By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A local investigation into airstrikes that slammed into Afghan homes where Taliban fighters sought shelter found that 62 insurgents and 45 civilians were killed, two Afghan officials said Sunday.
A suicide attack in the same region killed a NATO soldier, officials said.
President Hamid Karzai ordered a six-man team to conduct a more thorough investigation into the dozens of deaths in Helmand province, said Sher Mohammad Akhanzada, a member of parliament from the province.
NATO, which has admitted some civilians were killed in the battle late Friday but says the number is far fewer than 45, welcomed Karzai's order.
"We will cooperate in any way that we can," said Maj. John Thomas, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force. "We don't mean to trivialize any of those who died but we want to make it clear that we at this point believe the numbers are a dozen or less."
Civilian deaths have infuriated Afghans. Karzai has condemned the forces for carelessness and viewing Afghan lives as "cheap." He has also blamed the Taliban for using civilians as human shields.
A U.N. tally shows that of civilian deaths this year, 314 were caused by international or Afghan security forces, and 279 by insurgents. A similar Associated Press count, though lower, shows the same trend: 213 killed by the U.S. or NATO and 180 by the Taliban.
Overall, the AP counts almost 2,800 people killed this year in insurgency-related violence, mostly militants. The tally, based on Western and Afghan official data, puts the violence far ahead of last year, when about 4,000 died.
A local investigating team was sent to Helmand province's Gereshk district, where fighting took place between insurgents and Western forces late Friday, said Dur Ali Shah, the mayor of Gereshk, and Mohammad Hussein Andewal, the provincial police chief.
Both said the investigation on Saturday found that 62 insurgents had been killed, a number that Thomas said "seems like it could be true." The Afghan officials also said that 45 civilians were killed.
Because of the battle site's remote location, it was impossible to independently verify the casualty claims. Afghan officials said fighter jets and ground forces were still patrolling the region and that the fighting continued into Sunday.
A suicide attacker on foot blew himself up near a convoy of British forces in Gereshk district Sunday, an AP reporter at the scene said. Afghanistan's Interior Ministry confirmed that one NATO soldier was killed and several soldiers and civilians wounded in the attack.
In other violence, a suicide car bomber killed one Afghan soldier and wounded eight others Sunday in the central province of Wardak, the Interior Ministry said.
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Afghan elders say foreign air strike killed 45 civilians
Sun Jul 1, 8:16 AM ET
GIRISHK, Afghanistan (AFP) - Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai on Sunday ordered a probe into civilian casualties from a foreign military air strike three days ago, which elders said had killed at least 45 villagers.
The elders said they had recovered the bodies of 45 civilians, mostly women and children, from the air strike Friday, which was aimed at Taliban fighters in Girishk town in Helmand province, district chief Dur Alisha told AFP.
"People are digging under the rubble for more bodies. There's a possibility that more people might be under debris," Alisha said.
Karzai had dispatched a team of government officials and parliamentarians to the remote area to investigate, his office said.
The toll from the elders, if corroborated, would be the highest number of civilians killed in a single military strike since 2002. That strike came one year after the extremist Taliban movement was ousted from power in a US-led offensive.
The elders said 23 more civilians were wounded and 62 Taliban fighters killed, Alisha said.
There have been conflicting claims about the toll. Estimates from NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, which are fighting a Taliban insurgency, are lower.
Police said 25 civilians were killed in air strikes in the same area a week ago, including nine women and three young children.
A suicide bomber meanwhile blew himself up Sunday against a NATO convoy in Girishk, Alisha said, leaving two Afghan passers-by wounded.
A third was hurt in gunfire by soldiers after the attack, an AFP photographer in the town said.
The British deployment that covers Helmand as part of ISAF said there was an incident but it had no other details.
President Karzai has led criticism of the foreign forces over civilian deaths in military operations against Taliban fighters and their allies, including Al-Qaeda.
Last week he accused the foreign forces of "the extreme use of force, the disproportionate use of force to a situation and the lack of coordination with the Afghan government."
His comments came after 10 days of heavy fighting, which he said had left about 90 civilians dead.
Some 380 civilians have been killed in insurgency-linked violence this year, about half in Taliban attacks and half in foreign military action, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission told AFP Sunday.
"In the recent few attacks there are more from the international forces but in general one could say they are balanced in killing," commissioner Nader Nadery said. The commission registered about 700 civilian deaths last year.
The casualties had left Afghans increasingly frustrated and had undermined the international effort to defeat the Taliban, Nadery said.
"Unless there is more coordination, unless there is immediate compensation to families affected, and proper investigations, we would not be able to win this war against the Taliban.
"The Taliban would very much misuse this evidence, play with it and provoke the community against the government and international forces," he said.
There have been calls for the foreign forces to reduce their use of air power to minimise civilian casualties.
But ISAF says it does not have enough troops to put on the ground, where they would also be at a disadvantage because they do not know the terrain.
"This is what the Taliban want to do, to stop us from using air strikes and to force us onto the ground," an official said on condition of anonymity.
"If we are not able to use air, they will have won a big battle."
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Pakistan busts gang supplying suicide bombers to Taliban
LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) - Pakistani intelligence have busted a gang of Islamic militants supplying suicide bombers and explosive devices to Taliban fighters in neighbouring Afghanistan, police said Sunday.
The eight-member gang led by former fighters of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group was based in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, a senior police official said.
They used to collect materials and volunteers from the central province of Punjab, the official said, requesting anonymity. The suspects were arrested in Punjab over the past few days.
"During the interrogation they confessed to having carried out a series of suicide bombings and bomb blasts against foreign forces in Afghanistan over the past several years," he said.
He identified the gang leaders as Mufti Saghir Ahmed, a veteran of the 1980s war against invading Soviet troops in Afghanistan, and wanted militant Mohammad Safeer. Both are members of the Jaish group, he said.
Safeer was wanted over an attack on a church in the Pakistani town of Taxila in 2003.
"The suspects were preparing remote-controlled devices for the Taliban in Afghanistan," the official said.
"It's a major breakthrough in the fight against terrorism and reflects Pakistan's strong commitment to fight militancy," a senior security official said.
The network was supplementing Taliban fighters based in southern Afghanistan, he said. They had "links" with former mujahedin leader Jalaluddin Haqqani and his pro-Taliban son Siraj Haqqani, he added.
Last year, nearly 300 Afghan civilians were killed in about 140 suicide attacks, most of them claimed by the Taliban, according to Human Rights Watch. There were 25 suicide bombings in the country in 2005.
Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, who are key allies in the US-led "war on terror," have been tense over accusations that Islamabad is not doing enough to stop Taliban militants based in Pakistan from launching cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.
Islamabad says it has nearly 90,000 troops on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to stop militants moving between the countries, and that it has arrested more militant leaders than Kabul.
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West looks at "law and order," Afghan-style
By Phil Stewart
ROME (Reuters) - The leaders of the United Nations, NATO and Afghanistan gather in Rome this week for a conference aimed at shoring up Kabul's "law and order" agenda, even as the nation slips deeper into conflict.
Widespread corruption and violent crime in Afghanistan are feeding disillusionment with the government of Western-leaning President Hamid Karzai, nearly seven years since U.S.-led forces removed the Taliban from power.
There is also growing outrage over civilian killings -- a theme off the official agenda, but one which is expected to be raised at least privately after as many as 45 civilians died on Saturday in a U.S.-led air strike.
The July 2-3 "Conference on the Rule of Law in Afghanistan" is meant to map out a strategy -- particularly a financing strategy -- to address the perceived failings of Afghan justice.
Beyond Karzai, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the conference will be attended by senior diplomats from more than 20 nations.
"The era of lawlessness and corruption and unprofessional police and an unreliable justice system must end," the U.N. Special Representative to Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, said in Kabul last month, looking ahead to the conference.
"I am not satisfied with the progress made so far in the last three or five years."
Afghan police are poorly trained and ill equipped, and violent street crimes often go unpunished. Some criminals and drug barons in the world's leading producer of heroin are linked to former warlords who now serve inside the government.
According to lawyers at the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), day-to-day shortcomings for Afghan justice range from practicing lawyers who have never read the country's laws, to judges who jail women without legal reason.
"Many people in Afghanistan feel it is proper to prosecute a woman for running away from home ... They get prosecuted for this and get sent to prison," said Charles Jakosa, who ran an IDLO training program for prosecutors in Afghanistan.
"There is no provision under Afghan law that would provide for prosecuting someone for running away from home."
Jakosa also said there could be as few as 200 defence lawyers for the entire country, making it practically impossible to guarantee every suspect's right to an attorney.
The conference will involve a series of technical-level meetings on Monday. The plenary session begins on Tuesday with remarks by Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Ban and Karzai.
(Additional reporting by David Fox in Kabul)
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NATO soldier killed in Afghanistan
Sun Jul 1, 9:05 AM ET
GIRISHK, Afghanistan (AFP) - A NATO soldier was killed Sunday in a Taliban attack that included a suicide blast in southern Afghanistan where dozens of civilians were said killed in foreign air strikes days ago, officials said.
Several other soldiers with the International Security Assistance Force and three Afghan passers-by were wounded in the attack in the town of Girishk in Helmand province, Afghan officials said.
"One ISAF soldier died and several others were wounded after a strike by Taliban extremists followed by a suspected suicide attack," ISAF spokesman Major John Thomas told AFP.
He did not give the nationalities of soldiers with the 37-nation ISAF force, leaving such announcements to the home nations of its casualties. Most of the soldiers in Helmand are British.
A British soldier was killed in fighting in Helmand on Saturday.
Ninety-eight foreign soldiers have now been killed in Afghanistan this year, most of them in hostile action.
The Afghan interior ministry said separately that one foreign soldier was killed and three wounded, and three civilians were also hurt.
The suicide attacker had blown himself up near an ISAF vehicle, which was set ablaze, locals said earlier.
"It was a suicide bombing on a NATO convoy. One NATO military vehicle is in flames," Girishk mayor Dur Alisha told AFP.
Planes from ISAF and the separate US-led coalition pounded an area of Girishk with bombs Friday in response to an attack by Taliban fighters.
Village elders said 45 civilians, including women and children, were killed as well as 62 Taliban. ISAF says its believes fewer than a dozen civilians were killed and a "signficant number" of Taliban.
President Hamid Karzai has appointed a commission to investigate.
In another attack Sunday, two ISAF soldiers were "very slightly" injured when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle in the eastern city of Khost, police said.
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Afghan president orders investigation into civilian killings
Sun Jul 1, 6:42 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - President Hamid Karzai appointed Sunday a commission to investigate claims of heavy civilian casualties in anti-Taliban bombing raids by the US-led and NATO forces in southern Afghanistan this week.
Elders reported to local authorities that they had recovered the bodies of 45 civilians killed in the air strikes on two villages in Helmand province Friday but the figures have not been independently verified.
"There are reports of civilian casualties during military operations," the president's spokesman, Karim Rahimi, said.
"The president has appointed a team and has ordered an investigation," he told AFP.
The team of government officials and parliamentarians from the province had been sent to the area.
There have been conflicting claims about the number of civilians killed.
The US-led coalition said the bodies of eight were found among dead militants in the trenches, while locals claimed scores of ordinary villagers were dead or wounded.
Tensions are already high over the number of ordinary people killed in foreign military operations against Taliban insurgents. Karzai last week angrily accused foreign soldiers of an "extreme use of force."
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Iran 'baring its teeth' in Afghanistan, officials say
by Waheedullah Massoud Sun Jul 1, 1:36 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - In public, Afghanistan has played down US and British allegations that Iran is feeding weapons to Taliban insurgents, but in private, officials here say the charges are true -- and worrying.
A serious debate is under way in President Hamid Karzai's administration about Iranian support to both the Taliban and emerging opposition political parties, several officials told AFP.
The government is in a difficult position: it is unwilling to sour relations with another neighbour or become involved in the heated US-Iran dispute, but it is also afraid Afghanistan will again become a battleground for more powerful nations.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said this month that given the large number of weapons coming into Afghanistan from Iran, it was hard to believe "that it's taking place without the knowledge of the Iranian government."
The charge is denied by Tehran as "100 percent lies."
"We are seriously following the reports with concern," said Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen. "We want to continue our friendly relations with Iran."
Karzai has said there is no proof the Iranian-marked weapons are provided by Tehran.
"Iran and Afghanistan have never been as friendly as they are today," he said earlier this month.
But a defence ministry general said the government had "evidence", including documents, to prove the weapons were coming into the country for the Taliban, with Tehran's knowledge.
The official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, would not give further details.
Shiite Iran, a staunch opponent of the Sunni Taliban movement's 1996-2001 regime in Afghanistan, is playing a "three-pronged" game, he said.
"Iran's foreign ministry is staging a friendly-relations show with Afghanistan, supporting the Afghan government," he told AFP.
Meanwhile, "Its religious armed forces and its intelligence is supporting political opponents of the government and, separately, helping Taliban."
The aim is in part to put pressure on the United States -- which is leading the drive to shut down Iran's nuclear programme -- by threatening the 27,000 US troops in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban.
"Iran is giving the option to the US that if it does not give Iran a green light on the nuclear issue and its role in the region, Iran can turn Afghanistan into a second Iraq or Vietnam for them," the general said.
Another military general who asked not to be named agreed, saying, "Iran is baring its teeth to the US at this stage" -- but is also capable of destabilising Afghanistan.
Afghanistan was the battleground in the 1980s of a "proxy war" between the United States and Russia -- a 10-year conflict that led to a ruinous civil war between CIA- and Pakistan-armed Islamist factions.
"Now, we must not fall prey to the US and nuclear Iran's war," the second general said.
Ahmad Behzad, a lawmaker from the western province of Herat on the border with Iran, said the weapons sent "a mere message for the targeted rivals telling them of its capabilities, suggesting that Iran can turn Afghanistan into Iraq if they want to."
This is part of a push to get US forces off Tehran's doorstep for multiple reasons, he said.
Iran sees the US presence in Afghanistan as a threat to its national security, despite Kabul's repeated pledges it would not allow its soil to be used for attacks against its neighbours.
The Islamic republic also believes it is a defender of the Muslim faith against US President George W. Bush's "crusade," said Behzad.
And it could be trying to destabilise Afghanistan because of a planned multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline from Central Asia to the sea that could transit through Afghanistan -- or Iran.
"Iran is boosting the tribal, ethnic and sectarian religious rivalry in Afghanistan to keep the country weak, insecure and to make the US and NATO fail here," Behzad said.
For political analyst and one-time anti-Soviet fighter Waheed Mujda, Iran is trying to make a statement with the weapons, as it could buy Russian weapons on the black market and arm the rebels "without anybody pointing fingers at them".
Iran and Afghanistan have deep ties. They speak the same language, share the same religion and a similar culture. Iran hosted millions of Afghan refugees during their homeland's years of war.
Tehran is extending its influence in Herat by promoting clerics who preach a pro-Iranian position and stir up feelings against foreign forces, and by building libraries that push its ideology, Behzad charged.
Iran's spy agency is active here and officials have visited the country to try to incite rebellion, said a member of Afghanistan's security council.
Police in the west of the country, which has seen a spike in Taliban-linked violence this year, say they know insurgents are getting support from across the border. There have also been reports of armed men arriving in Afghanistan from across the border.
In April, Karzai said information suggested "foreign embassies" were involved in the formation of a potentially powerful new opposition party.
But he has been careful not to annoy Iran, as his ties with Pakistan are in tatters amid recriminations about support for Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.
"The president is in a very difficult position," Jean MacKenzie, country director of the Institute for War and Peace, told AFP.
"He is isolated both within and without the country. Eastwards he has problems with Pakistan. Certainly he does not want to make more enemies."
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Taliban rockets kill 8 Afghan civilians
People's Daily - Jul 01 12:50 AM
Taliban rockets killed eight Afghan civilians in the eastern Kunar province, deputy provincial police chief Abdul Sabour Allayar said Sunday.
Taliban militants fired 12 rockets on Saturday afternoon and hit a mosque and some civilian houses in Chawki district, Allayar told Xinhua, adding eight civilians including four children were killed and five others injured.
Late Saturday, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said the Taliban rocket attack in Chawki at least killed three Afghan civilians and injured seven others.
Taliban militants fired rockets toward an ISAF patrol base at around 4 p.m. (1130 GMT), while some rockets fell short and struck a village, it added.
About 37,000 ISAF and 13,000 U.S.-led coalition troops are operating in this country to hunt down militants and keep security.
Taliban militants and international forces have frequently caused civilian casualties in their operations, arousing dismay and fury among the Afghan people.
Due to rising Taliban insurgency, over 2,500 persons have been killed in Afghanistan this year.
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Legislators slam U.S. for sidelining ex-mujahedeen
The Washington Times / June 30, 2007 By Andy Zieminski
A delegation of Afghan legislators and security specialists in Washington this week pressed the United States to include more ex-mujahedeen in the government as a way of improving the fast-deteriorating security situation in the Asian country.
The biggest mistakes the United States made after taking control of Afghanistan in 2001 was to disband the mujahedeen-dominated national army and to label the Afghans who fought against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s as warlords and human rights abusers, according to the delegation.
And with Afghanistan spinning out of control, the U.S. and international troops in the country are paying the price today, they said yesterday in an interview with The Washington Times. Taliban fighters have recently stepped up their attacks on U.S. and NATO forces by implementing Iraq-style suicide and roadside bombings.
"America didn't know its friends from its enemies," said Gen. Alhaj Mohammad Almas Zahid, a former mujahedeen commander and now a member of parliament. "At that time, the army was mostly mujahedeen and they have been very slow to establish a new one. That gave al Qaeda and the Taliban years of free movement. That is why they are so strong now."
The Afghan delegation met with members of Congress and officials from the departments of State and Defense to warn of the growing "gap between the freedom fighters and the U.S. presence" in Afghanistan, which has come about largely as a result of the decision to replace many ex-mujahedeen in government and military positions with officials who had once cooperated with the Soviet-backed regime, according to the delegation.
"The U.S. policy in Afghanistan has not been up to the Afghan people. .... This created a gap between the Afghan freedom fighters and the international forces," said Fazal Azeem Mujadadi, a senior government official on national security.
Winning back the support of the mujahedeen is crucial to the future stability of Afghanistan, Gen. Zahid said, because nearly everybody in the country was either a member of the movement or had a relative who was.
Backed by the United States with aid and weapons, they fought against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s. The mujahedeen eventually drove the Soviets out before turning on each other in tribal wars before the Taliban took control.
Gen. Zahid dropped out of the 11th grade when the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan and "grabbed his gun" to fight them. He and the 1,500 troops he later commanded were among the first to enter Kabul in the war to topple the Taliban after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Gen. Zahid, who has since been elected to parliament, sees the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorating because of too much influence being exerted by the United States and European Union, as well as Afghans who grew up outside Afghanistan who do not have a deep understanding of the country.
"If the United States and the European Union don't support the mujahedeen, the Taliban will regain control slowly," he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has offered peace talks and amnesty to Taliban fighters in an effort to bring them into mainstream politics. Governments and human rights groups are split on this tactic, with some refusing to deal at all with the extremist group and others acknowledging the difficulty of defeating it.
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Troops in Afghanistan celebrate Canada Day with barbecue, couple 'cool ones'
By Stephanie Levitz
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - A ray of red and white burst through the monochrome of army life at Kandahar Airfield on Sunday as hundreds swapped their camouflage for Canadian colours to celebrate Canada Day in Afghanistan.
Gone were the digitized uniforms with their flecks of brown and grey, replaced by a smorgasbord of T-shirts proclaiming pride in everything Canadian. Soldiers and support employees alike tossed aside the usual muted patriotism that characterizes the military's work here in favour of some pure Canadian spirit.
"It's like finally getting a little taste of home, being surrounded by all this," said Cpl. James Nickerson, 34, of Canso, N.S., as he strolled the boardwalk at the airfield decked out with strings of Canadian flags on the banister. Bigger flags hung from the ceiling.
"Now if it could only just snow."
Indeed, one of the only regular things about Canada Day in Kandahar was the scorching sun, beating down on the soldiers and civilians who took part in organized activities at the sprawling airfield where international troops are based.
The other fixture was the line at Tim Hortons, where even soldiers from other countries took delight in waving Canadian flags and wishing the best of the day to their Canadian comrades.
With beach volleyball, tug-of-war contests and an on-base version of the reality TV show Amazing Race in full swing, the airfield felt for a few hours like recess at junior high, the energy seemingly bounding off the walls of the floor-hockey rink.
"For me, it's just a great representation of our contribution over here," said Sgt. Andy Smith, 42, based out of Petawawa, Ont.
"When you see all the soldiers and all the civilian staff we have here taking part and helping run the events and participating in the events, it's awesome."
After an afternoon of sports events and contests, Canadians in Kandahar will gather for a barbecue and the real prize of the day - two cold beer.
Many soldiers had packed away some red-and-white specifically for Canada Day and the costumes were out in full force, from tall "Cat-in-the-Hat" striped red and white, to polka-dot dresses and Maple Leaf ties.
At a table handing out free donuts and coffee, soldiers grabbed up Maple Leaf pins and flags, and chased each other around trying to stick on temporary flag tattoos.
For many of the Canadians on the ground, July 1 is more than Canada's birthday - it also marks the start of the last month of their tour of duty.
It's been a hard six months - 16 soldiers have been killed since the current rotation arrived in February.
Side-stepping an impromptu water fight, Sgt. Steven Gardiner said Canada Day in Afghanistan was partly about them.
"This is to celebrate what they gave up," said Gardiner, a reservist from Hamilton.
"The freedom they're giving the Afghan people."
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Afghanistan Arrests Seven IMU Suspects
KABUL, July 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's National Directorate for Security says at least seven people with alleged ties to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) have been arrested in northern Afghanistan in the past several days, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported.
A directorate spokesman said five men were arrested in Faryab Province and two more in Jowzjan Province.
Details about their identities and nationalities are due to be released on July 2.
The ferghana.ru website reports two of the detainees are close allies of IMU leader Tahir Yuldashev. The IMU is Central Asia's most notorious terrorist organization and is believed to have ties to Al-Qaeda.
Meanwhile, Pakistani intelligence officers say they have arrested a ring of purported militants supplying suicide bombers and explosive devices to Taliban fighters in neighboring Afghanistan.
Police said today the eight-member gang, led by former fighters of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group, was based in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan Province.
Police said members confessed during interrogation to a spate of suicide attacks and bomb blasts targeting foreign forces in Afghanistan.
(with material from AFP)
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Afghan violence numbers
By The Associated Press
At least 2,800 people have died in insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan in the first six months of the year, according to a count by The Associated Press. The following breakdown is based on AP figures unless otherwise stated.
_1,900 Taliban fighters. The U.S. says these include 39 mid- and top-level commanders.
_314 civilians killed by international or Afghan military action, according to the U.N.
_279 civilians killed by insurgents, according to the U.N.
_350 Afghan police and soldiers.
_94 international troops, including 46 Americans.
_83 percent rise in attacks in eastern Afghanistan this year, according to the U.S. troops who operate in that area.
_200 percent approximate rise in suicide bombings in eastern Afghanistan this year.
_1,032 airstrikes in Afghanistan through May 31 this year, compared with 266 strikes in Iraq.
_Western officials expect the country's opium-producing poppy crop this year to exceed last year's record haul.
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Afghanistan lifts ban on Pak vehicles' entry
By ANI Sunday July 1, 02:02 PM
Islamabad, July 1 (ANI): Kabul has unconditionally revoked the ban imposed on the entry of Pakistani vehicles to Afghanistan.
Traffic between the two countries is likely to become normal from today.
The Afghan government banned entrance of Pakistani vehicles 15 days ago, but now it announced to lift the ban after successful negotiations at Spin Bolak in Afghanistan, The Nation quoted an official, as telling a private TV channel. (ANI)
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Pakistan Closes Two Camps for Afghan Refugees
By Lisa Schlein Voice of America - Jun 30 1:16 PM
Pakistan this weekend is closing two camps for Afghan refugees. The U.N. refugee agency is urging the government of Pakistan to make sure the closure goes peacefully. Violent clashes occurred in mid-May when Pakistan tried to close another camp for Afghan refugees. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
The U.N. refugee agency says it does not want a replay of what happened in May, and it is calling for continued dialogue between the government and the refugees in the camps that are being closed.
U.N. refugee spokesman Ron Redmond tells VOA the camps host more than 82-thousand registered Afghans, most of whom are women, children and the elderly. "Overall, there has been a pretty good response from the Afghan community to the decision to consolidate camps in Pakistan. And a lot of the Afghans took the opportunity in advance of these camp closures to take advantage of various assistance programs being offered by UNHCR to actually go back to Afghanistan itself," he said.
Each Afghan refugee who decides to return home voluntarily with UNHCR assistance is given a cash grant of $100. The refugees also receive food, shelter materials and other items to help them get settled upon their return home.
The Pakistan government says it is closing the camps for security reasons. They are located along tribal areas in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan, near the border with Afghanistan, an area where there are frequent clashes between Pakistan's military and militants.
Redmond says the UNHCR is closely monitoring the camp closures to make sure people are not forced back to Afghanistan against their will. The agency says the refugees have two options. Those wishing to return to Afghanistan can do so with UNHCR's help. And, those who are unable to return can choose to relocate to an existing camp in Pakistan designated by the government, which is in a more secure area.
Redmond said the refugees who decide to go home will not be returned to places in Afghanistan affected by conflict. "We do and have underlined our concerns about Afghanistan's deteriorating security situation and the limited absorption capacity of some areas of Afghanistan to accept people back in large numbers. And, we have discussed the implications of these problems with the Pakistanis as well as with the Afghans. And, we want to ensure that those who do go home are able to stay home," he said.
The UNHCR reports more than two million Afghan refugees are living temporarily in Pakistan. They have been given cards valid for three years. More than half of them live in urban areas.
Since the overthrow of the Taleban in 2002, the UNHCR has repatriated more than three million Afghans from Pakistan, making it one of the largest repatriation operations in the world.
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Flash flood kills more in storm-hit Pakistan
Sun Jul 1, 2007 7:51 PM IST By Gul Yusafzai
QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) - A flash flood swept through six villages in Pakistan's storm-hit Baluchistan province killing 30 people and forcing more than 10,000 from their homes as a huge effort to help up to 1.5 million people geared up.
Early rainy season storms have brought death and destruction to parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India killing about 600 people over the past 10 days.
Pakistan has been worst hit. A storm battered the nation's biggest city, Karachi, on June 23 killing about 230 people.
Three days later, a cyclone hit the southwest coast flooding huge tracts of mostly flat, usually desert-like, Baluchistan province.
The cyclone and floods have affected between 1.2 million and 1.5 million, deputy provincial relief commissioner Ali Gul Kurd said on Sunday. About 250,000 people are homeless.
Persistent rain has aggravated the flooding and caused flash floods like the one that swept away the villages in Khuzdar district on Saturday.
"We've managed to find 30 bodies so far but we don't even know how many people are missing," Kurd said.
"Everything is being done haphazardly."
The military is helping organise rescue and relief efforts with six C-130 cargo aircraft and more than two dozen helicopters carrying out search and rescue and relief operations.
Aid is being taken by rail to the town of Sibi and distributed from there while the coastal belt is being supplied by sea.
Camps for the homeless were being set up but in the meantime people were crowding into schools. "Most of the displaced have been moved to schools but there aren't enough," Kurd said.
Flooding has also increased the danger of snakes and at least three people had been bitten in one district. Authorities were desperate for antivenom, aid workers said. Health secretary Shafi Zehri said supplies were being distributed.
Sunday was generally clear but the Meteorological Department said more rain was on the way, especially for Sindh province, of which Karachi is capital.
Floods inundated about 40 hamlets in northern Sindh on Sunday, affecting 60,000 people, said a provincial official.
In the Khyber Pass area, in North West Frontier Province on the border with Afghanistan, about 50 people have been killed as rivers swollen by torrential rain burst their banks.
In Afghanistan, NATO peacekeepers have been helping after floods killed more than 40 people, destroyed roads and damaged homes and irrigation works.
In India, about 180 people have been killed in storms and floods over the past 10 days.
In Maharashtra, at least eight people were killed in Saturday night storms.
In Mumbai, rescue workers used rubber boats to ferry people to safety.
"We've deployed all our resources to tackle the situation but the amount of rain has been much higher than the capacity of the drainage system," said Mumbai's civic chief Jairaj Pathak.
Suburban trains - Mumbai's lifeline - were running late, but air services were near normal.
Storms have also menaced India's Bay of Bengal coast.
The seasonal rain is vital for the region's agriculture and economy. It also brings welcome relief after many hot, dry months but every year the rains kill hundreds of people.
(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider in ISLAMABAD, Krittivas Mukherjee in MUMBAI, a Reuters reporter in HYDERABAD, India and Hamid Sheikh in HYDERABAD, Pakistan)
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Number of Bulgaria's Troops in Afghanistan Reach 400
1 July 2007, Sunday Novinite.com - Jul 01 7:03 AM
The number of Bulgaria's troops in Afghanistan has already reached a total of 400 soldiers, Defence Minister Vesselin Bliznakov said.
Parts of the military officials serve in Kabul and the other has taken the responsibility for the security of the inner zone of Kandahar Airport about a week ago. There are also several medical crews.
"By increasing the number of its troops, Bulgaria proves it is a reliable ally and takes seriously the responsibilities concerning the collective defence and security," Minister Bliznakov commented.
He said the attitude of the Bulgarians toward the participation of the country's soldiers in foreign missions gets more and more positive.
"According to a recent survey about 64% of the population and especially the young people realize such missions are important not only for the professional development of Bulgaria's army but only for the good international image of the country," the minister explained.
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Afghan asylum seekers returned
Norway Post, Norway
Thirteen of the 21 Afghan refugees who have been denied asylum in Norway, have now been returned to their homeland. Their final appeals have been turned down.
The rest of the group will be returned within a short time.
The 21 have been demonstrating against their expulsion outside the Parliament buildings, ans several groups and individuals have tried to intervene on their behalf, but in vain.
However, seven out of ten asylum seekers from Pakistan are granted asylum in Norway, according to Labour and Inclusion Minister Bjarne Haakon Hanssen.
This is confirmed by the head of the Aliens Board, Terje Sjeggestad.
- Nearly all Afghan asylum seekers who have arrived in Norway, have been granted asylum. Only a minority have had their final appeal turned down, Sjeggestad says.
Around 6,000 Afghan refugees have so far been granted legal residence in Norway.
Upon arrival in Kabul, the returnees will be met by representatives from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Afghan authorities, says Roar Hanssen of the Police Aliens Section.
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Australia to provide more aid to Afghanistan
01/07/2007, 18:10:37 Radio Australia, Australia
Australia is to given seven million dollars more in aid to Afghanistan and fund extra scholarships for Afghans to study in Australia.
Two and a half million dollars will be donated to a reconstruction fund for health and education services with the same amount going towards mine clearing.
The rest of the money will be spent strengthening the country's Independent Electoral Commission and its Finance Ministry.
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A powerful look inside Afghanistan
'Splendid Suns' one of best of year
The Florida Times-Union - Jul 01 1:22 AM
After years of being overshadowed by the war in Iraq, Afghanistan is back in the news, and the Taliban is again making headlines. And now, four years after the release of his highly acclaimed debut novel, The Kite Runner, Afghanistan native Khaled Hosseini is back with another powerful book about his homeland.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is written from the perspectives of two women betrayed and brutalized in the wars and Taliban-dominated peace that preceded the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Miriam is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man from Herat, 600 miles from Kabul. When she runs away from home to live with her father, he rejects her. When her mother commits suicide, Miriam's father betrays her completely and forces her into a marriage with a much-older shoemaker from Kabul named Rasheed.
Laila's father is a former schoolteacher forced to find work as a laborer after the Soviet invasion. Although her brothers have become Mujahideen and are fighting the Soviets, her father tells her, "It's a good time to be a woman in Afghanistan," a foretelling of the horrors to follow. The war is taking place far from Kabul, and she is allowed to walk to school and to have friends, both male and female. Her mother, depressed by the absence of her sons and later by their deaths, seldom leaves her bed.
Laila's best friend is a boy named Tariq who has lost one of his legs to a Soviet land mine. With her father often at work and her mother reduced to a lump under the blankets, Laila spends as much time as possible with Tariq. Their friendship grows into love. When the Soviets withdraw, a brief period of jubilation is followed by a civil war between various factions of the Mujahideen and the war finally comes to Kabul.
Tariq is forced to take his aged and sickly parents to the relative safety of Pakistan, but is reportedly killed en route. Two weeks later, Laila's parents are killed as she and they prepare to leave Kabul as well.
Laila, 14, orphaned and secretly pregnant with Tariq's child, agrees to marry the man who rescued her from the rubble of her parents home - the brutal shoemaker Rasheed, already husband to Miriam.
Miriam, who has suffered at Rasheed's hands for years because she failed to give him a son, is at first angry and jealous of Laila, but then the younger woman tries to stop Rasheed from beating her, and Miriam begins to accept that they are both victims. After Laila gives birth to a daughter - who is then rejected by her supposed father - a friendship forms between the two women and the baby girl.
After the Taliban puts an end to the civil war, it replaces it with a peace that is almost as brutal. For the men, it means not being allowed to shave and being forced to pray five times a day. For women the cost of peace is much higher. They are not allowed outside without their husbands and must wear a burqa that covers them from head to toe. They may not go to school or to work, and cannot even seek medical care at a hospital where men are treated. Public beatings are common, and husbands may beat their wives with impunity.
When Laila and Miriam conspire to escape the country they are betrayed, and Rasheed beats them both. Only when one of the women sacrifices herself may either one go free.
Hosseini tells his story with a sensitivity that befits his characters. Miriam is neither beautiful nor particularly strong, but her flaws make her both more pitiable and more real. Laila is beautiful and strong, but while her youth gives her courage, it is Miriam's wisdom that finally determines both their fates.
The Kite Runner was a best-seller and won numerous awards when it was released in 2003. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a better book than its predecessor and will likely be one of the best books of 2007.
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A young girl's fight for love can lead to prison in Afghanistan
June 30, 2007 - 19:31 By: STEPHANIE LEVITZ AND A.R. KHAN
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - With one grubby hand, Zarghoona toys with a crimson shawl lying on the carpeted ground of a cell at the Kandahar woman's jail.
She hunches, her body and the creases around her startling gold-flecked eyes befitting a woman much farther into the harsh realities of Afghan life than her 13 years.
Still, a shy smile flits across her face as she recounts how she ended up in the grimy cell, and in that moment she is every teenager who has defied her parents for love's sake, this Afghan Juliet who longs only for her Romeo.
Stories of women being yanked out of schools, fired from jobs and squirrelled away under the billowy folds of a burka incensed the world while the extremist Taliban were in control of Afghanistan in the 1990s.
Since their fall in 2001, Afghan women have inched their way back into public life. They sit in parliament and work as nurses, teachers, even police officers.
But when it comes to marriage, choice continues to elude many of Afghanistan's women - no matter their economic, social and intellectual status, or their age.
The Afghan Human Right Commission estimates between 60 and 80 per cent of marriages are forced, and though love marriages are gaining acceptance among the educated elite, the approval of parents and tribal elders is still a requirement.
At 13, Zarghoona is legally too young to marry, either by Afghan's civil law which sets the marriage age for women at 16 or even under Islamic Shariah law, which requires the girl be at least 14.
In rural areas, young girls like Zarghoona are often betrothed to much older men, the bride price helping their impoverished families or an elevation of social status helping further still.
The government recently launched a campaign to register marriages throughout the country in the hopes that it would force people to recognize the legal ages for marriages.
"It is hard to reach the rural women, to teach them about rights and the laws about marriage," said Runa Tareen, director of women's affairs in Kandahar.
But in the end, Tareen admits, it rests with the families.
"If the woman will come forward and tell us what is happening, then perhaps we could do something," she said in an interview through an interpreter.
"But if two families agree, and the women don't do anything, we can't go in and change their minds."
Zarghoona doesn't care what the law or her parents have to say.
She chooses to accept instead the Islamic belief that Allah matched a boy to a girl for marriage before either are even born - and Haroon was the choice for her.
They met four months earlier when her elder sister married his brother. But with one marriage between the two families already, another wouldn't have been acceptable, she said.
Her parents wanted her to find someone else.
"When I saw her for the first time, something was created between us," Haroon said through an interpreter, sitting on the lower bunk of his crowded and dirty cell at the Kandahar prison.
"I think that it was love."
The 17-year-old, still in school, energetically explains that they had no choice but to flee their village two months ago when they learned Zarghoona was pregnant.
They ran away to Pakistan, where they stayed for two weeks before coming back to Kandahar, desperate for money.
"Nobody would agree to our marriage and we were scared that we would lose each other," he said.
So, Haroon sold Zarghoona to a local hotel owner for the equivalent of US$600. They were going to take the money and run to Iran, but the police were tipped off.
Zarghoona and Haroon were arrested and jailed, their parents summoned to get them. The pair swear Zarghoona wasn't going to be a prostitute, but it was a gamble for cash gone badly wrong.
Still, Kandahar police said their parents must give permission for them to marry or charges would be laid against Haroon for selling Zarghoona, and against the hotel owner for buying her.
Their case is an example of how little civil law has penetrated the vast social and cultural customs of the country, said a women's rights activist.
"All of this is off the books and designed to maintain harmony in households and communities, often at the expense of the girl or woman," said Lauryn Oates, of Women for Women in Afghanistan, a Canadian-based not-for-profit group working with women's rights agencies in Afghanistan..
No charges would be laid against Zarghoona, but if her family had refused to bring her home, she would remain in prison because there's nowhere else for her to go.
"For most women, jail is the only alternative when a safe home is not available," said Oates.
"Most women in the jails did not commit crimes at all, but ran away with a boy they love, left an abusive marriage, or were kicked out by their parents for bringing shame on the family for some reason, such as eloping or refusing a forced marriage. Many of them, no doubt, would rather stay there than return to their homes."
Zarghoona's parents had no idea at first that their daughter was pregnant. She didn't tell them, saving the trump card that she hoped would force them to let her marry.
It would be the only choice.
"If this girl is pregnant - and unmarried - she is in big trouble," said Oates. "Her life is at risk, to be totally blunt. That just doesn't happen in Afghanistan."
Every mention of Haroon's name elicits a blush and girlish giggle from Zarghoona, her sing-song voice proclaiming over and over again that she loves him and is miserable when not by his side.
She furtively touches her belly and glances up at the westerner sitting in front of her.
"I want a better life for my child," she said. "If it is a boy or a girl, I don't want them to be an illiterate like me."
The jailed lovers shared the same dreams: they'd marry, move to Iran, where he would work and she would look after their family. Maybe one day, she'd also get a job when their children are all in school, she said.
They knew their parents would be angry.
But two weeks later when they finally arrived at the jail, the parents told police they would consent to the marriage.
Charges were stayed, the pair were whisked away.
"We cannot live without each other. We will not live without each other," Zarghoona said. "We love each other and that is enough."
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Headless body of kidnapped interpreter found
GARDEZ, June 29 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The headless body of a translator with foreign troops, kidnapped two days back, has been found in Kharwar district of the central Logar province, officials said on Friday.
Col. Wali Jan, a police officer in the southeastern Paktia province, told Pajhwok Afghan News the decapitated corpse of Mir Zaman - abducted from Zurmat district - was recovered Thursday night.
Zurmat dweller Haji Zahir said the slain interpreter, who had also been the principal of Habibullah Zurmati High School for year, hailed from Manjaur village of the district. Zaman was working as a translator for foreign troops based in the region, Zahir added.
Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Zabeehullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for slaughtering the man. Speaking over the telephone from an undisclosed location, he said Zaman had been killed for serving foreign forces.
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Attacks on students in conflict zones unacceptable: UN
VIENNA, June 29 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Continuing attacks on students and educational facilities in conflict zones including Afghanistan are unacceptable, says a UN agency.
Referring to recent incidents in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Friday denounced assaults on schoolchildren and educational facilities.
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman stressed: Attacks on schoolchildren are unacceptable. Schools must be safe environments for children to learn and thrive.
In the central Logar province of Afghanistan, where militants have torched many educational institutes, two schoolgirls were shot dead on their way home from school last month.
Another three students and a teacher were injured as armed motorcyclists opened fire at them on July 12, a shooting that scared away many girls from school and drew strong condemnation.
A UNICEF press release issued here quoted Ms. Veneman as saying: Children have the right to a safe learning environment at all times, even under the most difficult of circumstances.
The release also recalled that a student traveling to national college entrance exams in Gaza one was killed, and another was separately injured in crossfire.
In parts of Iraq parents remain justly concerned about the risks involved in sending their children to school, and insecurity has closed schools in the Central African Republic, in Nepal and Sri Lanka, the agency said.
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Public Health Ministry, AG bicker over employees arrest
KABUL, June 28 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The arrest of two Public Health Ministry employees has sparked a row between two government organs here.
Abdullah Fahim, spokesman for the ministry, told Pajhwok Afghan News on Thursday the attorney-general had kept two ministry staffers in detention for five days without documentary proof of their involvement in any wrongdoing.
"The attorney-generals office (AGO) has kept the two detained despite bail bonds furnished by the ministry for their release," the spokesman claimed.
This act on the part of the top judicial officer has caused a rift between the ministry and the AGO, according to Fahim, who the blamed the AG for acting emotionally and against the law.
Ahmad Samir, secretary to the AG, said the bail application of the two ministry staffers had been referred to court. The employees, the secretary claimed, had misappropriated $70,000 from a project for the elimination of pye-dogs.
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Burglars rob private firm of eight million afghanis
KABUL, June 28 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Gunmen in police uniform robbed a local construction company of eight million afghanis in broad daylight in this capital city Thursday noon, officials said on Thursday.
Project Manager of Tolo-i-Noor Company Noor Rahman told Pajhwok Afghan news: "I was bringing the money from De Afghanistan Bank. Armed men wearing police uniform intercepted my car."
The incident occurred at around 12:00 noon, with six bandits surrounding Rahmans vehicle, smashing its panes and snatching the money. The robbers warned of shooting the project manager if he resisted, the victim alleged.
"The incident occurred few a hundred meters from the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for maintaining security across the country," the company manager observed.
Police at security check-post, only at a distance of 20 metres from the scene of the robbery, did not react to the brazen instance of banditry, Rahman complained.
Col. Khalilullah, in charge of the Fourth Police District, visited the site and ordered an investigation into the robbery in the heart of the capital. But none had so far been arrested in this connection, he concluded.
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