by Shah Marai
GHAZNI, Afghanistan (AFP) - Taliban militants extended until noon Friday the deadline to negotiate the release of 22 kidnapped South Koreans, as an envoy headed to Afghanistan to spearhead efforts to free them.
The moves came as one of the hostages made an emotional plea for help on a television network, after the Taliban said the captives had been spared death under an earlier "final" deadline.
The militants agreed to the new deadline following a request from the Afghan government, spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP from an unknown location.
"The deputy interior minister asked us to give them extra time until tomorrow 12:00 (0730 GMT) to be able to handle the issue. The Taliban leading council decided to give them time until tomorrow (Friday) noon," Ahmadi said.
The head of the Afghan government delegation negotiating the release of the South Koreans also confirmed the new deadline.
"We managed to extend the deadline ... We are trying with all of our ability to win the safe and sound release of the South Koreans," said head Waheedullah Mujadadi.
The extension comes after the "final" deadline set by the Taliban for a prisoner swap for the hostages passed at 1:00 am (2030 GMT) Wednesday.
The Taliban said the 22 South Korean Christians were still alive following the discovery of the bullet-riddled body of their leader in a desert area on Wednesday.
"Since the last deadline no more Koreans have been killed," rebel spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP in a telephone call from an unknown location.
Meanwhile, a South Korean hostage held by the militants begged for help in an interview with CBS News, the network reported on its website Thursday.
"We are in a very difficult time. Please help us," said the woman, whom CBS said gave her name as Yo Cyun-ju.
"We are all pleading for you to help us get out of here as soon as possible. Really, we beg you."
The network said that Yo spoke to CBS News late Wednesday after an interview was arranged with a Taliban commander.
"All of us are sick and in very bad condition," she said, begging Seoul and the international community to make a deal with the Taliban to win their freedom.
She went on to describe her captivity as a "very difficult life every day," and "a very exhausting situation," CBS reported.
South Korea has identified the dead hostage as 42-year-old Bae Hyung-Kyu, a Presbyterian pastor and the head of the mostly female aid mission, which was reportedly in the country to provide free medical services.
His body was en route to the main US military base in Bagram, near the capital Kabul, and would be brought back to South Korea on the first available flight, the Korean news agency Yonhap said.
The rebels said they had killed him because talks with the Afghan government and South Korean officials to secure the release of eight insurgent prisoners had stalled.
However, the governor of Ghazni province about 140 kilometres (90 miles) south of Kabul, where the South Koreans were kidnapped, said that the negotiations were still ongoing.
"I am hopeful that we will get results very soon," governor Mirajuddin Pattan said.
Seoul said that Baek Jong-Chun, chief presidential secretary for foreign and security policy, had left for Afghanistan on Thursday as a special envoy for President Roh Moo-Hyun.
South Korea, which has 200 troops serving with US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, reiterated its opposition to any military rescue but highlighted the problems in negotiating with the captors.
"Their demands are considerably fluid and not unified. The armed insurgents are divided into different groups and the hostages are being kept in different places," said presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-Seon.
The South Korean president himself denounced the pastor's murder. "The organisation responsible for the abduction will be held accountable for taking the life of a Korean citizen," Roh said in a statement.
The South Koreans were seized while travelling on the highway between Kabul and Kandahar last Thursday.
At the time, the Taliban demanded that Seoul withdraw its troops. South Korea responded by saying it would pull them out as previously scheduled by the end of the year.
The Taliban are also holding a hostage from Germany, which also has troops in Afghanistan, and had demanded the withdrawal of all German forces from the war-torn country as well.
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SKorea envoy heads to Afghanistan
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - A top South Korean official headed to Afghanistan on Thursday on a mission to secure the release of 22 Christian volunteers held captive by Taliban kidnappers after the militants killed a hostage.
The kidnappers "will be held accountable for taking the life of a Korean citizen," Baek Jong-chun, South Korea's chief presidential secretary for security affairs, said before leaving.
After conflicting reports on hostage releases, South Korean presidential spokesman Chun Ho-sun said the 22 South Koreans were still believed held but were not suffering health problems. He said South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun had spoken with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the situation.
A local police chief, meanwhile, said negotiations with the Taliban captors have been difficult because their demands were unclear.
"One says, 'Let's exchange them for my relative,' the others say, 'Let's release the women,' and yet another wants a deal for money," said Khwaja Mohammad Sidiqi, police chief in Qarabagh. "They have got problems among themselves."
In new violence, U.S.-led coalition forces and Afghan troops fought two separate battles with militants in southern Afghanistan, killing more than 60 suspected Taliban insurgents. A NATO soldier was killed in another incident, officials said.
On Wednesday, authorities found the bullet-riddled body of 42-year-old Bae Hyung-kyu in Qarabagh district of Ghazni province, where the South Koreans were abducted July 19.
Bae was found with 10 bullet wounds in his head, chest and stomach, said Abdul Rahman, a police officer. Another police official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation, said militants told him the hostage was sick and couldn't walk, and was therefore shot.
Bae, a deputy pastor and a founder of Saemmul Presbyterian Church, led the church's volunteer work in Afghanistan. He was known for being a passionate leader of the church's youth group, and traveled abroad on volunteer missions twice a year. He is survived by a wife and a young daughter.
His mother, 68-year-old Lee Chang-suk, broke into tears as she watched the televised government announcement of his death. "I never thought it possible," she said from the southern island of Jeju, according to Yonhap news agency.
At the church, about 1,000 people gathered Thursday evening to mourn Bae and pray for the other captives, many crying and consoling each other.
Relatives of other abductees, meanwhile, appealed anew for their relatives' release.
"We hope the negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban go well," said Kim Kyung-ja, mother of hostage Lee Sun-young. "Please send our lovely children home."
Cha Sung-min, 31, whose 32-year-old sister Cha Hye-jin was being held, said the families were struggling.
"After hearing the sad news, yesterday was a very difficult day," Cha said. "We believe the best way right now is to trust our government."
Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a purported Taliban spokesman, said all 22 hostages were fine but claimed Afghan authorities were not allowing South Korean officials to negotiate directly with his group. The hostages were being held in small groups in different locations, he said, and were being fed "the same food that our villagers have — bread, yogurt, rice."
Ghazni Police Chief Ali Shah Ahmadzai said the Afghan negotiators were speaking with the Taliban over the phone.
"We will not use force against the militants to free the hostages," he said, adding was hopeful about reaching "some sort of deal for the release of six or up to eight people" later Thursday.
Marajudin Pathan, the governor of Ghazni province, said militants have given a list of eight Taliban prisoners who they want released in exchange.
An Afghan official involved in the negotiations earlier said a large ransom would be paid to free eight hostages. The official also spoke on condition he not be identified, citing the matter's sensitivity. No other officials would confirm this account.
Foreign governments are suspected to have paid ransoms in Afghanistan in the past, but have either kept quiet or denied it.
The South Koreans, including 18 women, were kidnapped while on a bus trip through Ghazni province on the Kabul-Kandahar highway, Afghanistan's main thoroughfare. Because of a recent spike in kidnappings, police announced that foreigners are no longer allowed to leave Kabul without their permission.
Two Germans were also kidnapped last week. One was found dead and the other apparently remains captive. A Danish reporter escaped a kidnap attempt Wednesday in eastern Afghanistan.
In the fighting in southern Afghanistan, coalition forces and Afghan troops hit buildings in Helmand province that militants have been using to launch attacks. More than 50 Taliban were killed and several others wounded in a 12-hour gunbattle. The coalition also said two bombs appeared to hit militant arms depots.
The clash occurred near the village of Musa Qala, where a peace deal struck last year with local elders effectively ceded control of the area to Taliban fighters.
In neighboring Kandahar province, a clash left 10 suspected militants and one policemen dead, said Sayed Afghan Saqib, Kandahar provincial police chief.
A NATO soldier was killed following a clash with militants in southern Afghanistan, the alliance said.
A suicide car bomber detonated himself near a NATO convoy in Kandahar, but there were no injuries among the troops, said Lt. Desmond James, a Canadian officer.
Violence has risen sharply in Afghanistan in the last two months. More than 3,500 people, mostly militants, have been killed in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press tally of casualty figures provided by Western and Afghan officials.
Associated Press writers Noor Khan in Kandahar, F
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Sixty Taliban killed in fierce Afghan clashes
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan and US-led forces killed more than 50 Taliban in a 12-hour battle in the nation's opium-growing heartland, while a soldier and 10 rebels died in separate incidents, officials said Thursday.
The NATO soldier was killed in the restive south, bringing to 121 the number of foreign soldiers killed this year, NATO spokesman John Thomas told AFP.
The British soldier was involved in an operation to remove the insurgent Taliban from the Gereshk valley in insurgency-hit Helmand province, the defence ministry said in London. Details of how he died were not available.
During the lengthy battle in the opium-growing region, coalition warplanes were called in to bomb rebel hideouts in the most intense clash, which broke out late Wednesday, also in Helmand, the US-led coalition said in a statement.
"More than 50 insurgents were confirmed killed, with an unknown number wounded. Sixteen Taliban compounds, three enemy motorcycles and five enemy trucks were destroyed as well," the statement said.
One coalition soldier suffered a broken hand during the battle, while there were no civilian casualties, it added.
The ultra-Islamic Taliban launched a bloody insurgency after they were toppled from power by US-led forces and Afghan warlords following the 9/11 attacks. Thousands of people have died since then.
The Taliban were not immediately available to comment on the official casualty figures.
Helmand has seen some of the most bitter fighting, particularly in rebel-infested Musa Qala district, near the scene of the latest battle, where the coalition says 160 militants have been killed since Sunday.
The province produces most of Afghanistan's opium, the source of the heroin that reportedly funds much of the Taliban's operations
The fighting erupted on Wednesday night after Taliban militants attacked a joint US-led and Afghan National Army patrol "using heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms weapons," said the statement.
The troops called in air support, and coalition planes dropped two bombs on the buildings judged to contain the most insurgents. Secondary blasts suggested there was a large cache of explosives inside, it said.
During the battle, insurgents continually reinforced their fighters using a system of wadis, or riverbeds, linking the area of the fighting to nearby Musa Qala, it added.
The coalition said intelligence suggested there was a heavy concentration of Taliban in Musa Qala and that the insurgents would stay "stay and defend the area rather than use their normal hit-and-run tactics."
Meanwhile, in neighbouring Kandahar, the province where the Taliban first rose to power in the 1990s, rebels attacked a police post overnight, sparking heavy fighting, provincial police chief Sayed Aqa Saqib told AFP.
"Ten Taliban bodies were left on the battlefield and four were wounded. An Afghan policeman was also martyred and eight were hurt," said Saqib of the clash in Maruf district.
In a separate incident at about the same time the insurgents attacked security forces in Kandahar's Khakraiz district, leaving three policemen wounded and causing an unknown number of Taliban casualties, said Saqib.
The unrest came as British Foreign Secretary David Miliband wrote in an article published Thursday that success in establishing democracy in Afghanistan would help in the fight against extremism around the world.
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Two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan convert to Islam: paper
Thursday, July 26, 2007
KABUL (Reuters) - Two American soldiers have converted to Islam and married in Afghanistan, a state newspaper said on Thursday.
A U.S. military spokesman said he was checking the reports and pointed out that freedom of religion was enshrined in the U.S. constitution.
The Hewad Daily reported the pair served as soldiers in the U.S. army at Bagram air base which is the hub of U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan and lies to the north of the capital Kabul.
Several dozen Westerners visiting Afghanistan have become Muslims since the Taliban were toppled in 2001, but it was the first time any U.S. soldiers were reported to have converted to Islam.
A religious cleric welcomed their conversion. "If any body embraces Islam, ..., his sins committed in this world will be forgiven and Allah praises him and his family, and will bless him in the coming world too," Hamidullah said.
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Pakistan's Pashtun 'problem'
By Haroun Mir Asia Times Online Thursday, July 26, 2007
At least since September 11, 2001, most of the perpetrators of terrorist actions in the West have been Arabs or Pakistanis, yet the victims of the West's military reactions have been Afghans and the Pashtun tribes living in Pakistan.
The majority of Pashtuns have fallen prey to Arab and Pakistani propaganda against the West. The continued insurgency in Afghanistan and the sudden deterioration of the situation in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province make the Pashtun tribes the prime target in the "war against terror".
They have lived in poverty and become the proxy soldiers in the confrontation between the West and the Islamic extremists. The radicalization of young Pashtuns in madrassas (seminaries), generously financed by Saudi Arabia, menaces the cohesion of Pashtun tribal structure.
About 30 million to 35 million Pashtuns live in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, but they are divided and engaged in internal feuds. Only once - and for a short period - have they stood united. This was under the rule of Ahmad Shah Durani (1747-73), who created modern Afghanistan and conquered significant territories in India and Iran. Ever since British rule in India, Pashtun tribes have been in conflict either against foreign intruders or among themselves.
They have deliberately been kept away from modern education and economic development. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, they were tools in the hands of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. And today they are the direct victims of the "war on terror".
In the years of conflict in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and other major Persian Gulf countries have financed thousands of madrassas for Afghan refugees in Pakistan, which resulted in a massive radicalization of young Pashtuns. In addition, the influx of Wahhabi Arab fighters and madrassa teachers transformed the dominant moderate Hanafi school of jurisprudence into a new breed of religious extremism, which resulted in the creation of the Taliban-type movement.
For instance, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, not a single act of suicide bombing was committed against the Soviet military or their family members in Kabul. The first suicide bombing in Afghanistan was committed by two Arabs against the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, Afghanistan's former defense minister, on September 9, 2001. At least since 2003, young Pashtuns have become involved in suicide bombings, which go against their tribal and religious values.
A new breed of extremist Islamic sect is taking shape in the Pashtun heartland. Only a limited number of the 15 million to 20 million Pashtuns who live in Pakistan enjoy modern education. Sadly, secular and modern schools are being burned down by the Taliban in Afghanistan's Pashtun-dominated provinces. Each year, thousands of young Pashtuns are trained in the madrassas, and only a limited number of them have access to secular education.
Pakistan's military rulers have an interest in keeping the masses of Pashtun people ignorant. They need the support of Pashtuns to dominate other minority groups. Until now the Pakistani authorities have used the old British system of divide-and-rule to play off local Pashtun leaders and in exchange require their loyalty.
This colonial system has kept the masses of Pashtuns illiterate and uneducated, and only selected families have received quality education to fill senior positions in the military. The presence of Pashtuns in the Pakistani military is used to dominate Balochs, who have been struggling to gain their autonomy since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Without the support of the Pashtun tribes, the Pakistan Army would be unable to control a widespread Baloch insurgency.
President General Pervez Musharraf is keen to keep the truce with Pashtun tribes and save his tacit alliance with extremist religious parties. He knows well that the expansion of conflict with Pashtun tribes in Pakistan not only forces them to unite against Pakistani authorities, but also could incite Balochs to side with the Pashtuns.
Pakistani military authorities want to keep the status quo in the tribal regions. They are more interested in the integrity of their territory than in the global fight on terror. Musharraf has always sought the cooperation of radical religious leaders instead of the main secular leaders because only the religious leaders are capable of reaching out to the radicalized Pashtuns tribes.
Pakistan's military interests are in the interests neither of the West nor of Pashtuns. Keeping Pashtun tribes divided and backward might serve the short-term militaristic interests of Pakistan. But it is already backfiring against the long-term interests of the West.
The Pashtun-dominated territories have become a de facto sanctuary for international terrorism. North Atlantic Treaty Organization and US forces are fighting and bombing those who have nothing to do with terrorist acts in the West. Al-Qaeda and other international terrorists are taking advantage of the religiously devoted and fiercely independent Pashtun tribes.
Indeed, extremist religious groups and local Taliban have become an alibi for Musharraf to continue his military rule in Pakistan, despite the contempt shown by the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis. Pakistan's military authorities have been able to persuade the West to accept their ill-conceived tribal policies of promoting radical extremist leaders to the detriment of more traditional moderate Pashtun leaders.
The West, instead of alienating and pushing Pashtun tribes further into the camp of extremists, could reach out and assist moderate Pashtun leaders. But young Pashtuns have undergone almost three decades of radicalization, and it will require much time to reverse the trend.
Haroun Mir was an aide to the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, Afghanistan's former defense minister. He works as a consultant and policy analyst in Kabul.
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British FM urges support for Pakistan's terror fight
Thu Jul 26, 10:17 AM ET
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called for international support for Pakistani President Pervez's efforts to combat Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants along the Afghan frontier.
Miliband, on his first major trip since he took office a month ago, struck a markedly different tone from the United States which recently threatened to launch unilateral strikes on rebels in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Pakistan has bristled at warnings from Washington, its key ally, that it cannot continue to allow Osama bin Laden's rejuvenated terror network to use the South Asian nation's frontier regions as a safe haven.
"The right way forward is one based on partnership between the countries," Miliband told a news conference when asked if he had discussed the US threats of military action with Musharraf during their meeting earlier in the day.
"In respect of the shared challenges we face in the tribal areas, in every aspect we have been talking about what we can do together, not me lecturing the Pakistani government or vice versa," he added.
The British minister said a strong relationship was needed between Pakistan's government and the NATO and US forces in neighbouring Afghanistan to stabilise the volatile border between the two countries.
"This is an issue that requires concerted efforts on both sides of the border. It is also a problem that requires elements of social intervention, as well as security intervention," he said.
His Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Kasuri used their joint press conference to lash out again at the increasingly tough line being taken by the administration of US President George W. Bush.
The White House's top counter-terrorism official Frances Townsend on Sunday caused a stir by refusing to rule out a military incursion into remote Pakistani regions close to the border with Afghanistan.
"Such statements are irresponsible and should not be made," Kasuri said.
"It may be election season in the United States but it should not be at our expense."
Pakistan says it has nearly 90,000 troops along the border and points to the fact that it has lost more than 700 soldiers in military operations against Islamic militants who fled the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.
Miliband flew to Islamabad on Wednesday from Kabul, where he met Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other officials for talks on stabilising the volatile region.
Violence has flared in Pakistan since government troops stormed the pro-Taliban Red Mosque in the capital earlier this month, killing scores of militants.
More than 200 people have died in a wave of revenge attacks by militants, including around a dozen suicide bombings in the past three weeks. A soldier was killed in a rocket attack on Thursday in the tribal belt.
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The riddle of Afghan graves
By Bilal Sarwary BBC News, Kabul Thursday, 26 July 2007
On a dusty desert plain a few kilometres north of Kabul, Afghan security officials recently revealed to reporters the latest mass grave discovered in the country.
Some of the bodies were still in a sitting position in rooms built underground the former weapons depot in the Shomali plain. Others were in a lying position. Some still had clothes on.
What is known is that the bodies are of victims of Afghanistan's war-torn past. But what is not known is - from which war?
Afghanistan is no stranger to such sites. Many - the authorities say more than 20 - have been discovered throughout the country since the US-led invasion and the fall of the Taleban regime in 2001.
A new commission, appointed by President Hamid Karzai, has been directed to investigate who these anonymous victims in the grave were, when were they killed, and by whom?
The commission is led by former chief justice Mawli Fazal Hadi Shinwari who showed the site - now heavily guarded by the Afghan National Army - to a group of journalists.
He ordered members of the commission to go inside the grave, to inspect and note the condition of the victims' final resting place.
"An atrocity has been committed, and we have to determine what occurred here," Mr Shinwari said after his investigators identified scores of victims throughout the site.
The site was discovered a few weeks ago by a 75-year-old Afghan villager who used to work as a driver for the Soviets.
He told the Afghan police that the place was used by Soviet officials for investigations and executions during their occupation of the country in the 1980s.
It is not yet clear whether the allegations are true.
The commission's challenge is to determine who is responsible for the executions.
Two Afghan security officials, who requested anonymity, said the commission would hand over its findings directly to President Karzai.
"We will carefully go through all of the details to find out whether this massacre was carried out by the communists or the mujahideen when they took power," one official said.
The head of Kabul police's crime branch, Gen Ali Shah Paktiawal, told the BBC: "We must all wait for the DNA tests and the investigation to finish. Only then can we be sure when this heinous act took place."
He said documents and clothing had been found at the site that would help the investigation.
Afghans have suffered at the hands of their various regimes, all of which have been responsible for filling mass graves.
Thousands vanished during the four Moscow-backed communist governments, and thousands of others during the infighting among the warring mujahideen factions that led to the Taleban gaining power. Life under the Taleban was even harsher for Afghans.
Carpenter Mohammad Eashan is one of many Afghans with shattered lives and broken dreams.
Speaking to the BBC at his workshop in western Kabul, he said he was only 10 when the communist government took away his father. He never saw him again.
"My father went to offer his Friday prayers," Mr Eashan said.
"He was taken to Paghman district by the communist police who accused him of helping the mujahideen.
"We don't know if he is alive or dead. It has been 26 years since this happened. I have now lost hope that he is alive. Criminals should be tried for their crimes."
A resident of west Kabul, 31-year-old Mariam, is scared to be even photographed.
She lost her brother during the civil war. He was abducted from a bus.
"He was taken by one of the factions because of his ethnic identity. To this day we don't know if he is alive or dead. His children are always asking if their father will come back one day," she said.
"We all know who the killers were in this country. They should be tried for their crimes. The communists, too, should be tried for their crimes and they shouldn't be in the government and parliament."
The relatives of those missing are keenly awaiting the result of the investigation into the most recently-discovered mass grave.
They hope it will determine which government killed hundreds of Afghans on the Shomali plain.
It is unclear, however, what legal action might then follow, as parliament recently voted to grant a broad amnesty which is intended to give alleged war criminals immunity from prosecution.
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Taleban commander was 'shot dead'
By Abdul Hai Kakar BBC Urdu service, Peshawar Thursday, 26 July 2007
Taleban commander Abdullah Mehsud was killed by Pakistani soldiers and did not commit suicide, one of the owners of the house in which he died says.
The man, Shaikh Alam Mandokhel, said that Mehsud was shot in the stomach.
Pakistani police had said Mehsud blew himself up to evade arrest after being surrounded in Balochistan province.
Mehsud, a Taleban veteran who the US freed from custody at Guantanamo Bay, became one of Pakistan's most wanted Islamic militant leaders.
He was buried in his home village in the South Waziristan tribal area on Wednesday.
Knock on the door
Shaikh Alam told the BBC Urdu service the militant arrived at his house in the town of Zhob on Monday night.
He said that neither he nor his cousin, Shaikh Ayub Mandokhel, had been at home at the time.
The militant and his companion told the boy who opened the door they had been sent to spend the night by an Islamic priest, Shaikh Alam said.
He said the boy opened the guest quarters for them, served them dinner and went back to his computer in another room.
"We keep receiving guests from the city or the villages. We have been hosts to government and intelligence officials too on several occasions. This is part of the Pashtun tradition," Shaikh Alam said.
At 5:30 on Tuesday morning, there was another knock on the door.
Shaikh Alam says this time another boy answered the door and was arrested by security forces who had surrounded the house.
The boy's father, who followed his son to the door, was also arrested.
Shaikh Alam says Abdullah Mehsud was killed in the intense firing by the security forces which then followed.
"If he had blown himself up, his body would have been in pieces. But he only had bullet wounds to his stomach," he says.
Shaikh Alam said it was Mehsud's first stay at their house, and that he had never spent a night there before.
His account differs from the official version.
An interior ministry spokesman said on Tuesday that Mehsud's movements had been monitored for three days, and he blew himself up with a grenade to avoid arrest when the house was raided.
Correspondents say Mehsud was an important figure who had a fearsome reputation among pro-Taleban militants.
Mehsud, whose real name was Noor Alam, was a Pashtun, the same ethnic group as the Taleban of Afghanistan.
He lost a leg in a landmine explosion as the Taleban fought to take over the Afghan capital Kabul in 1996, and was eventually captured and handed over to the Americans in 2001.
Released from Guantanamo in 2004, he quickly resumed his militant role and was involved in the kidnap of two Chinese workers, one of whom died during a rescue bid by Pakistani forces in South Waziristan later that year.
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US: 50 Taliban killed in battle in southern Afghanistan
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
KABUL, July 26, 2007 -- The U.S. military says U.S.-led coalition forces and Afghan troops clashed with militants in southern Afghanistan overnight, leaving more than 50 suspected Taliban killed.
The military said today the 12-hour-long battle ended early today in Helmand province.
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British soldier killed in Afghanistan: defence ministry
Thursday, July 26, 2007
LONDON (AFP) - A British soldier was killed fighting Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan Thursday, the defence ministry said.
The soldier, whose identity has not been released but whose family has been informed, was from the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards and was operating in the Upper Gereshk Valley in southern Helmand province.
"After consolidating its position after securing a bridge crossing of the Nahr-e-Seraj canal, the company he was with was pushing west to clear further Taliban positions," the ministry said in a statement.
"At around 6:00 am local time, the company came under fire from Taliban fighters, and the soldier was shot.
"An emergency response helicopter was requested but he was pronounced dead at the scene. He was flown to the ISAF medical facility at Camp Bastion."
The death brings to 66 the number of British soldiers who have died in Afghanistan since the beginning of US-led military action in late-2001 to oust the country's hardline Islamist former rulers.
The 65th fatality, a soldier from the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, was killed in an explosion near the town of Sangin in Helmand on Wednesday morning.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband made his first visit to Afghanistan this week and on Thursday wrote in a newspaper article that success there was vital in the fight against extremism around the world.
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Taliban told to kidnap foreigners
The News International (Pakistan) Thursday, July 26, 2007
LONDON: Taliban have been instructed to kidnap as many foreigners as possible, the Islamist militia's new military commander said in an interview broadcast on Wednesday.
Speaking to Channel 4 News from an undisclosed location along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Mansour Dadullah also said that the Taliban planned to use children to behead hostages. He advocated kidnapping foreigners to trade them for Taliban captives "Of course, kidnapping is a very successful policy and I order all my Mujahideen to kidnap foreigners of any nationality wherever they find them and then we should do the same kind of deal."
He added that the Taliban wanted to "give children a military education, we want to train them against cruel invaders and infidels, so when we need them they will join this struggle". "We want to use children to behead infidels and spies so that they will become brave."
Dadullah also claimed that a "spectacular" outrage would take place in Britain, in the wake of three failed car bombings in London and Glasgow about a month ago. He said that he was in close contact with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and added that between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, "we don't keep count of weapons, money or anything".
The Taliban commander claimed that the militia held eight districts of the restive Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, which was denied by Defence Secretary Des Browne. "I would contradict the suggestion that the Taliban are somehow overmatching us in Helmand or are spreading their influence. They are not," Browne said.
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South Korean Envoy Says Taliban 'Will Be Held Accountable'
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
July 26, 2007 -- A top envoy from Seoul has vowed that Taliban militants "will be held accountable" for shooting dead one of 23 South Korean hostages.
Baek Jong-chun, South Korea's chief presidential security adviser, issued the statement before heading to Afghanistan to consult with Afghan officials about how to secure the release of the remaining captives.
South Korea's government has called the killing "an unforgiveable atrocity." But it says it remains opposed to any military rescue for the others.
"The government urges the kidnapping group, again, to immediately return our people being held by them to the arms of their families, and we will make all efforts for their safe return," South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Hee-yong said.
The bullet-ridden body of the 42-year-old Korean man was found on July 25 on the main highway heading south from Kabul -- close to where the group was seized in Ghazni Province on July 19.
Seoul identified the victim as the pastor of the Saem Presbyterian church and leader of the mostly female group of Christian aid workers.
Afghan and international security forces have had the kidnappers and their hostages surrounded since July 22.
But Ghazni police chief Ali Shah Ahmadzai said there are no plans to try to free the hostages by force. He said Afghan negotiators are still speaking with the Tailban by telephone in the hope of securing the release of the hostages.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yusof Ahmadi said early today that the remaining 22 hostages "are safe and alive."
(Reuters, AP, AFP)
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Berlin issues Afghanistan travel alert amid latest hostage-takings
Berlin, July 26, IRNA
Germany's Foreign Ministry has issued a travel warning for Afghanistan on Wednesday in the wake of the latest hostage-takings involving German citizens in the war-stricken country.
The German alert "warns urgently" of undertaking trips to Afghanistan.
It added that whoever still decides to travel to Afghanistan has to be aware of one's "endangerment by terroristic or criminal- motivated violent acts".
There is a risk throughout Afghanistan that one can become a victim of a kidnapping, said the foreign ministry, adding that even international ISAF troops cannot ensure the safety of foreigners who visit Afghanistan.
Several Germans have become target of abductions by local criminal groups and the radical Taliban militia in Afghanistan over the past weeks.
There are also 3,000 German soldiers deployed in northern Afghanistan as part of the ongoing ISAF military campaign.
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Germany warns of "Taliban media war"
Berlin, July 26, IRNA
Germany's Foreign Ministry on Thursday warned of a "Taliban media war" amid conflicting reports about the latest kidnappings of German nationals in Afghanistan.
Speaking to German television foreign ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said, "We are not only dealing with a level of assassinations like massacres and executions but we are also facing a phenomenon which journalists call media war. A war of words."
Jaeger pointed out that the Taliban is very efficiently using the instrument of propaganda.
"The Taliban propaganda bureau is very well organized in the Afghan-Pakistani border region," the foreign ministry official told journalists during the routine weekly news conference.
Westerners have become target of abductions by local criminal thugs and the radical Taliban militia in Afghanistan over the past weeks.
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US rejects Italy's call to withdraw from Afghanistan
Wed Jul 25, 5:12 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States on Wednesday rejected Italy's call to end the US military mission in Afghanistan over what Rome termed "morally unacceptable" civilian casualties.
Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema had told a parliamentary committee that lack of coordination between US and NATO-led international forces are to blame for civilian deaths.
But US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack blamed the enemy for the civilian casualties.
"Taliban forces, Al-Qaeda forces, will very often use innocent civilians, including children, as human shields with the thought that that will prevent an attack," he said.
McCormack said the US mission, "Operation Enduring Freedom, and the NATO mission are separate missions yet complementary missions" with different duties and concentrated in different parts of the country.
Some 11,000 troops including 8,000 Americans, 1,000 Australians and 200 South Koreans take part in Enduring Freedom, which was launched in October 2001 against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
"All of these forces ... take the greatest possible care to avoid civilian casualties," McCormack said.
The UN mission in Kabul estimated in early July that some 600 civilians had been killed since the start of the year, more than half by Afghan and international forces.
D'Alema, quoted by the ANSA news agency, said: "The civilian casualties resulting from recent operations against the Taliban are morally unacceptable. They are a real disaster politically and have created major tensions between the Afghan government and the international forces."
"We think it would be advisable to end" Enduring Freedom, D'Alema said.
NATO has led the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF), with contingents from 37 countries totaling around 39,000 men, since 2003. It has been in charge of almost all international operations in the country since the east came under its authority in late 2006.
Italy's 2,500 men are mainly based in a calmer area in the west.
An international conference in Rome early this month on rebuilding the justice system in Afghanistan was dominated by debate over mounting civilian casualties there.
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Afghanistan: ICRC steps up support for health-care services
Source: International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Geneva / Kabul (ICRC) – The Afghan government and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have reached an agreement under which the ICRC will significantly increase its support for Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar, one of the most important medical facilities in the conflict-ridden southern part of the country. The 390-bed regional referral hospital provides essential care for thousands of patients, including men, women and children wounded in hostilities in the neighbouring provinces of Zabul, Helmand and Uruzgan. The memorandum of understanding signed by the Ministry of Public Health and the ICRC covers the next two years.
"Because of mounting security problems and the remoteness of many areas, there are a lot of people in Afghanistan who don't have access to quality medical care," said Reto Stocker, head of the ICRC delegation in Kabul. "Especially in the south, the intensification of the armed conflict over the past year and a half has resulted in an increase in the number of war-wounded patients. By strengthening its support for Mirwais Hospital, the ICRC aims to help meet some of the most urgent medical needs in the area."
Under the new agreement, the ICRC will support the Ministry of Public Health in implementing its "Essential Package of Hospital Services," a national policy for provincial and regional hospitals designed to improve the overall quality of health care and the performance of hospital staff.
The ICRC will not only help the hospital's surgery unit respond to emergencies such as sudden influxes of war-wounded and trauma patients, but also extend its support to the entire hospital to better cater to the needs of ordinary patients and improve general health-care services. Since 1996, the ICRC has been providing the hospital with essential drugs, laboratory and X-ray supplies, and other surgical and medical items, in addition to training personnel. The organization has also contributed to the maintenance of the hospital's premises and equipment and supplied generator fuel.
Last year, the ICRC aided 14 medical facilities across Afghanistan which treated nearly 35,000 patients, of whom more than 1,700 had suffered wounds inflicted by weapons – including 240 men, 252 women and 322 children injured by mines or other explosive remnants of war. In addition to its support for Mirwais Hospital, the ICRC has been providing supplies and capacity-building assistance and training staff for hospitals in Jalalabad and Sheberghan.
For further information, please contact:
Jean-Pascal Moret, ICRC Kabul, tel. +93 700 282 719 or +93 700 276 465
Carla Haddad, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 22 730 24 05 or +41 79 217 32 26
or visit our website: www.icrc.org
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Deep in Taleban Country
A reporter embeds with the Taleban to see the brutal evidence of war in Greshk.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Aziz Ahmad Tassal (ARR No. 261, 23-July-07)
The image I cannot erase is a burqa in the ashes of a bombed-out house. When I close my eyes I can still see it, that bit of blue cloth specked with blood amid the blackened soot that used to be someone’s home.
I had come to Hassan Khan Kalay with the Taleban. It was the only way of getting there, as this village near Hyderabad in the Greshk district is under their control, and journalists cannot go there without their permission.
The negotiations took about a week. First we called Qari Yusuf, the Taleban spokesman, and he passed us on to others, who referred us in turn to the local commanders.
Finally we got the go-ahead. But our Taleban contact told us on the phone to be very careful about what we filmed and who we talked to in Hyderabad.
“If they don’t like what you are doing, you won’t live,” he said simply.
Greshk is about 40 kilometres north of Lashkar Gah. According to the Afghan government, the district has been captured and recaptured many times over. At the moment, it seems that not a single day passes without some sort of incident there.
Hyderabad is completely ruled by the Taleban. Our first problem was getting out there. When I went to the bus station in Lashkar Gah, I could not find a driver willing to take us. They all looked at us suspiciously, maybe because we did not have turbans or the right kind of clothes. I was just wearing a Kandahari hat, and I had a big bag with my camera and recording equipment.
Finally, a driver in a yellow Toyota Corolla asked whether we had permission from the Taleban to go to Hyderabad. When I said yes, he told us to get in.
Once we crossed into Greshk and entered a desert area, our driver, who was wearing a white turban, began looking around anxiously, smoking one cigarette after another.
At about 11 in the morning, we rounded a bend and saw our first Taleban. There were two of them standing in the road in full Taleban gear - black turbans, black shawls and Kalashnikovs, with bandoliers slung across their bodies. They were holding bundles of money – afghani and Pakistani rupees.
I was shocked and afraid, but they said, “Oh, we’re Taleban, and you should help us.” They were smiling – and then they looked into the car and saw our filming equipment. They stared hard at it for a while.
We gave them two ten-afghani notes - worth about 40 cents - and they said, “Okay, you can go.”’
But as we were driving off, one of them pulled out his mobile phone, which had a home-made red pom-pom on it, and made a call. That made me nervous, so I called our contact just in case.
According to our driver, we were in a place called Gaamash. We could see large numbers of American military vehicles on the desert floor – tanks, armoured personnel carriers and jeeps – all of them destroyed, burnt out. There were also oil tanker trucks marooned in the desert.
It seemed that every few steps there was another shattered vehicle.
As we came into the village of Hassan Khan Kalay, I saw a burnt-out tractor by the road. In the distance, I could see houses that had been flattened by bombs. It looked like it had once been a busy little village, but no one lived there now. It was deathly still.
We were supposed to wait here for our contact, Mawlawi Ahmad. I could not even film – I was too scared to do so.
There was a small shop nearby, and we decided to interview the shopkeeper.
His name was Gulzaman, he told us, and he had lost his sister and her three sons in the bombings. His family had fled to this village from Sangin because of the fighting and NATO bombing raids in that town.
“But we got bombed here anyway,” he said bitterly. “I had to bury my three nephews in this place, because I could not get them to our local cemetery. For three days, I was not able to bury them because of the fighting. I just put some bushes on them and waited.”
His mother and the rest of his family were now in the mountains seeking refuge from the fighting, he said.
“In war, it’s every man for himself,” he added.
Suddenly we heard the roar of a motorcycle, and a strong young man swept into view. This was Mullah Khaled, sent by the local Taleban field commander to escort us through Hassan Khan Kalay. He came towards us and we shook hands.
He examined our equipment, studying the English-language markings. Finally, without further talk, he led us into the village.
Everywhere there were ruins – collapsed walls and ashes. There were a lot of impressions at once: a woman’s green scarf, a single sandal, a tea kettle with so many holes in it that it looked like a strainer.
We were approached by an old man, all hunched over. His turban was hanging in rings around his neck, and he seemed to have lost his senses.
He told us his name was Sher Gul, and that he had just lost six members of his family, including his sweet young wife, two daughters aged 18 and 12, and two sons, one aged seven and the other a baby of 11 months.
His teeth flashed under his beard as he spoke, and I could not tell whether he was smiling or grimacing in pain.
Sher Gul took me by the hand and led me to the ruins of his house, pointing to the place where his wife and children drew their last breaths.
“It was about 8:30 in the evening,” he said, “and we were having dinner outside in the courtyard. Then there was thunder, a roar, and the women and children ran into the house. My brother and I stayed where we were, and then the bombs began to fall. We threw ourselves on the ground and then just lay there, nailed in place by the bombs. I could hear screaming, and my wife calling to me, ‘For God’s sake get me out of here, my legs are broken.’
“But we couldn’t move, because the sky was raining red fire. My brother’s wife ran out of the house – she had been injured and was holding her baby in her arms. She fell on top of me and then died. Finally, the screaming stopped. And then the bombs stopped.”
When the smoke cleared, Sher Gul saw what had happened to his family.
“My wife was lying under the walls, and her legs had been cut off. I started to pull her out, but she was gone. Later I found my little son.”
Sher Gul cursed the Afghan president, Hamed Karzai, and laughed, but his laughter was unhinged.
“This is a good thing he has done for us,” he said. “We don’t even need to bring our dead to the graveyard. Look – everywhere is a graveyard now.”
The locals say that 135 people died that night in June when the NATO bombs came.
About 40 people tried to get away by loading themselves and their few possessions onto a tractor – the burned-out husk we had seen on our way into the village.
“Then the planes came and bombed them, too,” said Mohammad Faroq, an elder from the village. “They all died.”
Faroq said he and his neighbours had heard that Sher Gul’s house had been hit and that the tractor had been bombed. They ran to help as soon as they were able to move about. But it was near morning when they saw the scale destruction.
“I came to one house and everything was burnt,” he said. “I saw a woman’s body - she was still on fire. I ran home for some water to put out the flames.”
Faroq said he had seen many victims of the raid. “I saw people who had been shot while trying to run away,” he said. “There were bodies everywhere. The place was full of the dead.”
Now there were just a few people around, scattered among the ruins. They did not look twice at us or the Taleban commander with us. They seemed used to having the insurgents around, no longer shocked by their presence.
“When night starts to fall,” said Mohammad Nabi, an old man in the village, “everyone heads for the mountains. The women sleep out in the fields among the crops, up in the hills. No one stays here.”
Our contact Mawlawi Ahmad joined us for a few moments. We shook hands, he offered his assistance, and then left.
Meanwhile, our escort, Mullah Khaled, was eager to tell of his exploits.
“When a convoy of British troops was passing this way, I set off a remote-controlled mine,” he said. “Three NATO soldiers were killed. The others removed the dead bodies, then put a mine in the vehicle and blew it up.”
Khaled said that at one point he had been captured by the British and later released.
“I told them I was just a traveller,” he laughed. “Thank God I threw my walkie-talkie away before they got me.”
Aziz Ahmad Tassal is a freelance reporter in Helmand.
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Grand Pashtun alliance on the cards in Pakistan
PESHAWAR, July 23 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Two leading Pashtun nationalist parties - the Awami National Party (ANP) headed by Asfandyar Wali Khan, and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) of Mahmood Khan Achakzai - are likely to form a grand alliance next month.
The two parties having their roots among Pashtuns living in NWFP and Balochistan provinces of Pakistan have constituted two separate committees to finalise their recommendations in this regard.
Two names, Pashtun Qaumi Mahaz (PQM), and Pashtun Ulasi Jirga (PUJ), are presently under considerations by the two sides, who are likely to announce formation of the grand alliance next month.
The five-member committee appointed by each side to review the pros and cons of the grand alliance, will give the go-ahead signal after discussing some common points, basic slogans and charter of demands.
The leadership of the alliance is focusing on a united province for Pashtuns living in Pakistan; a proper name for the Pashtun province; greater provincial autonomy; right to control resources of the province; combating the rising trend of terrorism on the Pashtun soil and stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan, reports a leading Pakistani English daily Dawn.
According to the report, the five-member ANP committee is headed by Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. Its other members are: Muhammad Afzal Khan and Abdul Latif Afridi from the NWFP and Dr. Inayatullah and Kudaidad Khan from Balochistan.
The PMAP committee is headed by Abdur Rahim Mandokhel. Other members of the committee are: Senator Nawab Ayaz Jogazai and Akram Shah from Balochistan and Dr. Said Alam Mahsud and Mukhtar Khan Yousufzai from the NWFP.
The first meeting of the two committees is scheduled in Islamabad on July 25.
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