By Sayed Salahuddin Monday, July 16, 2007
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's government has sacked a provincial governor accusing him of sowing discord, the Interior Ministry said on Monday, after he made a rare public criticism of President Hamid Karzai.
The governor of Kapisa, northeast of Kabul, Abdul Sattar Murad, was removed after repeated complaints from civilians for being ineffective, creating discord among the people, bullying them and persuading coalition forces to carry out raids against people without justification, the ministry said.
But Murad said he was sacked because he had publicly criticised Karzai in an interview published last week.
He said there was "vacuum of authority" in remote areas that the Taliban or criminals would fill and the problem lay with a lack of leadership that could unite Afghanistan.
"What is missing is leadership. Afghanistan (is) at this critical moment of its history, we don't have a leadership that can unite the national leaders, which can see the needs of people and respond to them," he said in the interview.
"All the political parties are now drifting away from national leadership. All over the country, the people are distancing themselves from the government," he said.
The ministry said the decision to remove Murad had already been made before the interview and that was why he made what it called his "unrealistic comments" to the media.
Murad rejected the ministry's comments and said he was sacked because of the interview.
"I told a series of realities for the good of the government," he told Reuters. "I will try to speak to Karzai and explain it to him, but not because I want to be governor again."
The province of Kapisa, close to the capital Kabul, is far from the Taliban heartlands in the south of the country, but has nevertheless seen a rise in violence and unrest in recent months.
An air strike by foreign troops killed a number of civilians there in March, coinciding with a wave of civilian casualties caused in other parts of the country by NATO and coalition troops.
Murad's comments, the first public criticism of the government by a senior official, came amid growing frustration among Afghans with the government over deteriorating security, civilian casualties, corruption, crime, and a perceived lack of economic development.
Karzai has led Afghanistan since shortly after U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban government in 2001.
Karzai, whose writ does not extend far beyond major cities, has voiced his anger about civilian casualties in foreign airstrikes. He has also repeatedly complained of not having control over foreign troops and billions of dollars in reconstruction funds.
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Two suicide attacks in Afghanistan, guard killed
Monday, July 16, 2007
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - A suicide attack on an Afghan private security company vehicle killed one guard, while a second bomber targeting a US firm blew himself up prematurely, police said.
The Afghan security firm was escorting a logistics convoy for the US-led coalition when it came under attack in the Girishk district of troubled Helmand province, provincial police chief Mohammad Hussain Andiwal said on Monday.
"One security guard was killed and four others in the vehicle were wounded. The vehicle is destroyed," Andiwal told AFP. He could not immediately give the name of the company targeted in the blast.
The second suicide attacker detonated his explosives-laden vehicle at some distance from a convoy of a US security company, USPI, in western Farah province Monday, Farah police chief Abdul Rehman Sarjang said.
"The suicide attacker became the victim of his own ill-fated attempt. There was no harm to the USPI vehicle or personnel," Sarjabg said.
Meanwhile Taliban militants attacked a highway police post overnight in western Nimroz province, sparking a two-hour gunbattle which left seven militants killed and three wounded, said its governor.
"They left a body behind but managed to take the rest of the bodies and wounded with them," governor Ghulam Dastageer Azad said.
Southern Afghanistan has been hard hit by a wave of Talbian militancy, which has left thousands dead. Western Afghanistan has seen a surge in attacks this year after a period of relative peace.
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Afghan, US forces kill several militants
Mon Jul 16, 3:09 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan and US-led forces killed several suspected militants and detained another in a joint operation in southern Afghanistan, the US-led coalition said.
The coalition said "credible intelligence" led them to residential compounds in troubled Zabul province that were suspected of providing sanctuary to insurgents.
"During the operation several armed males were shot and killed by the forces," it said in a statement on Monday. The men wore shoulder harnesses and had small arms, light machine guns and grenades, it said.
The forces also detained a man who will be questioned regarding his identity and involvement in insurgent activity, the statement added.
There was no indication of civilian casualties, it said.
"Militants like these pose a threat to the peace of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan," coalition spokesman Major Chris Belcher said.
Southern Afghanistan sees almost daily attacks by Taliban militants. The violence has claimed thousands of lives since the ouster of the hardline Taliban regime in the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The coalition, which is focused on counter-terrorism operations, includes about 13,000 US soldiers and a few hundred troops from other nations.
A separate NATO-led force has around 37,000 troops in Afghanistan fighting the resurgent extremist movement.
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Civilians paying the price in Taliban conflict
GHERISHK, 16 July 2007 (IRIN) - For Abdul Qader, 44, life had become almost impossible in his native Gherishk District, about 50km north of Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand Province, in southern Afghanistan.
It was not only the escalating armed conflict and onset of a drought that drove him and his six-member family to abandon their grocery shop, large vineyard and house in Gherishk. The main reason he fled, he said, was because he was under increasing pressure to join the Taliban.
“One night about five or six Taliban fighters came into my house,” he told IRIN. “They told us either to pay them 2,000 Afghanis [US$40] per young man in a family or join the Taliban’s jihad [holy war].”
Another elderly man in Lashkargah had a similar account.
“One evening the Taliban came into our village mosque. They preached about jihad and said we should support the jihad either financially or by our blood,” said Haji Khodaidad, who left his home in Helmand’s Kajaki District two months ago.
Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defence (MoD), said Taliban insurgents have a history of using and abusing civilians in their fight against the Afghan government and its international supporters.
“We are doing our best to exclude our people from Taliban oppression,” said Azimi.
However, the nascent national Afghani army has struggled to provide protection to civilians living under strict Taliban rule in many towns and villages in the south, which have a long history of resistance to occupation forces. Traditional village schools, or madrassas, are the primary source of new Taliban fighters.
The Taliban, who ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, were ousted from power by a US-led invasion of the country shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York. Since then, they have been engaged in protracted low-intensity guerilla warfare with Afghan and international forces. The past year has seen a resurgence of the Taliban.
Taliban insurgents are notorious for their beheadings and executions of people on charges of espionage and collaboration with their opponents. Taliban leaders accuse such people of being traitors and nonbelievers. They say they are the rightful rulers of the country and see the current Afghan government as a puppet of the US.
Taliban leaders have vowed to continue fighting the Afghan government and its international allies. On 23 May, the Taliban’s newly named top field commander, Dadullah Mansoor, brother and replacement of deceased field commander Mullah Dadullah, made his first public statement, saying the Taliban will “pursue holy war until the occupying countries leave”.
As such, clashes and military operations are ongoing between the Taliban and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) – the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan – the Afghan army and US forces. Many civilians have been killed as a result and thousands displaced.
According to Abdul Sattar Muzahari, the director for the department of refugees and internally displaced persons’ (IDPs) affairs in Helmand, up to 10,000 families (at least 50,000 people) have been displaced in seven districts of the restive province.
“Almost all of the displaced people have been affected by the conflict and resurgence of the Taliban,” Muzahari said.
Officials in Kabul say tens of thousands of people displaced in the south and southwest of the country are “short-term IDPs” who will be able to return to their homes soon after military operations end in their areas.
“Military operations usually conclude within days after their start and displaced people will have no obstacle to return,” Shujauddin Shuja, an advisor for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Refugees and Returnees (MoRR), said on 15 July in the capital, Kabul.
No compensation for civilians
However, aid workers and civilians say that neither the government nor international forces provide a functioning compensation programme for civilians affected by military operations.
Some displaced families say they do not return to their villages of origin either because they cannot afford rebuilding their damaged properties or because there is no guarantee that there will be not be renewed fighting.
Fifteen days after recent fighting in Sangeen District, about 100km northeast of Lashkargah, Haji Hakeem Agha returned to see his home.
“Everything has been destroyed,” the old man said.
The majority of displaced families are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the provincial department for refugees and IDPs affairs.
“So far the government has been unable to deliver humanitarian relief,” conceded Shuja of MoRR.
The ongoing fighting in the south, east and southwestern parts of Afghanistan has restricted humanitarian and development activities, and has largely impeded access to many affected regions, such as Helmand, Urozgan and Zabul provinces.
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Britain's Afghan casualty rate high
LONDON, July 16 (UPI) -- The casualty rate for British soldiers in Afghanistan is approaching World War II levels, The Telegraph reported Monday.
While disputed by the Ministry of Defense, the newspaper said the casualty rate suffered by British troops in the most dangerous regions of Afghanistan is approaching 10 percent, compared with the 11 percent rate of World War II.
Britain has some 5,500 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led mission to rout Islamist Taliban and al-Qaida militants and has experienced a 10-fold increase in the number of wounded in action in the past six months, the newspaper said.
However, the Ministry of Defense said it was "nonsense" to suggest that casualty rates in Afghanistan were comparable to World War II levels.
The newspaper also said British troops are suffering a higher rate of fatal casualties by proportion than their U.S. colleagues.
The report came days after Peter Inge, Britain's former chief of the defense staff, told the House of Lords there was a high risk of "strategic failure" in Afghanistan, The Observer reported.
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Pakistan's deception must end
Ed Feuer The London Free Press (Canada) Monday, July 16, 2007
What a tangled web we weave when we deceive ourselves into pretending awful situations will somehow, in some way get better.
Such as NATO tolerating the double game of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf whose stalling for six months before dealing with Taliban-style extremists in Islamabad's Red Mosque is only the latest example.
Canadians feel the effects of the double game in brutal fashion when our soldiers are killed or maimed by roadside bombs made in Pakistan.
The Taliban are granted sanctuary in Pakistan amid protestations that the country's military can do little in the northwest frontier region. But such claims ring hollow for a country with a mighty military machine arrayed against India.
NATO commanders know the full score, but tend only to fully vent their frustrations about Pakistan off the record.
Despite claims of a tougher attitude toward madrassa hate schools funded by Saudi Arabia, they continue virtually unhindered.
Nuclear proliferator A.Q. Khan, father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, has apparently been released from lenient house arrest and the U.S. still cannot question him about what his network provided Iran and North Korea.
Musharraf occasionally throws the Americans a bone by "capturing" a lower level al-Qaida operative. But the Indians, who know what happens in Pakistan, say Osama bin Laden and company couldn't last 10 minutes in that country without support from elements of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
And all this goes on despite billions of dollars in Western aid.
Why the pretending? The usual line is that if the West doesn't back Musharraf, he'll be overthrown and Pakistan's nukes will wind up in the hands of Islamist crazies. So that means no going after Taliban and al-Qaida sanctuaries in Pakistan by NATO forces.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the Taliban tell the people they terrorize: After the foreigners go home we will still be here. The message is clear and effective.
And whether it be NATO's undermanned mission in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict or Darfur, there's lots of pretending going on.
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Ukraine may start production of 10-15 bcm of gas in Afghanistan
KYIV. July 16 (Interfax) - Ukraine may start gas production in Afghanistan at from 10 billion to 15 billion cubic meters per year. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told journalists that on July 14, during talks with the Afghan government, a round of consultations was held on the possibility of producing 10 billion - 15 billion cubic meters of gas per year in Afghanistan. Yatsenyuk said that this project could be implemented jointly with a number of countries neighboring Afghanistan. The ministry said that during the talks between Yatsenyuk and Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta in Kabul on July 14, the sides discussed cooperation in the energy sphere. Yatsenyuk and Spranta agreed to prepare a plan of action in the energy sector to implement bilateral projects and to look into the possibility of producing natural resources, especially in the gas and oil sectors.
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Army calls Ranger's war-crime claims baseless
By David Bowermaster Seattle Times Monday, July 16, 2007
Shortly after Luke Sommer was arrested in connection with the takeover robbery of a Tacoma bank in August, the former Army Ranger told Canadian police he had orchestrated the heist — and his capture — to expose war crimes by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But an Army investigation into Sommer's claims concluded "the offenses did not occur as [Sommer] alleged," according to a recently declassified report.
The inquiry into Sommer's war-crimes claims, conducted by the Army's Criminal Investigative Division (CID) in Fort Belvoir, Va., was completed Oct. 25, 2006. The Seattle Times recently received a copy of the seven-page investigative report in reply to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Sommer, who holds dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship, disappeared last month from his mother's home in Peachland, B.C., where he was on house arrest for his alleged involvement in the robbery of the Bank of America branch on South Tacoma Way. He was scheduled to face an extradition hearing last week.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have issued a warrant for Sommer's arrest. He was last seen June 27.
Before the Tacoma robbery, Sommer was a specialist attached to C Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment based at Fort Lewis.
Shortly before 5:15 p.m. on Aug. 7, a silver Audi A4 pulled up behind the bank branch. Four masked men wearing body armor got out and stormed the bank.
One of the robbers leaped a glass barrier and collected cash. Another put a gun to a teller's head and ordered her to open the vault. Two men armed with AK-47s kept watch.
Two minutes and 21 seconds later, they left with $54,011.
The FBI would later say the robbery was carried out with "military-style precision and planning."
A witness who saw the car provided police with a license-plate number, which was traced to an Army Ranger at Fort Lewis.
Sommer was arrested in Westbank, B.C., on Aug. 11.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Sommer's motive for the robbery was to raise funds to start a crime family to rival the Hells Angels for control of the drug trade in the Kelowna, B.C., area. But Sommer told The Seattle Times in December that his motive was, rather, to gain notoriety that he could use to expose war crimes by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Shortly after his arrest, Sommer told authorities about a variety of war crimes he allegedly witnessed in Iraq in 2004 and Afghanistan in 2005, according to a transcript of the interview. Sommer said he saw a woman raped by members of the Army's elite Delta Force while guarding prisoners in Baghdad and said some of his fellow Rangers had videotaped evidence that Navy Seals murdered handcuffed prisoners in Afghanistan.
Canadian authorities notified the U.S. military, and an inquiry into Sommer's claims began Sept. 12.
"All investigative activity, including pertinent interviews and thorough review of official reports and documents, did not establish any evidence to corroborate [Sommer's] allegations of rape in Iraq and murder in Afghanistan," according to the report.
Interviews with Rangers
The bulk of the investigation consisted of interviews with 14 current and former Rangers at Fort Lewis on Sept. 26 and 27. Virtually everyone interviewed said that they did not believe Sommer's allegations, they had not heard the stories previously and they did not believe there was evidence to support them.
Sommer's platoon sergeant called Sommer's war-crimes claims "ridiculous and untrue."
Sommer said the rape he witnessed in Baghdad occurred in the back of an empty truck trailer.
But Sommer's platoon sergeant said he "didn't recall any female detainees during that deployment and related there were no 'trailers' at the [site]."
Several sergeants who served with Sommer likewise said they did not remember any female prisoners during their unit's deployment to Iraq.
The investigator later reviewed "operational records and documents" and determined the "only female detainees identified during the month of October 2004" — when Sommer was in Baghdad — "were captured after [Sommer] departed and therefore have no relevance."
Execution story denied
Sommer's allegations of executions by Navy Seals in Afghanistan in 2005 receive scant attention in the report, but a staff sergeant who said he was Sommer's first team leader said he "suspected he was the Ranger [whom Sommer] was referring to as having originated the execution story ... because he is the only one of [Sommer's] peers to have risen to a squad leader."
But the staff sergeant "emphatically denied" telling such a story to Sommer, and "denied ever hearing such a story from anyone and was unaware of any such wrongdoing."
CID did not interview any representatives of Delta Force or the Navy Seals, and no interviews were done in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Nonetheless, the military says it has no doubt that Sommer's war-crimes allegations are groundless.
"We have complete trust and confidence in the abilities of the CID to conduct a thorough and complete investigation, and we are satisfied with the results of their investigation," said Lt. Col. Edward Nye, a spokesman for U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.
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US Senate doubles bounty on Osama's head
KABUL, July 14 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The United Stats has doubled the bounty on the head of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
The US Senate approved the bill offering $S50 million for the capture or death of the world's most wanted man. Earlier, the amount offered was $25 million.
The bill regarding the huge bounty amount under the State Department Rewards for Justice Programme was passed by an 87-1 vote.
The vote was passed amidst reports that the terror group had rebuilt much of its capacity and was again trying to sneak operatives into the United States.
The bill directed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "to authorise a reward of $50 million for the capture or death or information leading to the capture or death of Osama bin Laden".
Almost all the senators, who supported the bill, were worried about the re-emergence of al-Qaeda and its training camps, saying that the group's chief was still at large despite the lapse of six years.
The speakers mentioned a leaked draft of a new National Intelligence Estimate, which reportedly warned al-Qaeda had rebuilt a safe haven and leadership in Pakistani border areas.
Earlier, President George W. Bush had denied reports that the intelligence assessment found al-Qaeda was back to its pre-September 11 strength.
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