Eleven Taliban, Six Police Killed In Afghanistan
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
July 12, 2007 -- Air strikes were called in after a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol was ambushed in the southern province of Oruzgan today.
The coalition says the clash left about 11 Taliban fighters dead.
In the eastern province of Khost, Afghan security officials say that a remote-controlled bomb went off near an Afghan police vehicle on joint patrol with NATO troops today, killing six police officers.
Khost Province police spokesman Wazir Badshah said five of the police officers were killed at the site, while the sixth died later at a NATO hospital.
The southeastern Khost Province is a frequent stage of attacks linked to the Taliban insurgency.
Meanwhile, NATO says one of its soldiers was killed and two others wounded during an operation in the south. No further details were available.
(AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)
Afghan president calls militants 'cowardly,' condemns deaths of children
RAHIM FAIEZ - Thursday, July 12, 2007 - KABUL (AP) - Calling militant attacks "cowardly work," Afghan President Hamid Karzai deplored a suicide bombing Wednesday that killed 12 children and accused the fighters of running from battle by donning women's clothing.
Speaking in a measured tone, Karzai said the purported "bravery" of militants consists of killing "innocent people and children." "Whenever there is pressure on them, they escape under a woman's burqa," said Karzai.
He did not explain that comment but could have been referring to past reports of Taliban militants in Afghanistan wearing the identity-concealing robe to flee detection. Also, more recently, Abdul Aziz, the leader of a besieged mosque in Pakistan, was captured last week trying to slip out dressed in a burqa and high heels.
Karzai called reporters to the presidential palace to condemn Tuesday's suicide bombing in Uruzgan province that killed 17 people, including 12 students. The attack in a crowded market wounded more than 30 people, including eight Dutch soldiers whom the attacker apparently had targeted.
"I pray to God that Afghanistan is soon freed from all this suffering," Karzai said, noting battles between western troops and Taliban militants were down this year but suicide and roadside bombings were up.
Meanwhile, the Defence Ministry spokesman said it is easy for Taliban fighters to falsely claim civilians were killed by western or Afghan military action and militants are forcing locals to lie to journalists.
"The enemy is threatening the local people to lie to the media," Gen. Zahir Azimi said. "They even give them telephone numbers of the different agencies to call them and tell them that, for example, 100 civilians were killed in an air strike by the coalition or NATO."
Azimi said if civilians don't do as ordered, the Taliban fighters will kill them. He said in one case in Sangin district of Helmand province air strikes destroyed two Taliban trucks but news reports later said 40 civilians were killed.
Karzai has repeatedly deplored civilian deaths caused by NATO or U.S. military action, saying more must be done to prevent such casualties. But military officials have recently begun claiming some reports are nothing but information warfare by the Taliban.
Tribal elders over the weekend claimed 108 civilians were killed in a bombing in Farah province but no officials have backed up those claims. The governor of the northeastern Kunar province said 27 civilians were killed by NATO military action late last week.
On Thursday, a roadside blast hit a police patrol in eastern Afghanistan, killing five officers and wounding another, an official said.
The attack happened in Yaqoubi district, in Khost province, said Wazir Pacha, a spokesman for the provincial police chief. The victims were part of a joint U.S-Afghan patrol, Pacha said. No U.S.-led coalition troops were injured in the morning blast.
A joint Afghan-U.S. convoy came under attack in Paktia province Wednesday, sparking a fight that killed two police and four Taliban, said Ghulam Dastager, deputy provincial police chief.
In Helmand province, Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces killed eight suspected Taliban on Tuesday, the Ministry of Interior said.
Violence has spiked in Afghanistan in the last six weeks. More than 3,200 people, mostly militants, have died in insurgency-related violence this year, The Associated Press estimates, based on numbers from Afghan and western officials.
The UN World Food Program said, however, it has resumed food deliveries to the volatile south and west. The agency had suspended shipments in the region on May 28 because of attacks on its vehicles along Afghanistan's southern ring road.
"While there are still major problems, getting trucks moving again along the major ring road is an important breakthrough for our operations, particularly in the western region where WFP has been unable to distribute promised food to tens of thousands," said Rick Corsino, WFP director for Afghanistan.
The agency still faces insecurity and on Friday four WFP-contracted trucks with armed escorts were attacked in the southwest.
British soldier killed in Afghanistan
Thursday, July 12, 2007
LONDON (AFP) - A British soldier died from a gunshot wound sustained in an "enemy contact" in Afghanistan on Thursday, the defence ministry here said.
Two other soldiers were injured in the same operation in the troubled southern province of Helmand and are receiving medical treatment, it said in a statement.
The death brings to 64 the number of British troops to have died in Afghanistan since the successful US-led drive to overthrow the hardline Islamist Taliban regime began in November 2001.
"It is with much sadness that the Ministry of Defence must confirm the death of a British soldier from the 1st Battalion The Grenadier Guards near Gereshk in Helmand province, Afghanistan," the ministry said.
"During an enemy contact, the soldier suffered a gunshot wound," it said.
"He was rapidly evacuated by helicopter and despite the very best efforts of emergency medical staff he was pronounced dead on arrival at the field hospital.
"Two other soldiers were injured in another part of the same operation and they are now receiving medical treatment."
The soldier's next of kin have been informed.
Britain has around 7,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, rising to 7,700 in the coming months -- the second-highest contribution to the NATO force after the United States.
Britain's soldiers are based in Helmand, perhaps Afghanistan's most dangerous province, where Taliban insurgents are said to be teamed up with foreign fighters from Al-Qaeda and opium producers helping to finance the insurgency.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has signalled there will be no change of British policy towards the country and has warned of the dangers of withdrawing troops.
Thursday's death brings the number of foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 110 this year. In 2006 a total of 119 foreign soldiers were killed in combat and non-combat operations.
More than 50,000 foreign soldiers under NATO and US-led command are fighting a bloody Taliban insurgency which has claimed thousands of lives so far.
Al-Qaida has regained strength, US warns
By MATTHEW LEE and KATHERINE SHRADER Associated Press Thursday, July 12, 2007
WASHINGTON - A new threat assessment from U.S. counterterrorism analysts says that al-Qaida has used its safe haven along the Afghan-Pakistan border to restore its operating capabilities to a level unseen since the months before Sept. 11, 2001.
A counterterrorism official familiar with a five-page summary of the document — titled "Al-Qaida better positioned to strike the West" — called it a stark appraisal. The analysis will be part of a broader meeting at the White House on Thursday about an upcoming National Intelligence Estimate.
The official and others spoke to The Associated Press on condition they not be identified because the report remains classified.
The findings suggests that the network that launched the most devastating terror attack on U.S. soil has been able to regroup despite nearly six years of bombings, war and other tactics aimed at dismantling it.
The threat assessment focuses on the terror group's safe haven in Pakistan and makes a range of observations about the threat posed to the United States and its allies, officials said.
Counterterrorism officials have been increasingly concerned about al-Qaida's recent operations. This week, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he had a "gut feeling" that the United States faced a heightened risk of attack this summer.
Still, numerous government officials say they know of no specific, credible threat of a new attack on U.S. soil.
Al-Qaida is "considerably operationally stronger than a year ago" and has "regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001," the counterterrorism official said, paraphrasing the report's conclusions. "They are showing greater and greater ability to plan attacks in Europe and the United States."
The group also has created "the most robust training program since 2001, with an interest in using European operatives," the official quoted the report as saying.
At the same time, this official said, the report speaks of "significant gaps in intelligence" so U.S. authorities may be ignorant of potential or planned attacks.
John Kringen, who heads the CIA's analysis directorate, echoed the concerns about al-Qaida's resurgence during testimony and conversations with reporters at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday.
"They seem to be fairly well settled into the safe haven and the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan," Kringen testified. "We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications. We see that activity rising."
The threat assessment comes as the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies prepare a National Intelligence Estimate focusing on threats to the United States. A senior intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity while the high-level analysis was being completed, said the document has been in the works for roughly two years.
Kringen and aides to National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell would not comment on the details of that analysis.
"Preparation of the estimate is not a response to any specific threat," McConnell's spokesman Ross Feinstein said, adding that it probably will be ready for distribution this summer.
Kringen said he wouldn't attach a summer time frame to the concern. In studying the threat, he said he begins with the premise that al-Qaida would consider attacking the U.S. a "home run hit" and that the easiest way to get into the United States would be through Europe.
Several European countries — among them Britain, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands — are highlighted in the threat assessment partly because they have arrangements with the Pakistani government that allow their citizens easier access to Pakistan than others, according to the counterterrorism official.
This is more troubling because all four are part of the U.S. visa waiver program, and their citizens can enter the United States without additional security scrutiny, the official said.
The Bush administration has repeatedly cited al-Qaida as a key justification for continuing the fight in Iraq.
"The No. 1 enemy in Iraq is al-Qaida," White House press secretary Tony Snow said Wednesday. "Al-Qaida continues to be the chief organizer of mayhem within Iraq."
The findings could bolster the president's hand at a moment when support on Capitol Hill for the war is eroding and the administration is struggling to defend its decision for a military buildup in Iraq.
The threat assessment says that al-Qaida stepped up efforts to "improve its core operational capability" in late 2004 but did not succeed until December of 2006 after the Pakistani government signed a peace agreement with tribal leaders that effectively removed government military presence from the northwest frontier with Afghanistan.
The agreement allows Taliban and al-Qaida operatives to move across the border with impunity and establish and run training centers, the report says, according to the official.
It also says that al-Qaida is particularly interested in building up the numbers in its middle ranks, or operational positions, so there is not as great a lag in attacks when such people are killed.
"Being No. 3 in al-Qaida is a bad job. We regularly get to the No. 3 person," Tom Fingar, the top U.S. intelligence analyst, told the House panel.
The report also notes that al-Qaida has increased its public statements, although analysts stressed that those video and audio messages aren't reliable indicators of the actions the group may take.
Associated Press Writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Office of the Director of National Intelligence: http://www.dni.gov/
Musharraf praise for mosque siege
Thursday, 12 July 2007 BBC News
President Pervez Musharraf has praised Pakistan's security forces for freeing the Red Mosque in Islamabad "from the hands of terrorists".
In a televised address to the nation, Gen Musharraf said those members of the military who died had given their blood for the country.
Officials said on Thursday that 75 bodies had been found at the mosque and adjacent religious school.
Clerics and mosque students had been defying the authorities for months.
Karzai supports mosque assault
Daily Times (Pakistan) Thursday, July 12, 2007
KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday supported Pakistan for attacking the Taliban-style militants of Lal Masjid and urged the Pakistani government to crack down on all radical religious groups there.
Karzai has long complained that Afghan Taliban rebels have safe havens in Pakistan from which they are able to direct attacks inside Afghanistan. Pakistan denies the charge, but the accusations have strained relations between the neighbours. “We fully support the government and the nation of Pakistan for the campaign that is going on against terrorism,” Karzai told a news conference.
“(But) our expectation is that this campaign becomes more real and...this campaign also covers those individuals who come from Pakistan and kill Afghanistan’s sons,” he said at his palace here. Karzai said such steps by Pakistan would strengthen ties between the two nations and would put an end to misunderstandings between them.
Speaking in a measured tone, Karzai said the “bravery” of militant fighters was killing “innocent people and children”. “Whenever there is pressure on them they escape under a woman’s burqa,” he said. Agencies
Afghan warlord urges Islamist revolt in Pakistan
Kabul (AFP) - An Afghan warlord fighting US and NATO forces on Thursday condemned the Pakistani army raid on the Red Mosque and called on Muslims there to revolt against the US-backed government, a spokesman said.
Veteran Islamic fighter Gulbuddin Hekmatyar charged that Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf "attacked the mosque to please (US President George W.) Bush," according to Hekmatyar's spokesman Haroon Zarghon.
"We strongly condemn the brutal killing of innocent students by the Pakistani army in the Red Mosque," said the spokesman for Hekmatyar, the one-time leader of the anti-Soviet Hezb-e-Islami and a former prime minister.
"Musharraf martyred the students to please Bush." Zarghon said Muslims were now left with no choice but to fight the "infidel powers" and their puppet governments, like Musharraf's.
"Today all Muslims around the world are oppressed by infidels, at the top the US. The Islamic movements started by Muslims around the world will result in real Islamic governments, in Palestine, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan.
"This is an imposed crusade war by Bush and his allies, but gone are the days they have dreamt of. Muslims now will unitedly stand for their rights."
In this week's raid, which ended a week-long standoff with radicals in the central Islamabad mosque compound, 75 militants and 11 soldiers died in two days of fierce fighting, the Pakistani army said Thursday.
Zarghon said Hezb-e-Islami wishes a "Pakistani Muslim nation's revolt against the Musharraf regime" but said Hekmatyar's faction had no intention of getting involved militarily.
"We voice only our political support to them," he said. "We already have a mission here to finish in Afghanistan. Our country is invaded and there are 50,000 foreign troops here. We cannot extend any military support."
Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi declined to give an official reaction to the crisis in Islamabad.
"I cannot give you a reaction since we are busy in Afghanistan. We have little information on what exactly happened in the Red Mosque," he said.
Asked if the Taliban would support the Islamist circles in Pakistan in their stand against the Pakistani government, Ahmadi added: "We have no interest in interfering in other countries' affairs.
"We cannot extend our war experience physically to them by training them, but they can copy our tactics of suicide attacks and roadside bomb attacks -- just as we did from Iraq."
U.S. to donate 186 aircraft to Afghanistan by 2012
By Sayed Salahuddin Thursday, July 12, 2007
KABUL (Reuters) - The United States will provide six helicopter gunships to Afghanistan's fledgling air force in August this year, part of a plan to supply 186 aircraft to the country, the head of the Afghan air force said on Thursday.
The shipments, which will come in several batches to be completed by 2012, do not include jet fighters for the country where U.S. soldiers form the bulk of NATO and coalition troops in the fight against Taliban insurgents.
"We will be supplied with 186 aircraft, such as reconnaissance planes, helicopters, helicopter gunships and fixed-wing planes," General Abdul Wahab Qahraman told Reuters.
"America will provide us with all these aircraft and we are engaged in discussions about it, but we will not have jet fighters before 2012 and God knows what happens after that."
Washington will donate the aircraft to Afghanistan as part of its multi-billion dollar assistance effort, Qahraman said.
By 2012, Afghanistan will have full control over all of its air bases, except for Bagram, the major former Soviet base north of Kabul which is the hub for U.S.-led troops in the country.
The United States also sponsors the training of 4,550 Afghan air force personnel such as pilots and engineers.
RUSSIAN BUILT CHOPPERS
The six helicopters to arrive in August will arrive from the Czech Republic, Qahraman said.
The Afghan Air Corps will be supplied with Russian built MI-17 transport helicopters, and MI-24 and MI-35 attack helicopters similar to those used against Afghan mujahideen during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation, a U.S. general said.
"They are quite reliable and their performance in this environment at high altitude and high temperature is very good and their reliability is very good," said Major-General Robert Durbin, the U.S. officer in charge of training Afghan forces.
Afghanistan's army disintegrated in 1992 after the overthrow of the Soviet-backed government by Western-funded mujahideen groups.
The country's air force, army, police and security agencies had until then been trained and equipped by the Soviet Union.
Now the United States and other allies are helping rebuild, train and equip Afghan forces.
Afghanistan has more than 120,000 members of the armed forces now and the training of its army will be completed by 2008.
NATO and U.S.-led troops say they will withdraw their troops from Afghanistan once its own security forces are able to stand on their feet.
There are some 50,000 foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan, battling the Taliban and their Islamic allies.
U.S.-led troops invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and overthrew the Taliban government after it refused to hand over al Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks.
(Additional reporting by Jon Hemming)
WFP welcomes resumption of food deliveries to western Afghanistan
Source: WFP Location: Kabul 11 Jul 2007 12:41:00 GMT
WFP announced today that some food assistance deliveries have resumed along the southern ring road in Afghanistan, after insecurity forced the suspension of movements by WFP-contracted trucks in late May.
“While there are still major problems, getting trucks moving again along the major ring road is an important breakthrough for our operations, particularly in the western region where WFP has been unable to distribute promised food to tens of thousands,” said WFP Afghanistan Country Director Rick Corsino.
“Some 100,000 very poor Afghans have been waiting weeks for food – this will bring very welcome relief,” he said.
Between 4 July and 9 July, 280 metric tons of WFP food were transported from Kandahar to Hirat, which has been suffering from an increasing shortage of stocks since shipments were suspended on May 28 due to attacks on vehicles along the southern ring road.
Food for vulnerable families, including many recently deported from Iran, in Hirat, Farah, Badghis and Ghor began to run out with the break in supply.
They include 65,000 people who carry out community work in exchange for food, and 55,000 enrolled in vocational and literacy courses under food-for-training schemes.
Also affected were some 4,000 tuberculosis patients who receive rations as an incentive to continue their treatment. Despite the resumption of truck movements, security problems remain.
Four WFP-contracted commercial trucks under armed escort were attacked on the road linking Nimroz province in south-western Afghanistan on 6 July.
Unknown assailants attacked the convoy on the road to Khashrod District and a clash ensued. Two police officers and thirteen assailants are reported to have died. A driver and his helper were held hostage for two days, and an estimated 40 tons of food was lost.
Insecurity on the southern ring road has also stopped shipments in the opposite direction – from Hirat to southern and eastern Afghanistan. WFP has been unable to move 1,200 tons of biscuits, which arrived via Iran, leaving 940,000 children without their daily in-class snack.
However, other operations in the west continued largely uninterrupted. Food aid has been provided since late April to 1,500 Afghan families deported from Iran. School students also continued to receive their daily rations of biscuits.
Return to normal
“We are planning to gradually increase movements along the southern ring road as long as the security conditions remain acceptable and our transporters feel confident of their safety,” said Corsino.
“We want to get back to normal operations as quickly as possible, where 1,500 to 2,000 tons is shipped along the road each week.”
Insecurity in many parts of Afghanistan, where WFP aims to provide 520,000 metric tons of food to 6.6 million Afghans, presents a major obstacle to humanitarian deliveries. Since June 2006, there have been 26 incidents involving trucks carrying WFP food, which has threatened projects in parts of western, southern and eastern Afghanistan.
Canada's role is shifting from fighting to training Afghan troops, says chief of defence staff
July 12, 2007 - Bruce Campion-Smith, Toronto Star
OTTAWA–Canada is shifting its Kandahar mission from combat to training to prepare the Afghan army to shoulder more of the fighting, a move expected to reduce Canadian casualties, Gen. Rick Hillier says.
By this fall, as many as five battalions of Afghan troops will be operating in Kandahar province under the mentoring of Canadian troops, a significant infusion of strength that sets the stage for the country's own military to help quell the deadly insurgency.
"The focus goes from us in the lead with very little support until now from them to them in the lead," said Hillier, the chief of defence staff.
He was speaking a week after six Canadians were killed in a bomb blast near Kandahar, raising Canada's toll to 66 soldiers and diplomat Glyn Berry against a backdrop of increasing questions about the country's future role in Afghanistan.
But in an exclusive interview with the Star yesterday afternoon, the general sketched out - literally - the makings of an exit strategy.
"A picture speaks a thousand words. But of course, I'm a Newfoundlander so I use a picture and a thousand words," he joked as he hunched over his office table.
Using a blue fountain pen, the general filled two sides of a piece of paper with drawings to illustrate the evolution of Canada's mission.
It showed how Canada's priority in the country would shift from fighting to training to development work.
And it laid out the make-up of the Afghan force in southern Afghanistan – a force that was non-existent just last year – and how Canadian units known as operational mentor liaison teams will help show the fledgling troops the ropes.
For the last six months, Canadians have worked with one of the battalions and the reports from the field are encouraging, Hillier said.
"This battalion has actually come an incredible long ways. Our soldiers were telling me it's like looking in a mirror and seeing their own tactics and drills and skills being implemented by these guys," he said.
Hillier had high praise for the Afghan troops, who he says have won the respect of local citizens. "They're very professional. ... They've actually been very successful in most operations against the Taliban," he said.
There are two Afghan battalions – with upwards of 1,000 soldiers each – now in southern Afghanistan. A third battalion is due to graduate from the training academy in Kabul next Tuesday and is expected to be on the ground by Aug. 1, Hillier said. Two more battalions could arrive this fall.
In addition to the new battalions, the Afghan army is also building up the units required to support troops in the field, such as a brigade headquarters, engineers, artillery and logistics. The Americans have pledged billions of dollars in aid to equip the Afghans with gear like armoured Humvees.
Hillier called it a "night-and-day shift" compared to a year ago, when Canadians were appealing to the Afghan military to join the fight in southern Afghanistan.
"I believe that by spring ... this organization will be very capable. It won't be perfect. It won't be stand-alone. But it will be ready to help play a huge role that essentially has not been played at all until now by themselves," he said.
"This is incredibly different and positive than the conditions we were in last September ... and it bodes incredibly well," he said.
While building up the Afghan army has long been a key element of Canada's Afghan strategy, the plan has taken on new impetus in recent weeks. Hillier travelled to Kandahar in June to discuss it with Canadian commanders as well as Afghan officials.
"We were not doing much until very recently in the training part to help development of the Afghan national security forces," he said.
Hillier's comments come as political debate over the mission heats up and Canadians remain divided over Canada's role in the troubled country.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said that any military mission past February, 2009, when the current commitment expires, will be determined by a "consensus" in Parliament. There's talk that Harper may hold a free vote in the House of Commons to determine the shape of that future mission.
The Prime Minister even told a Calgary radio station this week that he has no desire to prolong the combat mission in Kandahar.
"I think Canadians are expecting that if we're in Afghanistan after 2009, it would be a new mission," Harper said.
Hillier wouldn't discuss the future of the mission past 2009, but did note that stabilizing Afghanistan will take years.
"This is not a short-term process. We've known that all along. ... That mission will go on past February, '09 and Canada may or may not play the same role, a different role," he said.
"Canada has been through several evolutions of the mission in Afghanistan since 2002. ... It doesn't mean that because we're doing something now we're going to continue doing that forever. The government will make those decisions," he said.
Hillier said the fact that Canadians are divided on the mission, "reflects the fact that we're not doing yet enough to explain to Canadians all the incredibly good things that are going on.
"If they did have that explanation, we'd have 75 per cent or more support," he said .
Afghan Attorney General Criticized in Corruption Fight
by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR, July 11, 2007 • When Afghanistan's attorney general was appointed by President Hamid Karzai, he was given the task of cracking down on corrupt practices. Abdul Jabar Sabet declared it his jihad, or holy war. But critics say Sabet is a loose cannon who is failing to deliver.
Sabet said, "We have corruption because of the war that we had and because of the poverty that we have here and because of too much money that came to us all of the sudden from the international community."
When asked to clarify, Sabet said, "Temptation, poverty and war. "For example, prosecutors make an average of $60 a month. That's nothing. You people spend $60 some days on your parking."
Afghans had high hopes that the Pashtun lawyer from Montreal would end government corruption. But so far, Sabet's tenure has disappointed most Afghans. A recent survey found they view corruption as the worst in 30 years.
Critics add that Sabet's confrontational style has overshadowed his role as a crusader against corruption.
For example, they point to April, when Sabet arrested a newscaster from Tolo TV station for misquoting him. Or his ongoing dispute with a top Army general, who Sabet says tried to kidnap him and shot at his car. The general denies the kidnap claim, and says the shooting was in self-defense.
One vocal critic, Afghan Senator Mohammed Alam Ezedyar, says Sabet, who is a Pashtun, is racist — that he only targets Afghans from other ethnic groups.
"We're busy gathering votes for his impeachment," Ezedyar said in Dari. "Whoever has authority to do something and who wants stability in this country, should force him to step down."
Sabet dismisses such critics as nothing more than political rivals.
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