Tue Jul 17, 1:43 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President George W. Bush will meet his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai at Camp David next month for talks on security in Afghanistan and the US-led "war on terror," the White House said.
"The presidents will review their work together to enhance Afghanistan's long-term democracy, prosperity, and security," the US administration said in a statement announcing Karzai's August 5-6 visit.
The two men would also discuss ways of improving governance and fighting corruption including the drug trade, as well as measures to boost the Afghan economy and fighting militants.
"The president looks forward to hosting the Afghan leader for his first visit to Camp David," the statement added.
The announcement comes as coalition forces in Afghanistan battle a resurgent Taliban rebellion, with southern Afghanistan hard hit in attacks which have left thousands dead.
A counter-offensive by US-led and NATO forces have led to a number of civilian deaths, and Karzai has angrily accused foreign soldiers of an "extreme use of force."
Bush is also due to receive a new US national intelligence estimate on the situation in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan later this week.
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U.S.: Afghanistan to break opium record
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Tue Jul 17, 12:23 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan's heroin-producing poppy crop set another record this season, despite intensified eradication efforts, the American ambassador said Tuesday.
Ambassador William Wood said preliminary data show that Afghan farmers harvested 457,135 acres of opium poppies this year, compared to 407,715 acres last year. The growing industry fuels the Taliban, crime, addiction and government corruption.
Government-led eradication efforts destroyed about 49,420 acres of poppies this year, a "disappointing" outcome, Wood told reporters at his private residence overlooking Kabul.
Wood said he strongly supports forced eradication, alluding to U.S.-led poppy-spraying in Colombia. But he said there is "not yet an international consensus" on the practice.
Drug cultivation "threatens security and governance and stability in Afghanistan" and kills Afghans and others, he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai last year rejected U.S. offers to spray this year's illicit crop, after Afghans said the herbicide could affect livestock, crops and water — fears the U.S. calls unfounded.
Afghanistan last year accounted for 92 percent of global opium production, up from 70 percent in 2000 and 52 percent a decade earlier. With the higher yields, global opium production increased 43 percent between 2005 and 2006.
Gen. Dan McNeill, the top general in charge of NATO-led troops here, has said he expects Western soldiers to step up anti-drug efforts, though they do not participate in eradicating poppy fields.
Taliban fighters are believed to tax and protect poppy farmers and drug runners, but so are Afghan government officials and pro-government tribes.
Afghan troops, meanwhile, clashed with suspected militants in eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border, killing several suspected militants, a Defense Ministry statement said Tuesday. The region's rising violence comes as U.S. officials say al-Qaida is regrouping there.
The skirmish happened just across from Pakistan's lawless North Waziristan region, where recent attacks killed more than 70 people, mostly police and soldiers.
Pakistan's authorities were scrambling to salvage a peace agreement between the government and village elders. Pro-Taliban militants renounced that agreement after last week's storming of Islamabad's radical Red Mosque, where more than 100 people died after an eight-day siege ended with a commando attack on Islamist militants.
U.S. officials repeatedly said that the North Waziristan deal allowed militants to cross the border.
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U.S. says Iran knows its weapons reaching Taliban
By Jon Hemming Tue Jul 17, 12:13 PM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Iranian arms are entering Afghanistan and reaching Taliban insurgents in such quality and quantity that the Tehran government must know about it, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul said on Tuesday.
The charge is similar to that made by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates a month ago, rejected by Tehran as "baseless and illogical."
But it comes as Iran signaled on Tuesday there was a "high possibility" it would hold a second round of talks with the United States on Iraqi security in the "near future."
"There are clearly some munitions coming out of Iran going into the hands of the Taliban," said Ambassador William Wood.
"We believe that the quantity and quality of those munitions are such that the Iranian government must know about it," he told reporters. "Beyond that we really can't go."
The United States accuses Iran of stoking instability in the Middle East by arming insurgents in Iraq, aiding militants in Lebanon and Gaza and trying to build a nuclear arsenal.
Iran denies the charges and says the U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Washington's support for Israel is the source of instability in the Middle East.
U.S. officials said for several months this year they had evidence of Iranian weapons entering Afghanistan, but until Gates spoke a month ago, stopped short of linking the arms to the Iranian government.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said relations with Iran have never been better and said his government does not have any evidence of Iranian arms reaching the Taliban.
Afghanistan has seen a rise in Taliban suicide and roadside bombs in the last two years, but the 50,000 NATO and U.S.-led forces say they have largely thwarted a much-heralded Taliban spring offensive.
"For the most part what we have seen has been terroristic violence rather than insurgent violence," said Wood. "The security situation is better, but it doesn't feel better."
Iran was at odds with the Taliban government for most of the time it held sway in neighboring Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and massed troops on the Afghan border on 1998 after 11 of its diplomats were killed there.
It then armed Northern Alliance factions that helped U.S.-led forces overthrow the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
But political and security analysts based in Kabul say Iran may have an interest in destabilizing Afghanistan so as to discredit U.S. attempts to foster democracy there.
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Herat Women Thirst for Education
Women in this western city are flocking to literacy classes, which are transforming their lives.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Sadeq Behnam and Sudabah Afzali (ARR No. 260, 17-July-07)
Fatima, mother of five, sits in the tent, sweating in the heat. She is not alone: there are 40 other women with her, all of them busy with the alphabet.
“I really want to learn to read and write,” she told IWPR.
Fatima lives in Dadshan village, in a district of Herat Province that is remote from the splendours of the capital city. Enrolling in the literacy course was not easy: in addition to coping with the demands of her large family, she had to convince her husband, a farmer for whom literacy, especially for women, seemed a luxury.
But Fatima persisted, and the joy of her accomplishment shows in her face as she carefully traces her letters.
“I want to become a teacher in my village so I can help other women,” she said. “Besides, I can help my husband by bringing in some money.”
Education officials in Herat say that close to 80 per cent of their literacy students are women. It is the first province in Afghanistan to show such a sharp jump in female education.
“Families here are more open, and the security is relatively good,” said Muhammad Omar Ghafoori, head of the literacy unit of Herat’s Education Department. “We also have a large migration from Iran, which neighbours Herat and has a similar culture.”
Herat is something of an anomaly in Afghanistan today. Its gracious, tree-lined streets, the famed 15th-century minarets, and the spectacular Jamiea Mosque are in stark contrast to Kabul’s dusty, barren roads and ruined buildings. A centre of culture and learning for centuries, it is a fitting place to launch a literacy movement.
According to Ghafoori, more than 50,000 women have participated in literacy courses over the past three years, compared to just over 15,000 men. Herat has 6,000 literacy centres scattered throughout its towns and villages, and the effort has pulled in more than 5500 teachers.
“We have mullahs, religious scholars, high school graduates, community leaders – all volunteering as teachers,” he said.
Nooria, a resident of Gulran district, is also learning to read and write. For her it is a matter of women’s rights.
“When the women are able to write and read, they will be able to know and defend their rights,” she said. “When we were living in Iran, as refugees, we learned a different kind of family and social life.”
Sima Sher Muhammadi, head of the Department of Women’s Affairs in Herat, is convinced that it was her office’s hard work that has made the difference.
“We have held more than 100 workshops in women’s rights, literacy, and criminal law,” she said. “We have encouraged women to get educated. In addition, we have had very good cooperation with the Ulema (religious councils).”
The women’s department distributed foodstuffs such as beans, oil, and sugar to poor woman who have enrolled in the literacy programme, which has also boosted attendance, she said.
But the literacy campaign has had even greater benefits for Herat’s women, she added.
“Overall we have had a 60 per cent decrease in the rate of self-immolation, which was the highest in the country two years ago,” she said. “Also, the number of forced marriages has decreased. This is the result of our workshops, and of women becoming literate.”
Dr Barakatullah Mohammadi, who heads the Emergency Regional Hospital of Herat Province, confirmed that there has been a precipitous decline in cases of women burning themselves.
“So far this year we have only had 13 cases of self-immolation,” he told IWPR. “This is a 90 per cent decrease over last year. The reason is literacy, and the information campaigns launched by the hospital, NGOs, the mullahs, and the women’s affairs department.”
Men are lagging far behind their wives, sisters, and daughters when it comes to learning to read and write.
“Men have to make a living for their families,” said Ghafoori. “Their economic problems make them less interested in literacy.”
Social scientist Ajmal Yazdani agreed that the need to earn money was the main reason men were less inclined to enroll in literacy courses. But male ego also plays a role, he added.
“When men are older they are not willing to sit in a chair and learn the alphabet like a child,” he said. “But women’s literacy is part of the culture in Herat. There is relative security in the province, which helps. But the main reason is that five-year period under the Taleban when women were not allowed to leave their homes. Now they are getting their revenge for that time.”
Sources at the Herat education department have said that 50 per cent of the more than 600,000 children at school are girls. This is in sharp contrast to some other parts of the country, such as the south, where girls make up no more than ten per cent of students.
But problems remain. Many families are still unwilling to let their wives and daughters out to go to school, and women have few resources with which to resist.
Gulsum, a resident of Rawashan village, is a housewife. She wants to learn to read and write, and she told IWPR that many of her neighbours have participated in literacy courses. Her husband, however, is not willing for her to leave the house to go to school.
“When I ask him for permission to go to school he beats me,” she said. “But I don’t care how many times he beats me, I will keep asking. One day he will say yes.”
Sadeq Behnam and Sudabah Afzali are freelance journalists in Herat.
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NATO must stop killing innocent Afghans: UN chief
July 16, 2007 - CBC News
The United Nations secretary general has again spoken out against the "appalling" toll of civilians killed and hurt as NATO forces battle insurgents in Afghanistan.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Ban Ki-moon said he remonstrated with North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials during a visit to Afghanistan in June and at a conference in Rome in early July.
"One of the important areas which I addressed is the increasing number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan," he said. NATO civilian and military chiefs "assured me that they will take necessary precautionary measures to avoid any further civilian casualties," he said. Ban said he understands the problem faced by NATO forces.
"I know that it is extremely difficult, because insurgents and Talibans are trying to hide behind the general population, so it makes it very difficult in the course of military operations to differentiate who are innocent citizens and who are insurgents. "But I emphasized strongly, publicly and privately, that they should take necessary measures.
Canadian and other NATO ground troops have mistakenly shot a number of Afghan civilians, but errant air strikes and artillery fire have caused the biggest groups of civilian deaths.
According to an Associated Press tally in June, NATO and U.S.-led forces had killed at least 203 civilians since the beginning of the year, while militant attacks killed 178.
At the Rome conference July 3, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the alliance would do everything in its power to avoid civilian casualties and that deaths of innocent people would be investigated.
He stressed, however, that Taliban and other extremists were in a "different moral category" from coalition soldiers who inadvertently cause civilian casualties.
"Our opponents mingle and mix with innocent civilians," he said. "We do not intentionally kill; they behead people, they burn schools, they kill women and children."
"That said, NATO will do and has to do everything in its ability to prevent civilian casualties. For NATO, every single civilian life lost in Afghanistan is one too many."
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Iran, Pakistan discuss gas pipeline and Afghanistan
Islamabad, July 17, IRNA
The Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran Mehdi Safari called on Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri on Tuesday to discuss wide-ranging issues, the Foreign Ministry said.
Safari is visiting Pakistan for the regular consultations with Kasuri.
This visit is a follow-up to the agreement reached during the visit of Foreign Minister Kasuri to Tehran in December 2006 to hold such consultations regularly.
"During the call, the Iranian deputy foreign minister conveyed greetings of Foreign Minister of Iran Manouchehr Mottaki to Kasuri and expressed Iran's desire to further strengthen its relations with Pakistan in various fields," a foreign ministry statement said.
Reciprocating Iran's desire, Foreign Minister Kasuri underlined the importance of growth in overall bilateral relations, especially in the commercial, economic and energy sectors, it said.
In this respect, the Foreign Minister emphasized the need for an early agreement on IPI Gas Pipeline Project, which he said would have a strategic benefits on the progress in other areas of cooperation as well, the statement said.
In the regional context, the situation in Afghanistan also came up for discussion, it said and added that both sides reiterated their resolve to assist Afghanistan in its endeavours to restore peace and stability.
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50 percent of Canadians support Afghanistan mission
Tue Jul 17, 1:39 AM ET
MONTREAL (AFP) - Half of all Canadians are still behind their government's military mission in Afghanistan, despite the death of six of their troops there earlier this month and 22 this year, a survey said.
In the Ipsos-Reid Institute poll, 23 percent of the 1,002 people surveyed July 10-12 were strongly in favor of Canada's mission in southern Afghanistan, and 27 percent were somewhat supportive.
Canadians' overall support dropped slightly from an April poll that found 52 percent in favor of the mission, according to the survey commissioned by the CanWest media group.
Support for Canada's mission in Afghanistan peaked at 57 percent in October 26, and has been dropping ever since.
On July 4, six Canadian soldiers and one Afghan interpreter were killed when a bomb destroyed their vehicle about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) southwest of Kandahar City. It was Canada's highest single-day toll in Afghanistan since 2002.
The day after, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reissued a vow he made a month earlier not to withdraw Canada's military mission from Afghanistan before February 2009, under its commitment to NATO.
The opinion poll found that in French-speaking Quebec province a 65 percent majority opposed Canada's mission in Afghanistan, against 30 percent who supported it.
Quebec is due to send 2,000 troops to Afghanistan to relieve their English-speaking comrades.
Canada's 2,500 troops are deployed with NATO's 40,000-strong International Security Assistance Force in southern Kandahar province, which is at the heart of an insurgency by Taliban militants.
Since the US-led occupation was launched in October 2001, 66 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, 22 of them so far this year.
The opinion survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.
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Hunting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan
By Finbarr O'Reilly
SANGSAR, Afghanistan, July 17 (Reuters) - The grinding metallic noise of tanks and diesel engines fade into the desert night and the only sound is our breathing and the crunch of dozens of army boots on dry earth.
It feels like we are alone in the barren, moonlit landscape, but we're not. Somewhere out there lurk the Taliban.
A cacophony of barking floats through the heavy air as dogs from nearby mud villages pick up our scent.
Foreign troops from the NATO-led coalition and the Afghan National Army (ANA) are on the hunt for Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province.
It is a strategic point in the fight against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban drug smuggling routes into neighbouring Pakistan.
As a photographer embedded with Canadian troops, I tag along for combat missions.
"When the shooting starts, your heart rate will go up to two or three times its normal rate," says a medic, explaining the body's and mind's reactions to combat.
Covering Africa for six years, I've experienced conflicts, armed clashes and civil unrest before, but I've never marched directly into battle with a unit intent on engaging the enemy.
I follow in silence for two hours as the patrol moves from the open desert into grape fields lined with mud walls providing welcome cover, but also perfect hiding ground for Taliban.
Using night vision goggles, the troops take positions around targets, mud compounds where dozens of insurgents are camped.
Then we wait. "They usually hit us at first light," says the Warrant Officer in charge of my unit.
The Muslim call to prayer drifts from mosques just before dawn. I can't help thinking that some people in these dusty fields are hearing it for the last time.
A coppery taste fills my mouth and my bowels shift uncomfortably.
The first shots ring out as darkness fades. Then shooting erupts from seemingly every direction. I stay down until there's a brief lull, then move closer to the action.
"Remember you're not bullet-proof," says one soldier, as if I need reminding. My flak jacket, ballistic goggles and helmet only make the rest of my body feel more exposed.
Crawling along mud walls and ditches, I reach a unit coming under heavy fire from Taliban positions 20 meters (yards) away.
I see a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) whiz past the treetops above our heads. A mortar explodes 10 meters (yards) behind us. Bullets hum through the air and rustle nearby bushes.
"How's your heart rate now?" asks the medic lying next to me in a dry riverbed.
Like I'm on crack cocaine, probably. But fear has been replaced by adrenaline and I concentrate on keeping low and getting pictures of the Canadian soldiers.
The Afghan and Canadian troops move up and I run too, shamelessly using troops as a shield before stepping briefly in front to snap some pictures of them rushing forward.
After about an hour, air support strafes the Taliban with hundreds of high-calibre rounds.
Canadian and ANA troops move in to pick up the pieces. RPGs are found next to one of the two recovered bodies and two wounded Taliban are treated and evacuated by helicopter.
Several Taliban have been killed, including a local leader. The only Canadian casualty is a soldier who shot his own left index finger off in the heat of battle.
The thin, barefoot Taliban in pyjama-like outfits look frail and weak next to the meaty and tattooed Canadians loaded with heavy equipment and supported by aircraft and armoured vehicles.
But while NATO-led forces train to stay alive, the Taliban are ready and willing to die, making them a formidable foe.
The operation is not over until everyone is safely on base. One Canadian soldier has been killed in combat during the past six months in Afghanistan, but roadside bombs have killed 19.
Less than 24 hours after our operation, six Canadian troops and an interpreter are killed by one such bomb while returning from a similar mission.
Roadside bombs have become the favourite weapon of the Taliban, who are overpowered on the battlefield, but know how to erode political will for a long and bloody foreign presence in their country.
On this day, the battle is won by NATO and ANA forces. But Afghanistan's long history of resisting outside influence suggests that winning the war against the insurgents will be a much longer, more difficult task.
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Pakistan officials accuse Afghanistan over Lal Masjid arms supplies
Excerpt from report by Afghan independent Ariana TV on 15 July
[Presenter] Senior Pakistani officials have claimed that the militants of Lal Masjid in Islamabad were provided with weapons from Afghanistan. The Afghan Defence Ministry has strongly rejected the accusation, saying there is a possibility that the weapons were provided by Taleban militants fighting in Afghanistan.
[Correspondent] Quoting a senior security official, Pakistan's Dawn daily publications have published a report saying weapons seized at Islamabad's Lal Masjid had been sent from Afghanistan. The paper indicated whether the weapons were provided by the government or the anti-government militants.
Zaher Azimi, spokesperson for the Afghan National Defence Ministry, strongly rejected the claim, saying the weapons may have been sent by Taleban militants who were originally trained in Pakistan and sent to Afghanistan to disturb security there.
Sultan Ahmad Bahin, spokesperson for the Afghan Foreign Affairs Ministry, has the following to say about the issue:
[Bahin in Dari] Terrorism is an international phenomenon. It is spread all over the world and every country is suffering in some way; it is all inter-connected across the world. I think all governments and countries should come together and eliminate terrorism at source.
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A fight to the death on Pakistan's border
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / Tuesday, July 17, 2007
BAJAUR, Pakistan - Since July 3, when Pakistani troops laid siege and eventually stormed the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad, more than 100 people, mostly from the security forces, have been killed in attacks in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), primarily in the Swat region over the past few days.
The banned pro-Taliban Tehrik-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM - Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws) has extensive influence in this region, fueled by its leader, Maulana Fazlullah.
Many of the militants at the Red Mosque and associated madrassa students were believed to have been from NWFP, where revenge is now being exacted against security forces. The army has mobilized thousands of troops to the area.
Similarly, the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan announced on Sunday that their 10-month peace deal with the government was over. Fighters said that the deal - aimed at curbing cross-border raids into Afghanistan - was no longer in effect and that they would resume attacks on the Pakistan Army.
To the south of Swat in Mamoon, in Bajaur Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, the situation is equally restive, but the focus of local militancy is directed across the border in Afghanistan against the foreign troops there.
Western intelligence believes that Osama bin Laden, his deputy Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other top al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders have free access in this region to meet and plan operations. Cross-border raids into Afghanistan are frequently staged from here.
The Bajaur area has been hit twice by Central Intelligence Agency predator drones, one specifically after Zawahiri. However, at a time when al-Qaeda is reactivated and the Taliban's main focus is to lay siege of Kabul, via adjacent Nooristan province in Afghanistan, aerial surveillance is considered insufficient.
As a result, a large US base is under construction on a mountaintop at Ghakhi Pass on the Pakistan-Afghanistan (Bajaur) border.
Militants believe this is in preparation for an operation inside Pakistan to clamp down on them as well as to renew the hunt for bin Laden and his associates. As a result, the militants have attacked the new base in an attempt to delay its construction.
"This is a matter of life and death for the mujahideen. We will shed our blood, but we will never let this base be completed," Dr Ismail told Asia Times Online while standing at the grave of his son, who was killed a few weeks ago by US forces while attacking the base.
The tall and well-built Ismail is the leader of the TNSM and a main source of inspiration for the jihadis in Bajaur. "My son sacrificed his life against American designs to build this base over our heads. I shall never allow them to complete it, I will fight till my last.
"Martyrdom for the cause of jihad is actually an open invitation to all Muslims to join forces with the mujahideen. The fresh faces of the mujahideen after martyrdom, the aroma from their flesh and blood, are living miracles and prompt youths of the area to join forces with the mujahideen to defeat the Western coalition in Afghanistan," Ismail said.
Ismail's narrative of the "miracles" has been a revelation for many and the number of jihadis has skyrocketed in Bajaur Agency in the past few months, along with a deterioration in the law-and-order situation.
Bajaur is a relatively progressive region in the FATA, in contrast to the North Waziristan and South Waziristan tribal areas. It has a high literacy rate thanks to its network of schools and colleges, and boasts modern road networks and sports complexes.
Groups that operate in the area include the Harkat ul-Mujahideen, the Tanzeem Ishat-i-Toheed Wal Sunna of Maulana Faqir Mohammed and several Arab outfits. Their activities have attracted a lot of local fresh blood to join forces with the Taliban. While most of the groups are focused on Afghanistan, a few confront Pakistani troops in the region.
Ismail is part of the TNSM, but unlike Maulana Fazalullah of Swat Valley he does not want confrontation with the Pakistani establishment - he only aims to take on troops in Afghanistan. (See A new battle front opens in Pakistan, Asia Times Online, July 14.)
"We only aim to preach virtues in the area and we don't work for the enforcement of Islamic sharia [law] by confronting the state. Those who want to fight with the Pakistani establishment do not have any depth in their ideas.
"[Taliban leader] Mullah Omar once gave me the example of a policeman who would never spare anyone - not even his father - while doing his duty in front of his superiors. But in the absence of his superiors, he would give leeway to anybody he wanted to.
"The same is true with Pakistan, which is like a policeman whose officer is America. When the Americans keep check on Pakistan, it forces [Pakistan] to carry out operations, but in the absence of the Americans, it turns a blind eye against the mujahideen," said Ismail.
Ismail admits, though, that he was less philosophical in his earlier years and he fought against the Pakistan Army in 1994 before going into exile in Afghanistan. Since returning to Pakistan he has twice been detained, most recently a few months ago. On that occasion a large rally had been arranged in his honor and the Americans took the opportunity to bomb the area, in the process killing scores of students at a madrassa.
"I am convinced that fighting against Pakistani troops is shortsighted. We will never attain any longer-term goals, instead we will deviate from the main cause of fighting against Western troops in Afghanistan," Ismail said.
We were standing about 3 kilometers from the US base under construction and could clearly see its newly erected walls. Ismail pointed toward the base. "This is the American eye on us. They have built the base at a height so that once it is finished we will all be exposed.
"I know all the top Afghan officials in Kunar [province in Afghanistan] and I am aware that once this base is finished they will frequently meddle in our area. This is also a pressure for the Pakistani government. So if we remove such pressure, certainly Pakistan will not bother us, because whatever Pakistan does against us is under duress," Ismail said.
"Initially I contacted the local people in Kunar and appealed to them not to provide labor for the construction of the base. But when that did not have much effect, we asked the youths to stir up attacks, and now we have succeeded in delaying construction."
Bajaur has been the target of coalition forces from Afghanistan over the past two years, and their efforts can be expected to intensify as part their counter-terror operations.
Coalition leaders in Afghanistan believe that the Taliban's influence runs all the way from the Lal Masjid in Islamabad (now cleared) to Swat Valley and then through Malakand Agency into Bajaur Agency. From Bajaur the swath enters Kunar and Nooristan provinces in Afghanistan to the small province of Kapisa about 60km north of the capital Kabul. Bin Laden's movements have been noted several times in this belt, as have Zawahiri's. Hence renewed efforts to track them.
"The mujahideen movement is approaching a climax and soon NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] troops will lose the earth beneath their feet in Kunar and their ambitions will die down," Ismail predicted confidently.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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UN and Government staff raise vital funds for new maternity wing in Bamyan
Source: United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Tuesday, July 17, 2007
United Nations and Provincial Government staff in Bamyan province joined forces today and donated $10,000 USD to buy land for a new maternity waiting home which will beannexed to Bamyan's main Hospital.
This new facility will provide essential healthcare for expectant mothers in Bamyan, reducing the risk of both maternal and child mortality. The new maternity home will provide accommodation and skilled assistance for expectant mothers traveling from rural areas where health facilities are scarce.
The maternal waiting home is part of a wider project being implemented by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) which will see maternity homes being built in five of Afghanistan's northern provinces.
The Bamyan facility had been on hold because of a lack of Government funds to buy suitable land when staff from United Nations agencies , the Provincial Government in Bamyan clubbed together to raise nearly $7,000 USD. With further donations from staff at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commision (AIHRC), local NGO's, and the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) $10,000 USD has now been raised, enabling the local authorities to buy suitable land for the UNICEF project to commence.
The Head of the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan's (UNAMA) office in Bamyan, Heran Song said: "While huge progress has been made in maternal healthcare in recent years, far too many Afghan women continue to die from preventable causes during child birth.
"We are part of Bamyan's community, we live and work with the people of Bamyan and recognise the challenges and difficulties facing expectant mothers. It is essential that we all help where we can and that is why our staff joined forces to raise the money for the land required to build Bamyan's new maternity waiting home.
"Bamyan's new maternity waiting home will play a vital role in helping hundreds of expectant mothers from across the province, providing them and their children with the healthy start in life that they deserve."
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WFP welcomes US$26 million donation from the USA for Afghanistan
Source: United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Tuesday, July 17, 2007
KABUL – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today welcomed a US$26 million in-kind contribution from the United States Government to provide food assistance to the most vulnerable people of Afghanistan.
"This generous contribution from the United States and its people will assist millions of Afghans, including those affected by emergencies, such as floods, drought and landslides, and those displaced by fighting," said Rick Corsino, Country Director WFP Afghanistan. "It will also assist the unemployed living in the most food insecure parts of the country."
The donation of 48,000 metric tons of wheat will be distributed to poor Afghans involved in a variety of WFP projects.
"Through donations such as this one from the United States, WFP is helping the Afghan government and people build a better future, even while other groups seem intent on making life worse for the neediest Afghans," said Tony Banbury, WFP's Regional Director for Asia.
Under Food-for-Work, communities are paid in food to build or repair roads, rebuild canals and plant trees.. Food will also be distributed in selected areas prior to the onset of winter, when prolonged cold and snows restrict access for hundreds of thousands of Afghans.
WFP's three-year US$378 million Afghanistan operation is currently 61 percent funded. Donors include the United States (US$116 million), the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (US$28.3 million) see: http://ochaonline.un.org, India (US$24.5 million), Canada (US$10.4 million), Japan (US$9.2 million), the Netherlands (US$7.3 million), Switzerland (US$3.9 million), Italy (US$2.3 million), Luxembourg (US$2.1 million), Saudi Arabia (US$2 million), Belgium (US$1.5 million), France (US$1.3 million), Germany (US$1.3 million), Australia (US$980,000), Sweden (US$970.000), Spain (US$780,000), Denmark (US$325,000), Norway (US$210,000), Poland (US$200,000), the Faroe Islands (US$180,000), Qatar (US$110,000), Lithuania (US$75,000), Ireland (US$44,000) and the United Kingdom (US$24,000). A further US$212,000 was contributed by the private sector and US$2.1 million in multilateral contributions.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: on average, each year, we give food to 90 million poor people to meet their nutritional needs, including 58 million hungry children, in 80 of the world's poorest countries. WFP – We Feed People.
WFP now provides RSS feeds to help journalists keep up with the latest press releases, videos and photos as they are published on www.WFP.org.
For more information please contact (email address: email@example.com):
Jackie Dent, WFP/Afghanistan, Cell. +93-797-662116
Paul Risley, WFP/Bangkok, Tel. +66-2-6554115, Cell +66-81-7019208
Brenda Barton, Deputy Director Communications, WFP/Rome, Tel. +39-06-65132602, Cell. +39-3472582217 (ISDN line available)
Gregory Barrow, WFP/London, Tel.. +44-20-72409001, Cell. +44-7968-008474
Christiane Berthiaume, WFP/Geneva, Tel. +41-22-9178564, Cell. +41-792857304
Jennifer Parmelee, WFP/Washington, Tel. +1-202-6530010 ext. 1149, Cell. +1-202-4223383
Bettina Luescher, WFP/New York, Tel. +1-212-9635196, Cell. +1-646-8241112, firstname.lastname@example.org
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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.
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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Editorial: End of the mullah-military alliance?
The News International 17 July 2007
The grisly suicide attacks over weekend are not only a reaction to the assault on the Lal Masjid complex but in all probability also the outcome of the end of the so-called agreement in North Waziristan where local Taliban and militants have unilaterally scrapped a so-called peace deal between them and the government. The devastating death toll of the three attacks -- seventy and rising -- inflicted mostly on law-enforcement and security personnel is a strong indication that the militants are looking for a fight with the government. Indirectly, though, the attacks only confirm what sceptics of the Waziristan peace accord had been saying all along: that the area in FATA (among others) ended up providing a de facto sanctuary to pro-Taliban militants and who used the deal to regroup and strengthen themselves. As the upsurge of suicide attacks shows, these militants have managed to recruit many to their nefarious cause. Unfortunately, given their tools and system of indoctrination, it is likely that the Lal Masjid assault will prove to be a catalyst for the jihadi groups and pro-Taliban militants to recruit many more people to their violent war against the state.
The government is caught quite literally between the devil and the deep blue sea. It is damned if it does, and it is damned if it doesn't. The weekend's attacks happened at a time when there were reports of troop movement towards Swat and the FATA region. In Swat, a military convoy was attacked while in Dera Ismail Khan the suicide attack took place as would-be police recruits were taking a fitness test in a local stadium. The intention of the militants is clear -- they are ready to take on the Pakistani security services, presumably in revenge after what happened in Lal Masjid. Although such a direct link has not been claimed by any militant group so far, the authorities have hinted at a possible connection. In any case, it only serves to reinforce the view that Lal Masjid had since long had a nexus with extremists.
The coming days are not going to be any easier, or even less bloody. As it is suicide attacks are next to impossible to prevent with any degree of surety. And the Lal Masjid assault will further provide the brainwashed cadres with more (misguided) inspiration for their cowardly acts. But as the violence increases, the events may well indicate the falling apart of the so-called mullah-military alliance. Here, one is not speaking of an overt – or necessarily even a covert – link between the two, but rather referring to the state's many flirtations in the past with extremists and jihadis who were cultivated and used for the state's own purpose and the establishment's own interests (which was often then equated with the national interest). Consequently, these elements were 'deployed', as it were, to fight wars in Indian-administered Kashmir, in Afghanistan and so on. The events of 9/11 radically changed all of that and should, one would have thought, have caused this mullah-military alliance to disentangle.
However, that didn't happen at quite the rate one would have thought. There may be some good reason for that. For instance -- and this is something those holding US Congressional hearings may not realise -- not everything can be seen in a black/white screen in FATA. Perhaps the peace accord in North Waziristan did create a sanctuary of sorts but an all-out war against the militants -- most of whom are well-trained and excel in the art of guerilla warfare -- would have led to many more deaths of soldiers and civilians. As it is, Pakistan lost, by its own admission, between 600-700 soldiers in a war that ended in a stalemate and led to the deal that has now been scrapped. Furthermore, suggestions by Pakistani rulers in the past to Afghanistan to engage the Taliban in a political dialogue did not necessarily mean a direction towards appeasement but rather acknowledgement of a reality that exists in this part of the world. Whether the government or the people like it or not, the battle against the extremists now needs to be sustained and taken to its logical end. And with that the mullah-military alliance needs to end for good -- so that non-religious mainstream political parties can play their due role and help make a stronger and more durable state.
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Northern Afghanistan Faces New Security Threat
Former warlords apparently exploiting Kabul’s preoccupation with violence-plagued south to stake claim on their old fiefdoms.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Mazar-e-Sharif (ARR No. 260, 16-July-07)
While the bulk of the government’s - and the world’s - attention is focused on the insurgency-ridden south, Afghanistan’s northern provinces are becoming increasingly troubled.
Over the past few months, incidents of violence are becoming a regular occurrence in a region previously thought to be relatively stable. Commanders clashed violently in Faryab, leaving several dead, dozens injured, and necessitating the call-out of national troops. A protest in Jowzjan turned bloody, killing ten and wounding many more. A member of parliament was attacked in Samangan, and persistent rumours are circulating that weapons are being distributed in Sar-e-Pul.
“According to our information, some former commanders in Sar-e-Pul province have recommenced their activity,” said Colonel Mir Ali Nadem, who heads the DIAG (Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups) programme in Sar-e-Pul. “Our intelligence shows that weapons have been distributed to some parties and individuals.”
Although these groups have not yet taken overt action against the government, added Nadem, the distribution of weapons is a serious threat to security. It also compromises the DIAG process, which, over the past two years, has managed to collect a mere 30,000 weapons. While no one has exact figures for how many guns, grenades and other types of military hardware existed in Afghanistan before the DIAG programme was launched in June 2005, the estimates run into the millions.
Illegal or “irresponsible” armed groups, as they are termed by officials, have left a dark legacy in the country. After the fall of the communist-backed Najibullah regime in 1992, the country disintegrated into armed camps belonging to various commanders who governed their fiefdoms with an iron hand. It was, in large part, revulsion at their despotic and corrupt rule that gave rise to the Taleban, who promised to rid the country of the “warlords” and bring some measure of security to the people.
After the Taleban were defeated by the US-led invasion in 2001, these commanders, still heavily armed, made a bid to regain their old power and influence. In many areas they took over, they forced local men to contribute money to their war chests, and even required that they get permission to marry off their daughters.
The government, generously backed by the United Nations, started a major disarmament effort. The first phase was DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation, Reintegration), which was directed at officers and soldiers of formal military organs. In all, close to 60,000 pieces of heavy and light weaponry were collected, and 63,000 individuals disarmed, according to UN statistics.
Phase two of DIAG has nominally disbanded 1,800 illegal armed groups and disarmed 120,000 individuals, but experts acknowledge privately that the DIAG process has been far from a rousing success. While security has improved somewhat, many weapons still remain in private hands, and strongmen continue to command the loyalty of thousands of followers.
In the northern province of Jowzjan, which borders Sar-e-Pul, supporters of Abdul Rashid Dostum, the flamboyant general who retains enormous popularity and influence among his fellow Uzbeks in the north, launched protests against the controversial governor of Jowzjan, Juma Khan Hamdard in late May. The demonstration tuned violent, leaving at least ten protesters dead and 40 or more injured.
Dostum supporters also launched armed clashes in Faryab province, in April and May, forcing the central government to send troops to quell the disturbance.
Provincial authorities have accused Dostum’s political faction, Junbish-e-Milli, of rearming its supporters in the north.
“There is plenty of evidence, including documents, showing that thousands of weapons are being distributed in Shiberghan (the capital of Jowzjan) and neighbouring villages. General Dostum is giving these weapons to local militias,” said Rohullah Samoon, spokesperson for Jowzjan’s governor. “We have not yet taken any action to collect those weapons, because the situation is still fragile, and we have to move carefully.”
Junbish authorities vehemently deny that they are rearming militias in the north.
“This is a political plot against us,” said Kinja Kargar, deputy leader of the political faction. “Junbish is a political association, not a military organisation. We have surrendered all of our weapons through DDR and DIAG, and we are trying to gain political influence through the democratic process.
“The Junbish party does not have even one armed man. I say this clearly. Those who are armed do not belong to Junbish, and these accusations are just not right.”
But the very clear impression persists that Dostum as well as other former warlords are taking advantage of the central government’s preoccupation with the violence-plagued south to stake a claim on their old fiefdoms.
In May, Ahmad Khan, a member of parliament, was attacked in Samangan, which borders Sar-e-Pul. While he escaped unharmed, his driver and bodyguard were killed.
“There are many weapons still with illegal groups,” said Zmarai Bashiri, spokesman for the ministry of the interior. “The attack on the MP in Samangan, the bloody protests in Jowzjan, and the violent clashes in Faryab are all proof of this. I have also heard that weapons are being distributed in Sare-e-Pul. But we do not as yet have any proof.”
Mohammad Nabi Asir, a political analyst in northern Afghanistan, sees the current situation as a logical development, given the state of affairs in the rest of the country.
“The government is under pressure in the south, and most of its forces are there,” he told IWPR. “Commanders in the north think that the government cannot cope, and they are trying to take advantage of the situation. Those groups that had power in the past will do anything to regain it. They are addicted to power.”
Farid Hakimi, a political analyst in Mazar-e-Sharif, sees external forces behind the present situation.
“Those countries that have been supporting groups in Afghanistan for the past 30 years want to continue their involvement,” he said. “Those weapons that are said to be distributed by warlords are coming from their masters in these countries.”
While Hakimi would not specify which countries he had in mind, “foreign interference” is usually shorthand for Pakistan, whose porous border with Afghanistan has allowed guns, extremists and drugs to move freely in and out of the region. Also coming in for its share of the blame is Iran, which has been accused of furnishing weapons to the Taleban, a charge it categorically denies.
“These countries want to pressure the Karzai government, and through it, the United States,” said Hakimi.
While the source of the weapons may not be clear, their presence is unmistakable, according to local residents.
“There are a lot of armed people around now who were not here before,” said a resident of the Darzab district of Faryab province, who did not want to give his name. “Most of them are carrying Kalashnikovs, and these Kalashnikovs are all brand new.
“We are afraid that the country is becoming a land of gunlords. We ask the government ‘for God’s sake please listen to the people. And don’t let these men destroy the country again’.”
Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR reporter in Afghanistan.
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Young Canadian appalled at poverty and plight of Afghan children, mourners told
Jul 16, 2007 - CANADIAN PRESS
CLEARWATER, Man. — The mother of a soldier recently killed in Afghanistan urged Canadians on the day of her son’s funeral to support the country’s troops in Afghanistan.
Shortly before an honour guard piped the flag-draped coffin of Pte. Lane Watkins into an open field today, his mother Wanda read a family statement that suggested people should be extremely proud of the military’s efforts in a country that desperately needs Canada’s help.
“We don’t want any family to experience the terrible pain of losing their son or daughter, but if Canada and NATO abandon the Afghan people, the sacrifices Lane, our family and others have made will be for nothing,” Watkins said today.
“They deserve your respect. In supporting them, you’ll make our loss much easier to bear.”
Watkins said her family was much like many others before her son joined the army two years ago — they had had little contact with the military and their knowledge of Afghanistan was limited.
“But you become a whole lot more attentive when your child is being deployed. We’ve come to know many of Lane’s instructors and military friends and they are the finest young men that you will ever meet,” she said.
“Every Canadian should be extremely proud of our soldiers. They’re well-trained and we can trust them.”
She also said her son was appalled by the poverty and plight of the children in Kandahar.
That concern was evident in his actions in Afghanistan, where he used to share the goodies he was sent from home with local children, padre Capt. Darren Persaud told hundreds of mourners sitting in lawn chairs or huddled under a tent for the funeral.
The 20-year-old private loved nothing more than to hand out candies to the kids he encountered while he was on duty, Persaud said during the open-air service in the soldier’s southern Manitoba hometown of Clearwater.
Persaud also told the mourners that Watkins often played baseball in the field where they had gathered and one of the most treasured items he carried around in his rucksack overseas was his baseball glove.
Watkins, a member of the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry based in Edmonton, was also remembered as a proud and ambitious soldier — one who wanted to become a paratrooper someday.
He died July 4 along with five comrades when a powerful roadside bomb exploded as they were returning from a mission near Kandahar. Cpl. Jordan Anderson, Capt. Matthew Dawe, Cpl. Cole Bartsch, Capt. Jefferson Francis and Master Cpl. Colin Bason were also killed in the blast.
In the days after his death, Watkins was characterized as sometimes being shy, but well-liked by everybody who met him.
Lynn Galbraith, who taught Watkins at Pilot Mound Collegiate high school, said he always wanted to join the military once he graduated.
Sixty-six soldiers and one diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan since the Canadian military first deployed to the country in 2002.
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Canadian military shields Afghan village from Taliban
CanWest News Service , Monday, July 16, 2007
GHORAK, Afghanistan -- Until the Taliban came calling last month, this mud-walled mountain village in northwestern Kandahar province was home to 100 families.
There was a medical centre, a school and a robust farming community churning out crops of opium-bound poppies supplemented by the more legally desirable, but less lucrative, honeydews and cucumbers.
But the doctor disappeared three weeks ago after a Taliban fighter gave him an offer he couldn't refuse. Then the school teacher fled after being warned her next day in the classroom would be her last alive. The political leadership that used to preside over the region from the compound abdicated their responsibilities a couple of years ago.
The heart of their community scared off, the village emptied of villagers. Now there are just seven families waiting -- and hoping -- Canadians can turn their lives around.
The second half of a massive convoy of tanks, light armoured vehicles and supply trucks rumbled into Ghorak under the cover of darkness Sunday night and set to work fortifying and rebuilding the defences of the regional political centre at sunrise Monday.
A day earlier, six village elders had met with Maj. Alex Ruff of Hotel Company to learn about a Canadian mission they hope will restore stability and bring back the residents.
It would be easy to denounce this particular mission as a waste of military manpower, after more than 100 bored soldiers lounged around with little to do for 10 days while headquarters slowly dispatched another convoy loaded with barbed wire, sand bags and barriers to fortify the outpost.
As this three-day mission rolls into its 11th day, it seems to me that brass at the Kandahar Air Field deserve a slap on the head for organizational ineptitude and, frankly, dispatching an overkill of firepower, given that locals report only a dozen or so insurgents in the area.
But those village elders are haunting. There's a resigned fear in their eyes, as if they've seen every horror and just want it all to end.
They confirm that a 10-year-old boy in the village was beheaded by the nastiest of the Taliban brutes last week after being observed giving bread to local police. When the father tried to intervene, he was hanged from the nearest tree. Yet, they relay the story through an interpreter with all the nonchalance of having witnessed someone put down a donkey with a broken leg.
Life here is short and cheap. Living is a constant struggle. And yet, ask them what they need from Canada and their answer is surprising.
"Peace," says one elder, barefoot, yet - inexplicably in a land that runs on AMT (Afghan Maybe Time) -- wearing a knockoff Omega wristwatch. "We don't need anything else. Just give us peace." No problem, says Ruff, "that's why we're here."
So far, so good. We hadn't been hit by mortar fire or rocket-propelled grenades at this writing, as the pullout began from this inhospitable amenity-free camp out.
Trouble is, when our military shield is gone, the village will be protected by a police force that ran away after the last Taliban attack and an army that, while universally praised for its budding professionalism, still looks like its foot soldiers were recruited from a Grade 11 class.
I guess you have to ask yourself to consider the alternative. To leave without doing anything? To let those Taliban bastards terrorize a town into vacating so that their drug smuggling corridor, which runs directly through this valley, can reopen?
Given that option, there really is no choice. That's why the soldiers stayed, waited for overdue supplies to arrive and did what they could to repair the site under a broiling sun.
Ruff insists there's merit in merely parking such a powerful military display in full view of Taliban insurgents, daring them to attack while knowing they'd never attempt such a suicidal mission. It would send a message to the insurgency that the villagers have friends in high and heavily armed places, he says.
Perhaps, then, this is Canada's future in Afghanistan. It's not about unleashing the quick-draw guns to run through grape fields and kill a couple of Taliban fighters for military cameraman.
Read Prime Minister Stephen Harper's words on Afghanistan carefully and, while he talks of letting Parliament decide on ending the military mission in February, 2009, that's not the same thing as ending the humanitarian or reconstruction responsibilities of the deployment.
Canada may well keep soldiers here indefinitely to escort and protect ventures like these -- albeit hopefully more efficiently staged in the future -- that are designed to support Afghans trying to rebuild a society safe from the Taliban's terror.
Canadian forces will leave this isolated outpost -- hopefully today, because there are a lot of filthy bodies screaming for a shower, and none more than a smelly yours truly -- but they'll leave behind a defensive barrier designed to fend off the barbarians, and let a more civilized culture take root.
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Fla. teen sneaks off to war zone -- again
USA Today Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Farris Hassan, the Florida teenager who went to Iraq in 2005 without telling his parents, is now traveling in Afghanistan, where he says he's studying the plight of women and street kids.
The Miami Herald says Farris, 17, called his mother from the airport three weeks ago and announced he was on his way to Kabul. This time, the local CBS affiliate says, he's with a group.
"I think for a teenager to think so big and accomplish so much is truly something to be proud of," she tells the paper. "He has opened a new road for us to start and try to make a difference in the world."
We're sure you'll be hearing more about Farris and his trip. He's due to return today and, if the past is any indication, he's likely to turn up on TV.
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USAID helps complete $690m projects in a year
KABUL, July 15 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has completed over 1,000 projects and initiated over 780 new projects since July 2006.
A USAID Fact Sheet released here Sunday said the projects did not include those completed by the agency since its inception in 2002.
Mission Director of the USAID Leon S. Waskin told newsmen that the agency had provided $690 million in new assistance to Afghanistan over the previous one year.
Infant and child mortality had been dramatically reduced while women's access and utilization of health services had increased during that period.
In the agriculture sector, the USAID had completed over 190 projects and initiated over 210, including rehabilitation of irrigation systems, farm to market roads, poultry management, seed and fertilizer distribution and irrigation and drainage canals and karezs.
Seventy-three more projects were completed and 74 initiated in the infrastructure building process while 150 projects were accomplished in governance sector during that period.
Besides, 30 projects were completed in economic sector, 17 in education sector and 30 in health sector.
The agency had completed 580 community development projects and initiated over 110 new through the Quick Impact Programme (QIP) and Local Governance and Community Development (LGCD) Programme.
The QIP programme completed in September 2006 included government infrastructure, government capacity building, gender activities, construction of schools, clinics, roads and bridges and agriculture projects.
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UNAMA concerned over tension in Behsud
KABUL, July 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Expressing concern over the dispute between nomadic Kuchis and Hazara community in Behsud area of the central Maidan Wardak province, the United Nation Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) asked for deployment of more security personnel to avoid any untoward incident.
Press information officer for the UNAMA's spokesman office Halim Seddiqui told journalists on Monday the UN body was concerned at the situation in Behsud and it had sent two delegations to mediate between the two sides and amicably resolve the dispute.
The two parties had signed an agreement to end fighting after the sending of a delegation by the central government in the area, he added.
UNAMA had several times suggested the government to deploy more security personnel to the area to avoid further escalation, he said.
"We hope the efforts will result in brining peace to the people of Behsud," he said, adding: "We want an immediate end to this fighting."
The kuchis and hazaras clashed over the ownership of vast tract of land in Behsud area. Several people were reported injured while many others fled their homes due to the tension between the two sides.
Voicing support for freedom of expression in the country, the spokesman asked the government to allow journalists to carry out their professional duties in accordance with the law of the country.
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Sacked governor accused of misleading NATO
KABUL, July 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The Interior Ministry on Monday accused a sacked governor of providing misleading information to NATO forces regarding air raids in his respective province.
Speaking at a news conference here, the ministry's spokesman Zmaray Bashari said they had found documents proving involvement of Kapisa governor in misleading information to the foreign troops.
Abdul Sattar Murad, then governor of the central Kapisa province, was removed from the gubernatorial slot a day earlier.
Bashari said the reason behind his sacking was that he used to give wrong information to the NATO forces to bomb civilian areas.
In recent months, two incidents of civilian casualties were reported in NATO bombing from Kapisa province.
A statement from the Interior Ministry had earlier stated that the locals were not happy with the governor and they had sent complaints to the ministry.
The statement also blamed the then governor of failure to promote unity among the people of his respective province.
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Governor critical of ministries' control over funds
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, July 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Governor of the northern Balkh province Ata Muhammad Noor Monday demanded of the central government to allow the provinces to use their budget independent of the ministries.
Noor also criticised some ministries and NGOs for launching reconstruction projects without consulting the provincial government.
He issued the remarks during a meeting of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS), which was attended by representatives of various ministries and residents to approve 80 uplift projects.
Noor said a province must be given the right to spend the budget as well as a provincial governor should be consulted while launching reconstruction projects in the province.
Without naming any one, the governor said several ministries were incapable of properly executing the developmental projects and donors must directly sign contracts with the provincial government instead of a ministry.
The governor also criticised some NGOs for working on unauthorised projects in Balkh. He said some NGOs did not bother to take permission from the provincial authorities before launching a project.
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Residents behead suspected militant in Khost
KHOST CITY, July 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Local residents beheaded a Taliban militant in Nadar Shahkot district of the southeastern Khost province, officials said on Monday.
Police spokesman in Khost Wazir Badshah said the militant was beheaded in Wazra area of the district last night.
The slain had been identified as Dolgai, whose brother had allegedly beheaded a resident of the same area in Miranshah, headquarters of Pakistan's North Waziristan, said the spokesman.
Meanwhile, security officials in the neighbouring Paktika province claimed killing several Taliban fighters following a four-hour battle Monday morning.
The US-led Coalition and Afghan troops took part in the battle that erupted in Barmal district of the province this morning, said a military official.
Yar Muhammad Saee, deputy commander of the 203 Thunder Military Corps, told Pajhwok bodies of the militants were found on the site of the battle.
He would not mention the specific casualties inflicted on the militants saying they were assessing the situation. Saee said no Coalition or Afghan soldier was killed or injured in the fighting.
Majid Arif/Sayed Jamal Asifkhel
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'Taliban's safe havens in Pakistan threat to US'
KABUL, July 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Lending support to the Pakistani government's move to crackdown on militants in tribal areas, the US administration said Musharrafs 10-month peace deal with tribal fighters had not helped marginalise their foreign allies.
Pointing to the controversial peace deal between the Pakistani government and local Taliban, President Bush national security advisor Stephen Hadley said: "It has not worked the way he wanted. It has not worked the way we wanted it."
The United States was fully backing a projected Pakistani military crackdown in an area important for al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, he said in a TV interview.
In a separate interview on Fox News, Hadley said Taliban safe havens in Pakistan were a threat to both Musharrafs government and the United States.
"There is pooling of Taliban there. There is training, and there are operations." He said Musharraf "has taken actions against them, but the action has at this point not been adequate, not effective".
Speaking on ABC television, Hadley said a new US national intelligence estimate on the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan would be submitted to President Bush this week.
"But it's a good reminder that the struggle against terrorism is going to be with us for a long time," he said.
He said the United States was supporting Musharraf's move of sending troops into the North Waziristan region to get control of the situation.
Hadley said the Bush administration would lay out its perception of the terrorism threat in conjunction with the release to Congress this week of a National Intelligence Estimate on al-Qaeda.
The document, representing the consensus view of all 16 US intelligence agencies, is expected to say that a resurgent al-Qaeda is recruiting operatives to try to enter the United States and other Western countries for major attacks.
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Afghan Hezb-e Eslami commander defects to government
Text of report by Afghan independent Tolo TV on 15 July
[Presenter] A commander affiliated to Golboddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Eslami party has joined the government, along with 30 of his men.
The National Defence Ministry says the commander is called Elias, and was brought to Kabul with his men by national army soldiers via the Tagab-Nejrab road at around 1700 [local time, 1230 gmt] today.
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Survivor: Kabul Embassy Style
US News & World Report July 15, 2007 12:09 PM ET
Think a Foreign Service posting in Iraq sounds tough? Try Afghanistan. The cabin fever at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul apparently is so bad that one official compares it with the TV show Survivor: "Everyone there is on edge, tired of seeing the same people." A few dozen U.S. staffers are restricted to two small compounds, connected by a tunnel. Baghdad may be more treacherous, but the problem in Kabul is that U.S. diplomats are allowed out only with full security escorts. Troubling when you consider most of those escort teams have been sent to Iraq."We can't send people out with the frequency necessary to maintain proper contacts with Afghans," says one official. One recent visitor met a U.S. diplomat who hadn't left the embassy in over six months.
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Protesting against warlord, Ghor residents block road
CHAGHCHARAN, July 15 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Dozens of families, demanding the evacuation of their lands by a former warlord, blocked a busy road as a convoy of the United Nations special representative arrived in the central Ghor province late Saturday.
The demonstration took place as Tom Koenigs and Afghanistans Independent Human Rights Commission head Seema Samar came here to open UNAMAs regional office and an AIHRC branch.
Mostly women and children, the protestors blocked the road for 15 minutes as the convoy was heading to a local airport. They dispersed peacefully later on.
One of the protestors, Syed Ahmad, told Pajhwok Afghan News Commander Atta Muhammad had forced out two hundred families from Gharak village of Dawlatyar district two years back.
The regional strongmans loyalists were still occupying their lands and houses, the demonstrators complained, accusing local authorities of failing to end their plight despite commitments.
Samar assured the protestors she would assess and deal with the problem.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Koenigs said:" We want to closely evaluate peoples problems and resolve them.
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Medical tools worth $2m donated to Logar hospital
PUL-I-ALAM, July 15 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A US-based Afghan trader has donated medical equipment worth two million dollars to the main hospital of the central Logar province, a senior official said on Sunday.
Sami Ahmadzai, currently running a business in the United States, had sent the equipment to the government-controlled hospital here, Public Health Director Muhammad Zarif Naibkhel confirmed to Pajhwok Afghan News.
The shipments containing modern gynecological, obstetrical, neurological, orthopedic, pediatric and surgical tools were delivered to provincial authorities on Saturday, the director said.
Dr. Zarif added the tools, received by Naib Aminullah Khan Civil Hospital in Pul-i-Alam, would be distributed to district health centres across Logar. Some of the equipment would be sent to hospitals in other provinces as well.
Hospitals both in the city centre as well as at the district level are facing so many problems in terms of modern tools. With the delivery of the donated equipment, these problems would be overcome to some extent, he continued.
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Reconstruction projects inaugurated
KABUL, July 15 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Several reconstruction projects were completed while foundation stones of several others were laid in different provinces.
Construction work of communication department in the central Kapisa province was completed and the building was inaugurated by Deputy Minister for Communication Hamidullah Qalandari on Sunday.
Director communication Noor Saeed Kohistani told Pajhwok Afghan News the single-story building was erected at the cost of $117,000. Foundation stone of a maternity clinic was laid in Taloqan, capital of the northern Takhar province, on Sunday.
Dr. Abdul Hakeem Azizi, director of the public health department, told Pajhwok the clinic would be built at the cost of 50,000 dollars in the coming six months.
Buildings for three religious seminaries will be constructed in Zabul, Uruzgan and Panjshir provinces while a school will be built in the northern Balkh province in the coming six months.
Minister for Education Muhammad Hanif Atmar told a gathering on Sunday that the projects would cost $1.3 million. Each of the madressas or religious seminaries would have capacity for 800 students, the minister informed.
As part of the government's efforts, such religious seminaries would also be built in 10 other provinces while three madressas would be established in the central capital Kabul, said the minister.
The total cost of 6.3 million US dollars for the construction work would be provided by the central government, he added.
Meanwhile, new building for the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), constructed in the Darul Aman locality of Kabul, was inaugurated on Sunday.
Addressing the inauguration ceremony, Minister for Rural Rehabilitation and Development Ehsanullah Zia said the construction work was launched in 2004.
He said the new building was constructed at the cost of 230 million afghanis
donated by the international community.
The newly-inaugurated building has 152 rooms and a conference hall. The inauguration ceremony was performed by first vice president Ahmad Zia Masoud.
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ISAF vehicle crushes motorcyclist in Badghis
QALA-I-NAW, July 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A joint convoy of ISAF and Afghan police crushed a motorcyclist in the western province of Badghis.
An ISAF press release issued here said the accident took place in Qala-i-Naw, capital of the province.
Spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) John Thomas expressed grief over the tragedy and extended condolences to family of the young man on behalf of the foreign troops.
Colonel Ayub Niazyar, police chief of Badghis, told Pajhwok Afghan News the motorcyclist collided with a police vehicle. He said the accident was being probed.
The police chief said people of the area had earlier complained against fast driving of ISAF and police vehicles in populated areas.
He said the matter was also raised during meeting of the provincial council and the security forces were asked to keep their speed low while passing through populated areas.
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US to increase use of Predator drones in Afghanistan, Iraq
KABUL, July 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The US Air Force would nearly double the number of combat air patrols over Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of next year, suggests a report.
The air force currently uses armed unmanned Predator drones to fly a dozen round-the-clock combat air patrols over Iraq and Afghanistan a day.
The air force had planned to increase the number of those patrols to 21 by December 2009, but General T. Michael Moseley has moved up the target date by a year, the air force said.
The statement would not say if the accelerated delivery of Predators was prompted by the surge, or other factors.
"The air force is pushing to expand Predator air patrols for Admiral Fallon's use as quickly as possible," said Lt. General David Deptula, deputy chief of staff in charge of air force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
The Predators are flown by two to four member crews who operate the aircraft from bases in the western United States.
The number of crew will grow from 120 to 160 to meet the demand, said the statement, which did not mention how many Predators would be required for the mission.
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Investigation launched into mass graves found near Kabul
KABUL, July 15 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A commission, appointed by President Hamid Karzai, Sunday launched investigations into Soviet-era mass graves discovered recently in Chamtala desert, north of this capital city.
Presidential advisor on religious affairs Maulvi Fazl-i-Hadi, who heads the probe panel, told Pajhwok Afghan News at the site they had collected samples from bodies of the victims. The inquiry outcome would be made public within a week, promised the former Supreme Court chief justice.
In response to a query, Shinwari said: President Karzai knows full well who are behind the mass graves unearthed in Chamtala. But why he is silent, I cant say.
Investigators, including officials from Public Health and Interior Ministries, said they looked into one of the sepulchres, believed to contain more than a thousand bodies. Some of the victims were clad in civilian clothes, they added.
Some of the remains had military uniform, one investigator explained, claiming army boots with socks and foot bones had also been found from the site that once used to be a sprawling Russian military base during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Kabul Police Crimes Branch chief Gen. Alishah Paktiawal said samples from the victims bodies had been sent abroad for deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) tests. Results would reveal an approximate date of the massacre and other information as to the victims, he added.
On Thursday, a group of journalists accompanied Paktiawal to the scene, but Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers did not allow them to dig the desert, where secret prisons were once located.
Earlier, such graves were found near the notorious Pul-i-Charkhi Prison on the eastern outskirts of Kabul and in the Polygon area of the capital. Similar graves have also been found in the north and southeast and elsewhere in Afghanistan.
Habib Rahman Ibrahimi
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New commander takes charge of CSTC-A
KABUL, July 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The new commander of the Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan (CSTC-A) has said that the Afghan security forces will be equipped six times their present position by the end of the current year.
Addressing the charge-taking ceremony of the CSTC-A here on Monday, Brig. Gen. Robert W. Cone said remarkable changes would be noticed in the standing of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and police in the coming six months.
He said efforts would also be made to minimise civilian casualties in military operations. Robert W. Cone replaced Major Gen. Robert E.Durbin as CSTC commander in Afghanistan.
Established in May 2002, CSTC-A was formerly named as US military cooperation office. Robert W. Cone is the fifth commander of the CSTC-A.
Speaking on the occasion, the outgoing commander praised his successor and said he was the right man chosen for the job.
"Leaving Afghanistan will be quite difficult for me if I knew a weaker person will succeed me," said the outgoing commander.
The command handing over ceremony was largely attended by senior military officers of Afghan and foreign troops and officials from the Interior and Defence ministers.
Ahmad Khalid Moahid
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Military chiefs warn of strategic failure in Afghanistan
LONDON, July 15 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A 'strategic failure' in Afghanistan would unleash terrible consequences in terms of threats to the President Hamid Karzai-led government and Britain's security, senior generals have warned Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
In their unusually blunt warning, the British military chiefs told Downing Street the campaign in Afghanistan was facing 'a catastrophic failure' that could pave the ground for an Islamist government coming to power in Pakistan.
With Washington and London increasingly shifting their focus to the war in Iraq, a media report said here on Sunday the fall of the Afghan government, headed by President Karzai, would translate into a serious threat to the security of Britain.
The Observer reported former chief of defence staff Lord Inge - understandably speaking with the direct authority of the general staff when he made an intervention in a House of Lords debate - warned of a 'strategic failure' in Afghanistan.
He starkly reminded the house the situation in Afghanistan was 'much worse' than many recognised. "We need to face up to that issue, the consequence of strategic failure in Afghanistan and what that would mean for NATO.
"We need to recognise that the situation - in my view, and I have recently been in Afghanistan - is much, much more serious than people want to recognise," he reportedly told parliamentarians.
The newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying: "If you talk privately to the generals they are very, very worried. You heard it in Inge's speech. Inge said we are failing and remember Inge speaks for the generals."
The former chief of defence staff stoutly supported the views of ex-Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown, who gave a bleak assessment of the Afghan situation during the parliamentary debate.
"The consequences of failure in Afghanistan are far greater than in Iraq. If we fail in Afghanistan then Pakistan goes down. The security problems for Britain would be massively multiplied. I think you could not then stop a widening regional war that would start off in warlordism but it would become essentially a war in the end between Sunni and Shia right across the Middle East," The Observer quoted him as saying.
He went on to speak of a regional civil war, which would be catastrophic for the military alliance. "The damage done to NATO in Afghanistan would be as great as the damage done to the UN in Bosnia."
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