials blaming lack of budget to take action.
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Czech Senate agrees to send field hospital to Afghanistan
Ceské noviny - Feb 07 2:48 AM
Prague- The Senate today agreed with the deployment the 6th Czech field hospital to Afghanistan for 12 months within NATO's ISAF peace-keeping mission.
The plan was supported by all of the 72 senators present except for Eduard Matykiewicz (Communists, KSCM). The Communist Party is standardly against participation in military foreign missions.
The plan is yet to be discussed by the other house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies. The Chamber is likely to pass the bill as not only the centre-right government of Mirek Topolanek (Civic Democrats, ODS), but also the senior opposition Social Democrats (CSSD) said they would support it.
Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova (Christian Democrats, KDU-CSL) said that part of the costs for the hospitals operation, estimated at 150 million crowns, would be covered by NATO.
Originally, the Czech Republic had not planned to send a field hospital to Afghanistan, but the Allies requested it in November and the government decided to meet the request.
The 6th field hospital ranks among the Czech military's elite units. It operated in Afghanistan in 2002 already, and in Iraq one year later.
Since December 2006, Czech soldiers have been in command of the Kabul international airport within NATO's ISAF mission. During their four-month command they are in charge of the airport's operation and security. A part of the Czech contingent assists in the meteorologic and engineering works and mine clearing.
Apart from the Czech contingent in Kabul, 83 Czech troops operate near Faizabad, north Afghanistan, as part of a reconstruction team also including German and Danish ISAF units.
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FILM: "Last Queen" spotlights Afghan refugees' tribulations
TEHRAN, Feb. 6 (Mehr News Agency) -- "The Last Queen of the Earth", an Iranian film about the tribulations of Afghan refugees, was screened on Monday at the 25th Fajr International Film Festival, which is currently underway in Tehran.
Directed by Mohammadreza Arab, the film tells the story of an Afghan named Alibakhsh who is working in Iran. He has no way to find out about the situation of his wife and family back home. The U.S. threats to attack Afghanistan after 9/11 increase his distress and finally he decides to repatriate.
"The film was warmly welcomed by a group of Afghan people, who had seen it before," Arab said during the review session of the film held after its screening.
They called it one of the best films about Afghan refugees of the past 20 years, he added.
"The Last Queen of the Earth" is Arab's debut feature film. However, he had previously made several documentary series and films for IRIB.
The Alibakhsh role is played by Qorban Najafi, who previously appeared in the role of an Afghan refugee in Ahmad Talebinejad's "I'm Not Bin Laden".
"If I am to be typecast due to two Afghan characters, acting will never have value for me… (But) I'm not afraid of being typecast," Najafi said when asked about being given another role as an Afghan.
Ali Azadnia, Abdolvakil Nikbin, Asghar Hemmat, Vahid Negah, and Goli Akbari also star in the film, which was screened at the Brooklyn International Film Festival in June 2006.
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Default win over Afghanistan takes Viet Nam into next round
Viet Nam News - Feb 07 4:54 AM
HA NOI — Afghanistan on Monday withdrew from the 2008 Olympic qualifiers match scheduled for today in Viet Nam, thus the host team is to be ruled victorious, announced the Viet Nam Football Federation (VFF).
Team leaders cited a problem with flight bookings from the war-torn country as the reason for the withdrawal, which has cost the host football federation’s organisation billions of dong.
In the explanation sent to Viet Nam, Afghanistan said that there was no flight scheduled to depart from the country in the days prior to the match.
"We tried to contact the Afghan football federation many times in the last week, but we had no reply from them," said Le Hoai Anh, VFF office manager.
Viet Nam, the party responsible for organising the match, will report the case to FIFA, the world football governing body, for an official decision.
As a result of the withdrawal, Viet Nam will pass through to the next round, beginning on February 28, in which they will play in group C.
Lebanon and Oman will also be competing in the next round, as will the winners of the Indonesia-Maldives match.
The Vietnamese Olympic team was likely to be disbanded late yesterday before reconvening in two weeks to prepare for the group C qualifiers second round match against Lebanon on February 28.
"I am not surprised at Afghanistan’s withdrawal, as the country hasn’t been a part of international competition for 20 years," said Viet Nam coach Alfred Riedl.
Riedl, who is going home to Austria to undergo a kidney transplant next month, has been training intensively with the team for the last week. He even announced the 11-strong lineup for the match against Afghanistan, which was scheduled to take place today at Thien Truong Stadium in Nam Dinh.
"The whole team has been training hard to build up a formation to use in playing Afghanistan, and all the players were in high spirits for the clash," assistant coach Tran Cong Minh said. "In the last month our players played five friendly matches in addition to practising every day to get prepared for the match, which we were favoured to win."
The VFF had already issued tickets for the match and booked hotel rooms for the Afghan team, which was expected to arrive in Nam Dinh on Monday.
"Many people have already bought tickets and were very much expecting to see the national team play against Afghanistan," Hoai Anh said. "If we are ruled to host the match against our next preliminary round rivals, we will try to minimise the damage by using the tickets issued." — VNS
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From Afghanistan to Iraq: Connecting the Dots with Oil
Wednesday February 07 2007 17:16:55 PM BDT By Richard W. Behan, AlterNet News From Bangladesh
An in-depth look at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the events leading up to them, and the players who made them possible.
In the Caspian Basin and beneath the deserts of Iraq, as many as 783 billion barrels of oil are waiting to be pumped. Anyone controlling that much oil stands a good chance of breaking OPEC's stranglehold overnight, and any nation seeking to dominate the world would have to go after it.
The long-held suspicions about George Bush's wars are well-placed. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were not prompted by the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. They were not waged to spread democracy in the Middle East or enhance security at home. They were conceived and planned in secret long before September 11, 2001 and they were undertaken to control petroleum resources.
The "global war on terror" began as a fraud and a smokescreen and remains so today, a product of the Bush Administration's deliberate and successful distortion of public perception. The fragmented accounts in the mainstream media reflect this warping of reality, but another more accurate version of recent history is available in contemporary books and the vast information pool of the Internet. When told start to finish, the story becomes clear, the dots easier to connect.
Both appalling and masterful, the lies that led us into war and keep us there today show the people of the Bush Administration to be devious, dangerous and far from stupid.
The following is an in-depth look at the oil wars, the events leading up to them, and the players who made them possible.
The Project for a New American Century, a D.C.-based political think tank funded by archconservative philanthropies and founded in 1997, is the source of the Bush Administration's imperialistic urge for the U.S. to dominate the world. Our nation should seek to achieve a "...benevolent global hegemony," according to William Kristol, PNAC's chairman. The group advocates the novel and startling concept of "pre-emptive war" as a means of doing so.
On January 26, 1998, the PNAC, sent a letter to President William Clinton urging the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The dictator, the letter alleged, was a destabilizing force in the Middle East, and posed a mortal threat to "...the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world's oil supply..." The subjugation of Iraq would be the first application of "pre-emptive war."
The unprovoked, full-scale invasion and occupation of another country, however, would be an unequivocal example of "the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence of another state." That is the formal United Nations definition of military aggression, and a nation can choose to launch it only in self-defense. Otherwise it is an international crime.
President Clinton did not honor the PNAC's request.
But sixteen members of the Project for a New American Century would soon assume prominent positions in the Administration of George W. Bush, including Dick Cheney, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage and John Bolton.
The "significant portion of the world's oil supply" was of immediate concern, because of the commanding influence of the oil industry in the Bush Administration. Beside the president and vice president, eight cabinet secretaries and the national security advisor had direct ties to the industry, and so did 32 others in the departments of Defense, State, Energy, Agriculture, Interior, and the Office of Management and Budget.
Within days of taking office, President Bush appointed Vice President Cheney to chair a National Energy Policy Development Group. Cheney's "Energy Task Force" was composed of the relevant federal officials and dozens of energy industry executives and lobbyists, and it operated in tight secrecy. (The full membership has never been revealed, but Enron's Kenneth Lay is known to have participated, and the Washington Post reported that Exxon-Mobil, Conoco, Shell, and BP America did, too.)
During his second week in office, President Bush convened the first meeting of his National Security Council. It was a triumph for the PNAC. In just one hour-long meeting, the new Bush Administration turned upside down the long-standing focus of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Over Secretary of State Colin Powell's objections, the goal of reconciling the Israel-Palestine conflict was abandoned, and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was set as the new priority. Ron Suskind's book, The Price of Loyalty, describes the meeting in detail.
The Energy Task Force wasted no time, either. Within three weeks of its creation, the group was poring over maps of the Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, tanker terminals, and oil exploration blocks. It studied an inventory of "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts" -- dozens of oil companies from 30 different countries, in various stages of negotiations for exploring and developing Iraqi crude.
For Maps and Charts of Iraqi Oil Fields : http://www.judicialwatch.org/iraqi-oil-maps.shtml
Not a single U.S. oil company was among the "suitors," and that was intolerable, given a foreign policy bent on global hegemony. The National Energy Policy document, released May 17, 2001 concluded this: "By any estimation, Middle East oil producers will remain central to world security. The Gulf will be a primary focus of U.S. international energy policy."
That rather innocuous statement can be clarified by a top-secret memo dated February 3, 2001 to the staff of the National Security Council. Cheney's group, the memo said, was "melding" two apparently unrelated areas of policy: "the review of operational policies toward rogue states," such as Iraq, and "actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields." The memo directed the National Security Council staff to cooperate fully with the Energy Task Force as the "melding" continued. National security policy and international energy policy would be developed as a coordinated whole. This would prove convenient on September 11, 2001, still seven months in the future.
The Bush Administration was drawing a bead on Iraqi oil long before the "global war on terror" was invented. But how could the "capture of new and existing oil fields" be made to seem less aggressive, less arbitrary, less overt?
During April of 2002, almost a full year before the invasion, the State Department launched a policy-development initiative called "The Future of Iraq Project" to accomplish this. The "Oil and Energy Working Group" provided the disguise for "capturing" Iraqi oil. Iraq, it said in its final report, "should be opened to international oil companies as quickly as possible after the war ... the country should establish a conducive business environment to attract investment in oil and gas resources."
Capture would take the form of investment, and the vehicle for doing so would be the "production sharing agreement."
Under production sharing agreements, or PSAs, oil companies are granted ownership of a "share" of the oil produced, in exchange for investing in development costs, and the contracts are binding for up to 30 years. What would happen, though, if the companies' investments were only minimal, but their shares of the production were obscenely, disproportionately large?
This is hardwired. According to a UK Platform article titled "Crude Designs," production sharing agreements have now been drafted in Baghdad covering 75 percent of the undeveloped Iraqi fields, and the oil companies, waiting to sign the contracts, will earn as much 162 percent on their investments. And the "foreign suitors" are not quite so foreign now: The players on the inside tracks are Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, BP-Amoco and Royal Dutch-Shell.
The use of PSAs will cost the Iraqi people hundreds of billions of dollars in just the first few years of the "investment" program. They would be far better off keeping in place the structure Iraq has relied upon since 1972: a nationalized oil industry leasing pumping rights to the oil companies, who then pay royalties to the central government. That is how it is done today in Saudi Arabia and the other OPEC countries.
Production sharing agreements, heavily favored by the oil companies, were specified by George Bush's State Department. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority drafted an oil law privatizing the oil sector, and American oil interests have lobbied in Baghdad ever since then for the PSAs. Apparently successfully: The Oil Committee headed by Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih is said currently to be "leaning" toward them.
With the capture of Iraqi oil resources prospectively disguised, the Halliburton company was then hired, secretly, to design a fire suppression strategy for the Iraqi oil fields. If oil wells were to be torched during the upcoming war (as Saddam did in Kuwait in 1991), the Bush Administration would be prepared to extinguish them rapidly. The contract with Halliburton was signed in the fall of 2002. Congress had yet to authorize the use of force in Iraq.
So a line of dots begins to point at Iraq, though nothing illegal or unconstitutional has yet taken place. We are still in the policy-formulation stage, but two "seemingly unrelated areas of policy" -- national security policy and international energy policy -- have become indistinguishable.
The strategic location of Afghanistan can scarcely be overstated. The Caspian Basin contains up to $16 trillion worth of oil and gas resources, and the most direct pipeline route to the richest markets is through Afghanistan.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the first western oil company to take action in the Basin was the Bridas Corporation of Argentina. It acquired production leases and exploration contracts in the region, and by November of 1996 had signed an agreement with General Dostum of the Northern Alliance and with the Taliban to build a pipeline across Afghanistan.
Not to be outdone, the American company Unocal (aided by an Arabian company, Delta Oil) fought Bridas at every turn. Unocal wanted exclusive control of the trans-Afghan pipeline and hired a number of consultants in its conflict with Bridas: Henry Kissinger, Richard Armitage (now Deputy Secretary of State in the Bush Administration), Zalmay Khalilzad (a signer of the PNAC letter to President Clinton) and Hamid Karzai.
Unocal wooed Taliban leaders at its headquarters in Texas, and hosted them in meetings with federal officials in Washington, D.C.
Unocal and the Clinton Administration hoped to have the Taliban cancel the Bridas contract, but were getting nowhere. Finally, Mr. John J. Maresca, a Unocal Vice President, testified to a House Committee of International Relations on February 12, 1998, asking politely to have the Taliban removed and a stable government inserted. His discomfort was well placed.
Six months later terrorists linked to Osama bin Laden bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and two weeks after that President Clinton launched a cruise missile attack into Afghanistan. Clinton issued an executive order on July 4, 1999, freezing the Taliban's U.S.-held assets and prohibiting further trade transactions with the Taliban.
Mr. Maresca could count that as progress. More would follow.
Immediately upon taking office, the new Bush Administration actively took up negotiating with the Taliban once more, seeking still to have the Bridas contract vacated, in exchange for a tidy package of foreign aid. The parties met three times, in Washington, Berlin, and Islamablad, but the Taliban wouldn't budge.
Behind the negotiations, however, planning was underway to take military action if necessary. In the spring of 2001 the State Department sought and gained concurrence from both India and Pakistan to do so, and in July of 2001, American officials met with Pakistani and Russian intelligence agents to inform them of planned military strikes against Afghanistan the following October. A British newspaper told of the U.S. threatening both the Taliban and Osama bin Laden -- two months before 9/11 -- with military strikes.
According to an article in the UK Guardian, State Department official Christina Rocca told the Taliban at their last pipeline negotiation in August of 2001, just five weeks before 9/11, "Accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs."
The Great Game and Its Players
The geostrategic imperative of reliable oil supplies has a long history, arguably beginning with the British Navy in World War I. First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill repowered the British fleet -- from coal (abundant in the UK) to oil (absent in the UK), and thus began the Great Game: jockeying by the world powers for the strategic control of petroleum. (Churchill did this to replace with oil pumps the men needed to shovel coal -- a large share of the crew -- so they could man topside battle stations instead.) Iraq today is a British creation, formed almost a century ago to supply the British fleet with fuel, and it is still a focal point of the Game.
The players have changed as national supremacy has changed, as oil companies have morphed over time, and as powerful men have lived out their destinies.
Among the major players today are the Royal family of Saudi Arabia and the Bush family of the state of Maine (more recently of Texas). And they are closely and intimately related. The relationship goes back several generations, but it was particularly poignant in the first Gulf War in 1990-91, when the U.S. and British armed forces stopped Saddam Hussein in Kuwait, before his drive reached the Arabian oil fields. Prime Minister John Major of the UK, and President George H.W. Bush became the much esteemed champions of the Arabian monarchy, and James Baker, Bush's Secretary of State, was well regarded, too. (Years earlier, Mr. Baker and a friend of the royal family's had been business partners, in building a skyscraper bank building in Houston.)
The Carlyle Group: Where the Players Meet to Profit
After President Bush, Secretary Baker, and Prime Minister Major left office, they all became active participants and investors in the Carlyle Group, a global private equity investment firm comprised of dozens of former world leaders, international business executives (including the family of Osama bin Laden); former diplomats, and high-profile political operatives from four U.S. Administrations. For years, Carlyle would serve as the icon of the Bush/Saudi relationship.
Carlyle, with its headquarters just six blocks from the White House, invests heavily in all the industries involved in the Great Game: the defense, security, and energy industries, and it profits enormously from the Afghan and Iraqi wars.
In the late 1980s, Carlyle's personal networking brought together George W. Bush, the future 43rd U.S. president, and $50,000 of financial backing for his Texas oil company, Arbusto Energy. The investor was Salem bin Laden (half-brother of Osama bin Laden) who managed the Carlyle investments of the Saudi bin Laden Group. (After the tragedy of 9/11, by mutual consent, the bin Laden family and Carlyle terminated their business dealings.) George Bush left Carlyle in 1992 to run for governor of Texas.
Ex-President Bush, Ex-Prime Minister Major, and Ex Secretary Baker, in the 1990's, were Carlyle's advance team, scouring the world for profitable investments and investors. In Saudi Arabia they met with the royal family, and with the two wealthiest, non-royal families -- the bin Ladens and the bin Mahfouzes.
Khalid bin Mahfouz was prominent in Delta Oil, Unocal's associate in the Afghan pipeline conflict. He was later accused of financing al Qaeda, and named in a trillion dollar lawsuit brought by the families of 9/11 victims. (It was Mr. bin Mahfouz who had been Mr. Baker's business associate in Houston.)
Carlyle retained James Baker's Houston law firm, Baker-Botts, and Baker himself served as Carlyle Senior Counselor from 1993 until 2005. (Other clients of Baker-Botts: Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Texaco, Shell, Amoco, Conoco-Phillips, Halliburton, and Enron.)
Mr. Baker has long been willing to put foremost the financial advantage of himself, his firm, and his friends, often at the expense of patriotism and public service. As President Reagan's Secretary of the Treasury, he presided over the savings-and-loan scandal, in which S&L executives like Charles Keating and the current President's brother Neil Bush handed the American taxpayers a bill to pay, over a 40-year period, of $1.2 trillion. His law firm willingly took on the defense of Prince Sultan bin Abdul Azis, the Saudi Defense Minister sued by the families of 9/11 victims for complicity in the attacks.
We will encounter Mr. Baker again soon.
September 11, 2001
In September of 2000, the Project for a New American Century published a report, "Rebuilding America's Defenses." It advocated pre-emptive war once again, but noted its acceptance would be difficult in the absence of "some catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new Pearl Harbor."
President Bush formally established the PNAC's prescription for pre-emptive, premeditated war as U.S. policy when he signed a document entitled "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America" early in his first term.
Still nothing illegal or unconstitutional had been done.
But the rationale and the planning for attacking both Afghanistan and Iraq were in place. The preparations had all been done secretly, wholly within the executive branch. The Congress was not informed until the endgame, when President Bush, making his dishonest case for the "war on terror" asked for and was granted the discretion to use military force. The American people were equally uninformed and misled. Probably never before in our history was such a drastic and momentous action undertaken with so little public knowledge or Congressional oversight: the dispatch of America's armed forces into four years of violence, at horrendous costs in life and treasure.
Then a catastrophic event took place. A hijacked airliner probably en route to the White House crashes in Pennsylvania, the Pentagon was afire, and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were rubble.
In the first hours of frenetic response, fully aware of al Qaeda's culpability, both President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld sought frantically to link Saddam Hussein to the attacks, as we know from Richard Clarke's book, Against All Enemies. They anxiously waited to proceed with their planned invasion of Iraq.
If the Bush Administration needed a reason to proceed with their invasions, they could not have been handed a more fortuitous and spectacular excuse, and they played their hand brilliantly.
9/11 was a shocking event of unprecedented scale, but it was simply not an invasion of national security. It was a localized criminal act of terrorism, and to compare it, as the Bush Administration immediately did, to Pearl Harbor was ludicrous: The hijacked airliners were not the vanguard of a formidable naval armada, an air force, and a standing army ready to engage in all out war, as the Japanese were prepared to do and did in 1941.
By equating a criminal act of terrorism with a military threat of invasion, the Bush Administration consciously adopted fear mongering as a mode of governance. It was an extreme violation of the public trust, but it served perfectly their need to justify warfare.
As not a few disinterested observers noted at the time, international criminal terrorism is best countered by international police action, which Israel and other nations have proven many times over to be effective. Military mobilization is irrelevant. It has proven to be counterproductive.
Why, then, was a "war" declared on "terrorists and states that harbor terrorists?"
The pre-planned attack on Afghanistan, as we have seen, was meant to nullify the contract between the Taliban and the Bridas Corporation. It was a matter of international energy policy. It had nothing to do, as designed, with apprehending Osama bin Laden -- a matter of security policy.
But the two "seemingly unrelated areas of policy" had been "melded," so here was an epic opportunity to bait-and-switch. Conjoining the terrorists and the states that harbored them made "war" plausible, and the Global War on Terror was born: It would be necessary to overthrow the Taliban as well as to bring Osama bin Laden to justice.
(In retrospect, the monumental fraud of the "war on terror" is crystal clear. In Afghanistan the Taliban was overthrown instead of bringing the terrorist Osama bin Laden to justice, and in Iraq there were no terrorists at all. But Afghanistan and Iraq are dotted today with permanent military bases guarding the seized petroleum assets.)
On October 7, 2001 the carpet of bombs is unleashed over Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai, the former Unocal consultant, is installed as head of an interim government. Subsequently he is elected President of Afghanistan, and welcomes the first U.S. envoy -- Mr. John J. Maresca, the Vice President of the Unocal Corporation who had implored Congress to have the Taliban overthrown. Mr. Maresca was succeeded by Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad -- also a former Unocal consultant. (Mr. Khalilzad has since become Ambassador to Iraq, and has now been nominated to replace John Bolton, his PNAC colleague, as the ambassador to the UN.)
With the Taliban banished and the Bridas contract moot, Presidents Karzai of Afghanistan and Musharraf of Pakistan meet on February 8, 2002, sign an agreement for a new pipeline, and the way forward is open for Unocal/Delta once more.
The Bridas contract was breached by U.S. military force, but behind the combat was Unocal. Bridas sued Unocal in the U.S. courts for contract interference and won, overcoming Richard Ben Veniste's law firm in 2004. That firm had multibillion-dollar interests in the Caspian Basin and shared an office in Uzbekistan with the Enron Corporation. In 2004, Mr. Ben Veniste was serving as a 9/11 Commissioner.
About a year after the Karzai/Musharraf agreement was signed, an article in the trade journal "Alexander's Gas and Oil Connections" described the readiness of three US federal agencies to finance the prospective pipeline: the U.S. Export/Import Bank, the Trade and Development Agency, and the Overseas Private Insurance Corporation. The article continued, "...some recent reports ... indicated ... the United States was willing to police the pipeline infrastructure through permanent stationing of its troops in the region." The article appeared on February 23, 2003.
The objective of the first premeditated war was now achieved. The Bush Administration stood ready with financing to build the pipeline across Afghanistan, and with a permanent military presence to protect it.
Within two months President Bush sent the armed might of America sweeping into Iraq.
Then came the smokescreen of carefully crafted deceptions. The staging of the Jessica Lynch rescue. The toppling of the statue in Baghdad. Mission accomplished. The orchestrated capture, kangaroo court trial, and hurried execution of Saddam Hussein. Nascent "democracy" in Iraq. All were scripted to burnish the image of George Bush's fraudulent war.
The smokescreen includes the cover-up of 9/11. Initially and fiercely resisting any inquiry at all, President Bush finally appoints a 10-person "9/11 Commission."
The breathtaking exemptions accorded President Bush and Vice President Cheney in the inquiry rendered the entire enterprise a farce: They were "interviewed" together, no transcription of the conversation was allowed, and they were not under oath. The Commission report finally places the blame on "faulty intelligence."
Many of the 10 commissioners, moreover, were burdened with stunning conflicts of interest -- Mr. Ben Veniste, for example -- mostly by their connections to the oil and defense industries. The Carlyle Group contributed to Commissioner Tim Roemer's political campaigns. Commission Chairman Thomas Kean was a Director of Amerada Hess, which had formed a partnership with Delta Oil, the Arabian company of Khalid bin Mahfouz, and that company was teamed with Unocal in the Afghan pipeline project. Vice-Chairman Lee Hamilton serves on the board of Stonebridge International consulting group, which is advising Gulfsands Petroleum and Devon Energy Corporation about Iraqi oil opportunities.
The apparent manipulation of pre-war intelligence is not addressed by the 9/11 Commission, the veracity of the Administration's lies and distortions is assumed without question, and the troubling incongruities of 9/11 are ignored: The theories of controlled demolition, the prior short-selling of airline stock, the whole cottage industry of skepticism.
The doubters and critics of 9/11 are often dismissed as conspiracy crazies, but you needn't claim conspiracy to be skeptical. Why did both President Bush and Vice President Cheney pressure Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to forego any investigation at all? Failing in that, why did the President then use "Executive Privilege" so often to withhold and censor documents? Why did the White House refuse to testify under oath? Why the insistence on the loopy and unrecorded Oval Office interview of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney simultaneously?
There is much we don't know about 9/11.
The Iraq Study Group
Viewing the carnage in Iraq, and seeking desperately to find a way out of it, the U.S. Congress appointed on March 15, 2006 the Iraq Study Group. It was also called the Baker-Hamilton Commission after its co-chairmen, the peripatetic problem-solvers James Baker and Lee Hamilton. It was charged with assessing the situation in Iraq and making policy recommendations.
The Commission assessed the situation as "grave and deteriorating" and recommended substantive changes in handling it: draw down the troop levels and negotiate with Syria and Iran. These recommendations were rejected out of hand by the Bush Administration, but those about the oil sector could hardly have been more pleasing.
The Commission's report urged Iraqi leaders to "... reorganize the national industry as a commercial enterprise." That sounds like code for privatizing the industry (which had been nationalized in 1972.) In case that wasn't clear enough, the Commission encouraged "...investment in Iraq's oil sector by the international energy companies." That sounds like code for Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco, Conoco/Phillips, BP/Amoco and Royal Dutch Shell. The Commission urged support for the World Bank's efforts to "ensure that best practices are used in contracting." And that sounds like code for Production Sharing Agreements.
Mr. Baker is a clever and relentless man. He will endorse pages and pages of changes in strategy and tactics -- but leave firmly in place the one inviolable purpose of the conflict in Iraq: capturing the oil.
A Colossus of Failure
The objectives of the oil wars may be non-negotiable, but that doesn't guarantee their successful achievement.
The evidence suggests the contrary.
As recently as January of 2005, the Associated Press expected construction of the Trans Afghan Pipeline to begin in 2006. So did News Central Asia. But by October of 2006, NCA was talking about construction "... as soon as there is stability in Afghanistan."
As the Taliban, the warlords, and the poppy growers reclaim control of the country, clearly there is no stability in Afghanistan, and none can be expected soon.
Unocal has been bought up by the Chevron Corporation. The Bridas Corporation is now part of BP/Amoco. Searching the companies' websites for "Afghanistan pipeline" yields, in both cases, zero results. Nothing is to be found on the sites of the prospective funding agencies. The pipeline project appears to be dead.
The Production Sharing Agreements for Iraq's oil fields cannot be signed until the country's oil policies are codified in statute. That was supposed to be done by December of 2006, but Iraq is in a state of chaotic violence. The "hydrocarbon law" is struggling along -- one report suggests it may be in place by March -- so the signing of the PSA's will be delayed at least that long.
The U.S. and British companies that stand to gain so much -- Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco, Concoco/Phillips, BP/Amoco and Royal Dutch Shell -- will stand a while longer. They may well have to stand down.
On October 31, 2006 the newspaper China Daily reported on the visit to China by Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani. Mr. Shahristani, the story said, "welcomed Chinese oil companies to participate in the reconstruction of the Iraqi oil industry." That was alarming, but understated.
Stratfor, the American investment research service, was more directly to the point, in a report dated September 27, 2006 (a month before Minister Shahristani's visit, so it used the future tense). The Minister "... will talk to the Chinese about honoring contracts from the Saddam Hussein era. ... This announcement could change the face of energy development in the country and leave U.S. firms completely out in the cold."
The oil wars are abject failures. The Project for a New American Century wanted, in a fantasy of retrograde imperialism, to remove Saddam Hussein from power. President George Bush launched an overt act of military aggression to do so, at a cost of more than 3,000 American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, and half a trillion dollars. In the process he has exacerbated the threats from international terrorism, ravaged the Iraqi culture, ruined their economy and their public services, sent thousands of Iraqis fleeing their country as refugees, created a maelstrom of sectarian violence, dangerously destabilized the Middle East, demolished the global prestige of the United States, and defamed the American people.
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More foreign aid for Pak, cut for India in US budget
Source: Hindustan Times Arun Kumar (Indo-Asian News Service) Washington, February 6, 2007
US President George Bush's proposed $2.9 trillion budget for fiscal year 2008 seeks $20.3 billion for foreign assistance with increases for Afghanistan and Pakistan, but a cut for India as it has become a "donor country".
Seeking a 12 per cent increase in fiscal 2008 starting October 1 over the enacted 2006 fiscal, the proposal lists Israel, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Indonesia and Kosovo among the top recipients of US aid.
However, Israel and Egypt's assistance levels are being reduced as stipulated under the 1978 Camp David agreement, and that many programmes for India, which itself has become a donor country, would be cut, Randall Tobias, administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) said on Monday.
"A lot of the cuts that were made are cuts in programmes where we've really gotten to the point where - India, for example, is a country that has an economy that's growing by 8 per cent. India has become a donor country.
"India is providing like $50 million, I think, in support for Afghanistan. And so India is in a position where they are taking on more of the burden for the problems facing India. We still have a major programme in India, but it is reduced in '08 from what it was in '06," Tobias said by way of explanation.
The United States has been "a leader in championing human dignity and human potential," and its commitment to global development is evidenced by its level of development assistance "nearly tripling ... from approximately $10 billion in 2000 to $28.5 billion in 2005, " he said.
The 2008 budget request, which is subject to further action by the US Congress, "continues that commitment, but it does so in what we believe is a much improved and much more strategic way," Tobias said.
The amount does not include funding for security and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, which will fall under the Bush administration's separate proposed emergency supplement funding for the global war on terrorism.
In South and Central Asia, there's a 6 per cent increase highly concentrated in states like Afghanistan and Pakistan which are of critical importance to US national security and are also among the very poorest nations in that region, Tobias said.
Afghanistan's share is $1.067 billion, up from $968 million, and largely focused on programmes that are dealing with poppy eradication, the building of alternative livelihoods, the kinds of things that will build capacity in the ministries and the units of both federal and local government.
Pakistan gets 785 million, up from 707 million. And again, that's focused on a variety of activities that will bring about police training, develop education programmes and health programmes and so forth, Tobias said.
About 51 per cent of the State Department and USAID's resources now are concentrated in rebuilding and developing activities, Tobias said. The fiscal year 2008 budget request includes a 20 per cent increase in resources for "low and lower middle income countries."
Brad Higgins, assistant secretary of state for resource management and chief financial officer for the State Department, said an additional $10.14 billion is being requested for State Department foreign operations such as security, services and maintenance of its more than 260 diplomatic missions around the world.
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