KABUL (Reuters) - Six Canadian soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday when their armored vehicle hit a roadside bomb, the Canadian government said, in what was the deadliest attack on NATO forces this month in the country.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, the deadliest since April, when six Canadian soldiers were killed in a similar incident. It brings the total number of foreign troops killed in action in Afghanistan to more than 70 this year.
Afghanistan is going through one of its bloodiest phases of violence since U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban's radical Islamic government in 2001. The Taliban are strongest in southern Afghanistan.
Ottawa said the six men and a local Afghan interpreter died when their armored vehicle hit the device in the Panjwai district about 20 km (13 miles) southwest of the southern city of Kandahar, which is home to Canada's 2,600-strong mission.
"Clearly, they have managed to kill six great young Canadians today, which is an absolute tragedy," Canadian Brigadier-General Tim Grant told a televised news conference in Kandahar.
So far, 66 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat have died since Ottawa sent troops to Afghanistan in late 2002 as part of the U.S.-led war on terror.
The Taliban rely largely on suicide attacks and roadside bomb blasts in their campaign against foreign troops and the government.
The blast occurred on a gravel road as the troops were returning in a convoy of 12 vehicles from a joint operation with the Afghan national army.
"As with every attack we will look at what has happened and will decide at that time if there is something we need to do to increase the protection for our soldiers," said Grant, adding that Canadian troops were comfortable in the Panjwai district.
"We're not perfect and we do miss some (roadside bombs) as was seen today. But the battle against the Taliban and their choice of weapons ... is successful," he said.
Late last month three Canadians died in Panjwai district when their unarmored supply vehicle triggered a roadside bomb in what was supposed to be a secure area.
The latest deaths will only increase doubts among Canadians about the wisdom of the mission, which is due to end in February 2009. Critics say the force is focused too much on fighting and not on rebuilding the country.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged to put any military involvement after February 2009 to a vote in Parliament, where his Conservative government has only a minority of seats.
Stephane Dion, leader of the official opposition Liberals, said Parliament would not back any such move.
"This consensus will never exist ... the prime minister should say to NATO right away that the combat mission will end in February 2009," he told a news conference.
The Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois say the mission should end on time. The minority New Democrats, the third opposition party, want Canada's troops out immediately.
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Hundreds of families displaced by floods, livelihoods lost
PANJSHIR, 4 July 2007 (IRIN) - Almost a week after floods ravaged eight provinces in Afghanistan 26-28 June, aid agencies have started releasing their assessments of casualties and damage incurred.
According to a preliminary report by the UN Children's Agency (UNICEF), flash floods killed 113 people in six provinces, including six victims in Kabul.
"A total of 688 houses have been washed away and 212 others have suffered partial damage," UNICEF said.
Panjshir and Kapisa provinces, in the north of the country, have been the worst affected areas, where floods killed more than 90 people on 28 June, the UN reported.
Afghanistan's National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA) has described the damage caused by the floods and torrential rain as "disastrous".
"Thousands of hectares of farmland have been destroyed; dams and bridges have been damaged; hundreds of fruit trees have been washed away and many farm animals killed," an ANDMA report said.
UN agencies, government bodies, private foundations and several humanitarian organisations have delivered food and non-food relief items to flood-affected communities in Panjshir, Kapisa and Kunar provinces.
"We have [seen] an impressive humanitarian response to the crisis," said Abdul Matin Adrak, the director of ANDMA, on 4 July.
However, people in several other flood-stricken locations have criticised aid bodies for shortcomings and inefficiency.
Some residents of southeastern Paktia Province, displaced by the floods, said they had not received any humanitarian relief for more than a week.
Flooding has displaced hundreds of families whose houses are either completely destroyed or damaged.
A substantial number of displaced families now live in tents distributed by the Afghan Red Crescent Society. Others have sought refuge with relatives.
Sitting with his five children and his wife in a 5x3 metre tent in the Sarkano District of eastern Kunar Province, Shah Bahar cried over the loss of his house and property.
"I lost all the earnings of my life…I will not be able to recover what I have lost in the flood," said the 39-year-old man whose grocery shop had also been washed away.
In another affected province, Panjshir, displaced families live in tents set up near their destroyed or damaged houses.
Deedar Shalizai, the governor of Kunar, told IRIN on 4 July that people affected by the floods would require long-term assistance to ease their hardship and enable them to rebuild their livelihoods.
"Many people will restart their lives from scratch," said Shalizai.
The government of Afghanistan has approved a bill, according to which families will receive 10,000 Afghani (US$100) for each dead person, ANDMA confirmed.
However, flood victims are unlikely to get government aid to rebuild their livelihoods.
"The government may only help rebuild damaged schools, roads and other public properties," the director of ANDMA said.
In Kunar and Panjshir provinces children, who have not gone to school for over a week, play near the tents, now considered their homes.
No outbreaks of waterborne diseases, including diarrhoea, have been reported so far. However, Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health, in collaboration with UNICEF, has decided to distribute water purification tablets and 50,000 Oral Rehydration Salts sachets as a preventive measure.
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German 'kidnapped' in Afghanistan
Wednesday, 4 July 2007 BBC News
A German citizen is believed to have been kidnapped in Afghanistan, the German foreign ministry has said.
The man has been missing since 28 June and Berlin says they have to assume he has been kidnapped, based "on the indications we have", a spokesman said.
He did not give the man's name but said the man did not work for the German government, was not a German aid worker or a journalist.
A number of foreign citizens have been abducted in Afghanistan since 2001.
Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo was released in March this year after five Taleban members were freed in exchange, but his driver, Sayed Agha, was beheaded.
Two French aid workers were also released in April and May this year after being kidnapped in Afghanistan.
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Brown signals no change on Iraq and Afghanistan
by Robin Millard July 4, 2007
LONDON (AFP) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown signalled Wednesday there would be no change of policy on Iraq and Afghanistan and no rush to withdraw troops.
Brown warned it would be wrong to set a timetable for pulling forces out of Iraq, where Britain is waiting for a decision as to when it will hand over control in the southern Iraqi province of Basra.
On Afghanistan, he said he was sorry that British soldiers deployed in the restive country had lost their lives, but warned of the dangers of withdrawal.
"It would be wrong to set a timetable at this stage," he said.
Brown was speaking at the weekly prime minister's questions time, his first such performance in his new role, before deputies in Britain's lower parliamentary chamber, the House of Commons.
"What we have done is reduce the number of troops from 44,000 to 5,500," he said.
"What we have also done is moved from combat to overwatch in three provinces of Iraq. What we await is a decision to move to overwatch in the fourth province of Basra.
"But we have obligations that we have accepted, to both the United Nations and to the Iraqi government, and we are not going to break these obligations at this stage."
Asked if it was time to look again at the purpose of Britain's mission in the restive southern Helmand province of Afghanistan, given the progress made so far on reconstruction and drug eradication, Brown was defiant.
"This house has got to remember that Afghanistan is the front line against the Taliban," he told MPs.
"And if we allow Afghanistan to become a weaker country again, the Taliban will be back in a way that we saw before the events of September 11.
"I've got nothing but praise for our brave troops. I know that there have been casualties and I'm sorry that a number of people have lost their lives only in the last week.
"There is immense international support both within NATO and outside NATO for continuing this fight.
"The way it's going to be fought is on three levels," he explained.
"First of all to improve the security in Afganistan; secondly to make sure that there is political reconciliation; and thirdly, we have got to give people a stake in the future of Afghanistan -- and that is why we are discussing as a matter of urgency economic measures that can help the Afghan people."
Britain has around 5,500 troops in Iraq, where 156 British troops have died since the invasion.
In Afghanistan, Britain has around 7,000 soldiers, rising to 7,700 in the coming months.
Some 63 British troops have died there since the US-led drive to overthrow the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime began in November 2001 in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Brown took over as prime minister from Tony Blair last Wednesday, pledging change and new priorities.
Blair's decade in office was marked by the controversial decision to back the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
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India committed to Afghanistan's reconstruction: Jaiswal
Rome, July 4 (ANI): Union Minister of State for Home, Sriprakash Jaiswal, has said that India is committed to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan.
Speaking at the Rome Conference on Justice and the Rule of Law, Jaiswal said: "Our 750 million dollars partnership embraces a multi-dimensional co-operation programme being undertaken in virtually all parts of Afghanistan."
The assistance is covering almost all sectors including justice, education, health, telecommunications transport and civil aviation, agriculture and irrigation, industry, power generation and transmission, information and broadcasting, as well as human resource development, he said.
Commenting on the assistance India is providing to Afghanistan in the justice sector, he said that India has undertaken important training programmes under the Indian Technical Economic Cooperation programme.
Afghan students have also been sent to law schools in India under our scholarship schemes, Jaiswal added.
He went on to say that India would depute experienced coaches and mentors for capacity development in the justice sector under the Capacity for Afghan Public Service project that is being undertaken jointly with the Afghan Government and United Nation Development Programme (UNDP).
India will also be willing to broaden its engagement in the field of technical police training, including the counter narcotics police, with the focus on strengthening leverages between police and prosecutors, the Minister said.
Jaiswal also said that India would also extend its support to Afghan Government for induction of a greater number of women in the police within the proposed police-judiciary co-operation framework.
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Coalition not gung-ho against Afghan civilians: US general
Wed Jul 4, 1:09 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US military has said coalition forces in Afghanistan are going to "great lengths" to minimize civilian casualties during attacks on Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.
UN and Afghan leaders have warned that rising civilian deaths from botched coalition operations are inflaming popular anger against the US-led presence in Afghanistan.
But Brigadier General Perry Wiggins, deputy director for operations of the US military's Joint Staff, contrasted coalition caution with the methods of the Taliban fundamentalist militia and Al-Qaeda extremists.
"We go to great lengths in order to mitigate civilian casualties," he told a news conference, underlining that US-led forces have often bypassed targets for fear of causing innocent fatalities.
"We use precision weapons systems. The enemy on the other hand fires from very densely populated areas," Wiggins added.
According to figures by the UN mission in Kabul, some 600 civilians have died in Afghanistan since the start of this year -- half of them falling victim to Afghan and international forces.
Village elders said Sunday they had recovered the bodies of 45 civilians, mostly women and children, killed in foreign air strikes as Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered an investigation.
NATO's force, under fire over the number of civilian casualties, said however it believed fewer than a dozen villagers and a "significant number" of Taliban were killed in Friday's bombardment in southern Helmand province.
UN chief Ban Ki-Moon, speaking at a conference on Afghanistan in Rome Tuesday, said that the civilian deaths were seriously undermining global efforts to bring peace to the shattered nation.
"We simply cannot hide from the reality that civilian casualties, no matter how accidental, strengthen our enemies and undermine our efforts," he said.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer meanwhile pledged that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) would do its utmost to prevent civilian deaths in Afghanistan, but underlined but many of the casualties were due to Taliban's use of locals as human shields.
"No NATO soldier and no coalition soldier will ever intentionally kill civilians," he said, while adding of the Taliban: "They burn people, they kill women and children."
Wiggins said his Pentagon office did not compile lists of civilian casualties, but queried whether an "accurate number" was possible given the remoteness of parts of Afghanistan.
He also said that US and ISAF forces had "seized the offensive" against the Taliban, which were thrown out of power in late 2001 but have been resurgent in recent months.
"We have yet to see a summer offensive from the Taliban. I can tell you the attacks are down significantly," the general said, claiming the militia was finding it hard to replace commanders slain on the battlefield.
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Civilian deaths dashing hopes in Afghanistan
by Nasrat Shoiab Tue Jul 3, 10:07 PM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Afghans say they are disappointed, angry and scared as more and more civilians are being killed in foreign-led military operations against Taliban fighters.
Hopes for a brighter future that came with the fall of the hardline Taliban government more than five years ago are being eaten away here as the insurgency rages on and civilian fatalities rise -- up to almost 600 already this year.
About half of the dead have been killed in Taliban attacks, according to the United Nations, but the remainder of the toll -- killed by foreign and Afghan troops meant to protect ordinary people -- has provoked particular concern.
"We were initially thinking that maybe we would have schools for our children, for their future," said Khair Mohammad, a 49-year-old resident of a district in the southern province of Helmand pounded by air strikes last week.
"But now we are afraid for our lives."
Afghan officials say between 45 and 48 civilians were killed in the strike in Girishk district, some of them women and children found dead in trenches alongside Taliban fighters. The NATO force puts the toll at less than a dozen.
"We are thinking of leaving the country once again. We are not thinking any more about schools, health facilities and our children. Now it is a question of survival," he said.
The main city in southern Afghanistan, Kandahar, is also tense, with residents fearful of being blown up in a Taliban suicide attack or brought down by foreign forces -- who themselves are jumpy.
"There is no atmosphere of confidence in Kandahar," said taxi driver Zia-ullah, 22. "The feeling is of uncertainty and fear."
As an example, he cites an incident on Monday in which Afghan officials say foreign troops shot four civilians, one of whom died.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said the men had ignored warnings to keep away from a convoy and only two were wounded.
Kandahar governor Asadullah Khalid said Tuesday the soldiers involved must be called to account.
"We are waiting to see them tried in a court," he told reporters.
An umbrella group of nongovernment organisations in Afghanistan, ACBAR, said last month that 14 civilians have so far been killed this year for being too close to international military personnel or vehicles.
The south has suffered badly but so has the east with mainly US soldiers accused of killing several dozen civilians this year, including 19 in March when they opened fire on locals after a suicide bombing.
"The deprived nation of Afghanistan hoped the Americans would rescue it from poverty, starvation and hardship," said Khyber, a university student from Jalalabad, the main city in the east.
"But the ground realities clearly show they are also killing civilians. So what is the difference between them and the Taliban?"
Angry residents have staged several protests in Jalalabad this year, accusing foreign troops of killing ordinary people whom the soldiers claim are Taliban or Al-Qaeda militants.
"If the situation remains the same for a long time, then it may increase the number of suicide attackers in the country. Relatives of those civilians killed in the air strikes could become suicide attackers to take revenge," Khyber warned.
One mullah in the city said people's hopes for peace and prosperity with the fall of the Taliban in 2001 had been dashed.
"What we observe now is that the situation is heading towards deterioration day by day," said the cleric, named Shahzada.
Nader Nadery from the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission said frustration was growing.
"They see that five Taliban are killed and five civilians and they say, 'They could have found other ways to take hold of these Taliban.'"
The troops face a difficult task, as the Taliban use civilians as human shields and use casualties as propaganda tools to stir up feelings of discontent aimed at the government and its allies.
"Unless there is more coordination, unless this is immediate compensation to families affected and proper investigations, we will not be able to win this war against the Taliban," Nadery said.
ISAF and the US-led coalition say the killing of civilians is always a mistake and regretted.
"We go to great lengths in order to mitigate civilian casualties," Brigadier General Perry Wiggins, deputy director for operations of the US military's Joint Staff told a news conference in Washington on Tuesday.
"We use precision weapons systems. The enemy on the other hand fires from very densely populated areas."
Nonetheless, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said Tuesday: "We simply cannot hide from the reality that civilian casualties, no matter how accidental, strengthen our enemies and undermine our efforts."
For analyst Waheed Mujdah, the actions of the foreign forces have prompted people in the south and east to mobilise against them.
He said the forces appeared not to have heeded emotional demands by President Hamid Karzai to take more care.
"He cried but no one listened to him. No one even apologises for killing civilians," said the one-time anti-Soviet fighter and Taliban-era civil servant.
"Afghanistan is at the edge a severe crisis. We will face an uprising if this continues," he warned.
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Pakistan in crisis over mosque attack
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / July 4, 2007
KARACHI - After months of playing cat and mouse, Pakistani paramilitary forces were on Tuesday let loose against Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad, run by outspoken brothers Maulana Abdul Aziz and Ghazi Abdul Rasheed.
Analysts see the action as the precursor to a major operation in Pakistan against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, whose ideological heartland is the controversial mosque. The brothers also run large
Islamic seminaries - madrassas - for thousands of boys and girls.
The government has been reluctant to take action against the clerics and students as they have widespread support all the way to the volatile tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan. The students have had several run-ins with the authorities over their attempts to impose Taliban-style social values in the capital, but in all cases the government has backed off.
The government of President General Pervez Musharraf is deeply concerned that the brothers have considerable influence within the establishment, not to mention the masses and jihadist circles. Last week, Musharraf claimed that suicide bombers from an al-Qaeda-linked militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, were in the mosque.
Musharraf is under pressure from the United States to take action against the Taliban, who have taken control of large swaths on the border with Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda, whose presence in the country is growing.
Apparently, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the leader of the opposition in Parliament, gave his tacit support for the government to confront the Taliban. The opposition six-party religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), is also said to have agreed with Musharraf during a National Security Council meeting on Monday that extremism should be confronted with "iron hands".
Nevertheless, this is not the pulse of the whole country. MMA president Qazi Hussain Ahmed is strongly behind Lal Masjid and on Wednesday is expected to call for it to be supported.
Clashes at the mosque began after masked security personnel erected fences on all the roads leading to the mosque in the heart of Islamabad. Within half an hour, dozens of student vigilantes, also wearing masks, tried to move the barricades, and clashes ensued.
There have been reports of tear gas being fired, and shots have been heard. The students used stones to pelt the police. Early reports indicated that several people might already have died; certainly there have been injuries.
As soon as the firing started, Aziz announced on the mosque's loudspeakers that the students should put on suicide jackets and be ready to carry out attacks on any security people entering the mosque.
This spooked the security personnel and they retreated, but were instructed to maintain the siege. Appeals were also made on the loudspeakers for the residents of Islamabad to help the students and "mujahideen". Some government buildings in Islamabad are reported to have been attacked.
Contacts in jihadist circles told Asia Times Online that there will be a reaction all over the country, including in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar. They claimed that more than 1,000 jihadis were already on their way to the capital.
The jihadi contacts also said any peace agreements with the government in Bajur agency and the Waziristan tribal areas would be terminated. After a series of disastrous military offensives to try to contain militancy and Taliban activities in the tribal areas, the government made several deals under which it withdrew its troops and made peace deals.
Indeed, it was a fatwa - religious decree - issued by the brothers at Lal Masjid that provoked the fierce reaction against the Pakistani military presence in the tribal areas. The fatwa called on people not to say funeral prayers or bury soldiers in Muslim graveyards if they were killed fighting against the Taliban.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Afghanistan’s media mavericks
By Rachel Morarjee The Financial Times (UK) July 3, 2007
If you know how to avoid the minefields, you can ski in Afghanistan between December and May, says Emmanuel de Dinechin, one of the three founders of Altai Consulting.
The firm’s Kabul headquarters is only three hours from skiing country, so many expatriate staff bring snow-shoes and skis to make the best of their time in the country.
“We don’t take stupid risks in our business operations or with our security but we want our staff to enjoy their time here,” says the 29-year-old Mr de Dinechin, looking out of the window at five Afghan employees seated among the roses in the firm’s garden while conducting telephone interviews for a US-funded health project.
Altai Consulting is a name familiar to most expatriates in Kabul, partly because of the speed with which Mr de Dinechin and his 33-year-old business partners Rodolphe Baudeau and Eric Davin have built the country’s biggest advertising firm and its only private-sector consulting firm. It is also, though, down to the flamboyant style of the French entrepreneurs.
The trio met while backpacking in Tibet. “There were not many travellers in Lhasa in 1999, so it was a case of, ‘You’re French, I’m French, let’s have a beer’,” Mr de Dinechin says.
Mr Baudeau and Mr Davin arrived in Kabul in December 2001 to set up AINA, a media charity geared towards training Afghan journalists. Mr de Dinechin, who always had a fascination with Afghanistan, heard about AINA, then recognised the names of his backpacker friends and joined them in 2002. The trio left the charity in July 2003 and, looking for an opportunity to stay in Afghanistan, spotted a gap in the advertising market. Mr Baudeau had worked in marketing for L’Oréal, while Mr de Dinechin was a consultant with Monitor, a global consulting firm, and Mr Davin worked for Himalaya, a web design agency.
“There were companies coming in looking for communications firms and there were no billboards, there was nothing. The field was wide open,” Mr de Dinechin says. Their first client was Roshan, the country’s biggest phone company.
With a start-up capital of just $60,000, which they used to rent an office and buy computers and printers, they took Altai’s name from a central Asian mountain range and launched the business.
“You couldn’t start anything in France for $60,000. It’s nothing really – although it didn’t feel like nothing at the time,” Mr Baudeau says. Revenues have grown from $3.3m in 2005 to $4.1m in 2006 and the company is predicting growth of 7-10 per cent this year.
The beauty of the advertising business, Mr Baudeau says, is that the firm can grow as it adds clients to its roster without the need to invest heavily in equipment.
The three Frenchmen hired two other expatriates and 10 Afghans to begin working on advertising and communications for Roshan and have now built up staff levels to 25 permanent expatriates and 150 Afghans. They also have a network of Afghan freelance researchers across the country in fields as diverse as medicine and education, which they mobilise for surveys and consulting work.
Security restrictions prevent many international organisations such as embassies and the United Nations from meeting Afghans to conduct research or monitor projects. With a small number of Afghan and expatriate staff, Altai can take a more pragmatic and flexible approach to security.
Since becoming the local partners of JWT, the international advertising agency, in April 2004, the firm also has an international presence which has enabled it to add multinationals such as Nestlé and Western Union to its advertising books.
“People who are on the ground know us, but whether we would have got the big-name clients without the link to JWT is hard to say,” Mr de Dinechin says.
Altai’s consulting business grew in tandem with its advertising work, with the first project for the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) beginning in 2004.
A lack of iodine in landlocked Afghanistan had led to widespread disease and birth defects, so Unicef commissioned Altai to do a survey of private-sector salt factories and scout partners for public-private partnerships to make iodised salt.
“Almost none of the salt in Afghan bazaars had iodine in it, but now almost all of it does,” says Mr Baudeau, adding that the project resulted in the opening of 12 iodised salt factories.
Afghanistan has no other private sector consulting firms; there are two other firms doing communications and advertising, but neither draws on the resources of an international partner such as JWT.
“We can outsource work to their offices in Pakistan when we have too much and we can hire photographers at the top of the business, who have worked for clients like Pepsi and Diesel, to shoot campaigns in Afghanistan,” Mr Baudeau says.
He acknowledges that there are a range of difficulties facing entrepreneurs, from poor infrastructure to growing security concerns, but he still contends that it is an easier operating environment than France for entrepreneurs with a little flexibility and imagination.
“It’s a small paradise for entrepreneurs. There is so much business. Five of our staff have left to start up their own ventures, which is a lot for such a small company,” he says.
Altai’s success was built on a commitment to offer international standards of research and advertising in a country where few other people aimed so high.
“We hear a lot of people saying that you can deliver less because it is only Afghanistan, but we have taken the opposite approach. This country needs top quality strategic research and consulting now. Not in 20 years’ time,” he adds.
The glamour of the business enabled the three Afghan graduates to recruit staff who had Harvard degrees and backgrounds at McKinsey. “We’ve just taken on five people who have better degrees than us,” Mr de Dinechin says.
He concedes that two years ago, very few job applicants worried about the security situation in Afghanistan because the international media focus was on reconstruction and development.
Now, with bloodshed constantly in the headlines, he has to answer more questions when looking for recruits, and the firm no longer sends international staff to do research in the troubled south.
“I spent my 25th birthday in Kandahar but I rarely go any more,” Mr de Dinechin says.
LOST IN THE SHIFTING SANDS OF AFGHANISTAN’S TAX REGIME
Afghanistan’s tax regime is problematic for foreign business people – not so much because rates are high, but because it can be hard for them to know exactly where they stand.
“The debate at the moment focuses on the level of tax but our main concern is that tax rates should be predictable. You do
not want to wake up one morning and find yourself presented with
a huge tax bill,” says Rodolphe Baudeau of Altai Consulting. Along with other incoming investors, Altai had been promised a three-year tax holiday when it was created in 2003. In 2005, though, the three partners found they had to pay back taxes, making it hard to draw up a business plan.
“Investors need to know the level of taxation of the business. The law is clearer now and we hope this improvement will continue,” says Altai partner Emmanuel de Dinechin, adding that back in 2003 they had been shown documents saying they would not have to pay tax when they set up the firm.
Starting a business has also become easier since the launch of the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency in 2004. “When we started you had to go to 20 different government offices but now there is a one-stop shop for incorporating a company,” Mr de Dinechin says.
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Americans celebrate July 4 with Afghan twist
By David Fox Wed Jul 4, 1:16 PM ET
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Thousands of American troops celebrated their 4th of July independence holiday in Afghanistan on Wednesday, far from home but treated to a feast of hotdogs, burgers, corn on the cob and ice cream.
"This is a special day for us and we will be celebrating across the country, wherever we are," army captain Meredith Noll said at Bagram Air Base, the vast and sprawling headquarters of the U.S-led, 50,000-strong international force in Afghanistan.
Since helping to topple the Taliban in 2001 in pursuit of Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks, the U.S. military has turned the Soviet-built base into something resembling a middle American military town -- complete with a mini shopping mall, fast food franchises and even a local radio station.
In a reminder of the violence still gripping the country nearly six years after the war began, six Canadian soldiers died when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle in southern Afghanistan, the deadliest attack on NATO forces in the country this month.
On Wednesday, senior commanders of the U.S. force hosted a 4th of July barbeque for fellow officers from other coalition partners as well as the Afghan National Army.
The Army's 82nd Airborne Division band played music based on the military role in U.S. history, starting with "The Battle Cry of the Republic," the rallying call of union soldiers during the civil war, and ending with "American Soldier," the hit country song by Toby Keith, composed in 2004 after the invasion of Iraq.
It was an unashamedly patriotic occasion, but even the Muslim Afghan guests did not begrudge the Americans their celebration -- although a few looked slightly bemused when an army chaplain led a brief dedication that was decidedly Christian in nature.
"The Americans are here helping us and for that we are grateful," said Abdul Jabbar Taqwa, governor of Parawan. "They are our guests and we must give them respect."
Lt. General David Rodriquez, Afghanistan East Regional Commander, said in an address that the U.S. was proud to be helping Afghanistan emerge from decades of conflict.
"Not surprisingly, we see a reflection of ourselves in Afghanistan's struggle," he said.
U.S. troops have had a far easier time in Afghanistan than they have had in Iraq, although 407 Americans have been killed since 2001.
The U.S. military is heavily involved in reforming the Afghan National Army and its engineers are involved in many major road and bridge projects across the country.
But opposition to the U.S. presence is growing, particularly with the rising civilian death toll from fighting between foreign forces and the Taliban.
Over 300 have died this year alone -- most in airstrikes -- and protests calling for foreign troops to leave have taken place across the country.
For one marine forming part of an honor guard for Wednesday's Bagram festivities, his 4th of July celebration would take place next month when he returns home after a six month tour of duty.
"It's gonna be 10 years (in the Marines) next month and I'm outta here," said Sgt. Jimmy Jackson. "It's gonna be a real big party."
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U.S. Army Confirms 'Friendly Fire' Deaths
Canadian, American Shot in Afghanistan
By Doug Struck Washington Post Foreign Service Wednesday, July 4, 2007; A12
TORONTO, July 3 -- Fifteen months after a Canadian soldier and U.S. soldier were killed in Afghanistan, the U.S. Army has confirmed that both were shot from behind by a U.S. machine gunner in a "friendly fire" incident.
The confirmation, made after a Freedom of Information Act request by the Associated Press, means that six of the 60 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan in the last five years died from accidental fire by their U.S. allies. Two more of the fatalities are under investigation.
The cause of death of Canadian Pvt. Robert Costall, 22, along with Vermont National Guard Sgt. John Thomas Stone, 52, adds to Canadian resentment that began early in the conflict when four Canadian soldiers were killed in a mistaken bomb run by a U.S. fighter jet.
The Canadian Defense Department, which promised to investigate Costall's death, has said nothing publicly, despite requests Tuesday. At the time of the shooting, Canadian news reporters in the field with the forces were ordered out of the area and other soldiers were forbidden to talk about the incident.
According to a censored version of the U.S. Army report released to the AP, Costall was part of a Canadian special operations team working with U.S. forces near the city of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. On the cloudy night of March 29, 2006, they came under attack from the Taliban. The report said a U.S. soldier, whose name was blacked out, opened fire from behind with a heavy machine gun during the attack.
"I immediately realized [the gunner] was shooting at the Canadian position," the report quoted a first sergeant on the scene as saying. The sergeant whistled to the gunner to stop firing. The gunner then turned his weapon around, only to continue firing on another "friendly" position, the American compound, the report said.
The report does not indicate if anyone was disciplined. The U.S. Army's Central Command headquarters in Florida did not respond to a request for information Tuesday.
The report said Costall, the father of a year-old son, was killed by two shots in the back. Three other Canadian soldiers were slightly wounded and returned to duty.
Stone, of Turnbridge, Vt., was a medic known to fellow soldiers as "Doc." He was felled at the American compound. At the time of his death, family members said he had joined the Army in 1971, in part because he was seeking answers to what happened to his brother Dana, a freelance photojournalist who disappeared in Cambodia in 1970. John Stone was on his third tour in Afghanistan.
Costall was the 12th Canadian fatality of the Afghanistan conflict, but he was said at the time to be the first Canadian soldier to die in a gun battle since the Korean War of 1950-53. The other Canadian fatalities in Afghanistan resulted from the accidental jet attack and roadside bombs.
Canada declined to send troops to Iraq, but its forces are stationed in the troubled southern region of Afghanistan. Public opinion polls taken last month indicate that half to two-thirds of Canadians want the troops withdrawn.
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Bin Laden's interpreter presumed captured in Lahore
KABUL, July 3 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Muhammad Rahim, an Afghan national who allegedly worked as interpreter and spokesman for al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden, has reportedly been arrested by Pakistani security officials.
Mullah Abid, introducing himself as a Taliban loyalist, told Pajhwok Afghan News on Tuesday Rahim had earlier gone missing in Punjabs capital Lahore. But he is presumed apprehended by Pakistani law-enforcement personnel.
A resident of Chaparhar district of the eastern Nangarhar province, Rahim had reportedly worked as translator for the multibillionaire Saudi dissident, the most wanted fugitive on the US list.
Speaking from an undisclosed location, Mullah Abid said Rahim - suffering from a stomachache ailment - had gone to Pakistan for treatment.
A former Hezb-i-Islami commander, currently living in Lahore, confirmed that Rahim had disappeared in the eastern city. He too believed Rahim had been captured for links to the al-Qaeda chief.
In the central Logar province, a suicide bomber crashed his explosives-lade van into a Coalition convoy in Dabara locality of Charkh district Sunday afternoon. Provincial security chief Col. Abdul Majeed Latifi said the incident occurred at around 2:30pm.
None of the US-led forces was killed or wounded in the attack that left the bomber dead, the official added.
However, Taliban spokesperson Zabeehullah Mujahid claimed two Coalition vehicles were blown up and all soldiers on board were killed. He revealed a Taliban activist fighter from Logar province, Faridullah, carried out the attack.
Separately, 35 highway policemen including their chief Nek Nazar were rounded up on the charges of robbing passengers of cash and valuables on the Kandahar-Herat Highway.
Helmand Governor Asadullah Wafa said the badits-cum-policemen had postings in Nahar Saraj district of the province. The detainees were under investigation, he continued.
Yousaf Ibrahim, a suspected Saudi insurgent arrested here on Tuesday, was showed to journalists at the police headquarters. Gen. Alishah Paktiawal, head of the investigation department, said the alien was held in the front of the second security district at around 5:00am.
Speaking to reporters, the 35-years-old Arab admitted to sneaking into the war-battered country for jihad. "I came here along with my Afghan brothers for jihad against infidels and mendacious Christians.
Without giving details about his Afghan colleagues who accompanied him to Kabul, the detainee said he had also participated in the war in Iraq and Palestine.
Hailing from Saudi capital Riyadh, the Arab wanted to kill an unnamed official in Kabul, claimed Paktiawal. Ibrahims father was killed in Tora Bora mountains in the eastern Nangarhar province five years back.
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First meeting of Turkey-Pakistan-Afghanistan joint working group to be held in Ankara
ANKARA, July 3 (Xinhua) -- The first meeting of the "Joint Working Group" comprised of officials from Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be held here on July 6 to boost confidence-building between the latter two countries.
Pakistani Foreign Secretary Riaz Muhammad Khan and Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Kabir Farahi will attend the meeting held upon an invitation by Ertugrul Apakan, Undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the semi-official Anatolia news agency reported on Tuesday.
Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul will also separately receive members of the group, Anatolia said.
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, often trading blames for not doing enough to stop a resurgent Taliban, visited Ankara on April 29 to 30 for talks under Turkey's auspices aiming to cool tensions between the two neighbors in the war against terror at the invitation of Sezer.
An "Ankara Declaration" had been released after the meeting which also foresaw the formation of the "joint working group", comprised of high-level representatives from the three countries to monitor developments and ensure coordination of confidence-building measures.
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Flood-affected Salang dwellers block busy highway
SALANG, July 3 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Hundreds of flood-affected people in Salang district of central Parwan province Tuesday blocked a highway linking Kabul with Northern provinces.
Over 800 protestors gathered in Kuklami Valley to protest the non-provision of relief and aid by the government. They claimed recent flash floods had inflicted heavy losses on them in terms of lives lost, properties damages, livestock and crops washed away.
Muhammad Salim, one of the protestors, told Pajhwok Afghan News the flood destroyed a 25-kilometer road, which created numerous transportation problems for residents. With the key road ruined, he argued, they faced hardships taking patients to hospital in time.
Muhammad Basir Salangi, deputy governor of Parwan, reached the spot to calm down the protestors. He said the wet spell had hit the whole province, not the Salang district alone. The affectees would be compensated, he assured.
Salangi promised the Salang district would be allocated $0.5 million of the $3 million sum earmarked for flood-affected people of the province. The fund would also be used for the reconstruction of roads, bridges and other uplift projects, he continued.
Following the assurance held out by the deputy governor, the protestors lifted the road blockade - but not before long snarl-ups were caused.
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Karzai, Ban set to address moot on Afghan justice reforms
ROME, June 3 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A two-day international conference on strengthening the rule of law and justice sector in war-torn Afghanistan opened here Monday afternoon.
After a day of closed-door technical discussions, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and NATO chief Jaap De Hoop Scheffer and Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema are scheduled to address the moot today.
At the beginning of the UN-sponsored conference, attended by more than 25 countries and advocacy groups, the host government pledged 10 million euros to help rebuild the Afghan judiciary.
Also in Rome for participation in the event, US Ambassador to United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad regretted the killing of ordinary Afghans in NATO operations against Taliban insurgents.
"It's unfortunate that civilians are caught in these operations at times. Sometimes it happens; weapons go awry as war is not a perfect science," the ambassador told reporters. However, he insisted the foreign troops tried their best to avoid the collateral damage.
Ahead of flying into Rome, the UN chief told journalists in Geneva the main objective of his last week's surprise trip to Kabul was to have first-hand information and discussions with Afghan leaders before the meet.
Important documents highlighting government priorities in the justice sector, a plan for donors and an outline of the National Justice Programme for Afghanistan will be presented at the conference.
Ban and Karzai will likely discuss how to arrest continuing violence and avoid civilian deaths in Afghanistan. The UN chief said he had urged military commanders to ensure that common citizens were not harmed in their operations.
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$800,000 NZ aid for Afghanistan
5:00AM Thursday July 05, 2007 New Zealand Herald, New Zealand
New Zealand will give $800,000 in aid to Afghanistan, says Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters.
The aid will go towards helping local communities in Afghanistan's Bamyan province build or repair irrigation systems, improve local roads and extend electricity supply to villages.
New Zealand troops have been helping stabilise Bamyan for several years.
"Ongoing conflict, political instability and severe periods of drought have caused extreme poverty in Afghanistan, especially in rural communities in provinces such as Bamyan," Mr Peters said.
Non-government aid organisation Tear Fund, which has been working in Bamyan province for the past 10 years, welcomed the announcement.
New Zealand executive director Stephen Tollestrup said poverty in Bamyan was extreme.
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ANALYSIS-German coalition headed for clash on Afghan mandate
By Louis Charbonneau
BERLIN, July 3 (Reuters) - Germany's governing parties may be headed for a major clash over the German military's mandate in Afghanistan as civilian deaths mount and a resurgent Taliban appears to grow stronger.
Last month German authorities suggested Islamist militants might try to punish Germany for its Afghan presence by carrying out suicide attacks on its soil.
With the deaths of more than 20 German soldiers in Afghanistan since 2001, these factors have made the mission increasingly unpopular in Germany. A recent poll showed that nearly two thirds of Germans want to bring their troops home.
Chancellor Angela Merkel refuses to countenance reducing German participation in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, a move that would hurt ties with Washington. Some lawmakers in her conservative party even want to send more troops.
But some members of her centre-left coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), want a full withdrawal. And many are pushing for Germany to at least slim down its role.
The situation in Afghanistan has grown noticeably worse, and analysts say this could force Merkel to compromise with the SPD and accept a narrowed Afghan mandate in the autumn.
Hajo Funke, a political scientist at the Free University in Berlin, said Germans believed the situation there had deteriorated steadily for three years and saw the United States and its NATO allies as lacking a clear strategy.
"The military strategy seems to be doing no good," he said. "The whole strategy appears trapped. This is the perception in the German public."
Six years after the Taliban were overthrown in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, the fundamentalist Islamic group has regained strength and is engaged in daily clashes with foreign forces in the country.
Ironically it was the government of SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder -- a fierce opponent of the Iraq war -- that decided Germany should join the fight in Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Now many in the SPD want to cut one of Germany's Afghan mandates -- namely the one under Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), the official U.S. name for its military response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
The two mandates, and a further one to conduct reconaissance flights over Afghanistan, will be a focus of debate at a meeting of SPD lawmakers on Wednesday.
Germany's NATO peacekeeping mandate permits the deployment of up to 3,500 troops as part of the alliance's 40,000-troop International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). So far most SPD members are not questioning the need to keep the ISAF mandate.
The separate OEF mandate, however, gives Germany the right to send up to 100 special forces to participate in anti-terrorist operations -- precisely the kinds of operations that German lawmakers fear are killing innocent civilians.
"I think it is likely that we will lose the special forces section in the OEF mandate," said Henning Riecke of the German Council on Foreign Relations. As no German special forces had been deployed for a long time, this mandate was not so crucial.
Riecke said a shift was needed away from the purely military aspect of the mission -- the fight against the Taliban -- in favour of reconstruction, strengthening security, combating the opium trade and the black market.
The SPD is lagging behind Merkel's conservatives and is hoping to boost its performance in polls by returning to its traditional role as Germany's peace party -- a position that is threatened by the rise of the new pacifist Left party.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the SPD's most popular politician, says it may be time to rethink Germany's mandate. "In the autumn we will have to look critically at the question of which part of our Afghanistan mandate we will continue and possibly change," he said.
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Kunduz custom revenue more than doubles
KUNDUZ CITY, July 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Revenue of the customs department in the northern Kunduz province has more than doubled in the second quarter of the current fiscal, compared to the correspondent period last year.
Shamsul Haq, general manager of the customs office in the city, told Pajhwok Afghan News on Monday their revenue had gone up to 38 million afghanis during the last three months of the current year from 14.6 million in corresponding period in 2006.
Most of the income accrued from trade in scrap, fruit and other goods between Pakistan and Tajikistan via the Sher Khan Port, Haq explained.
Scores of trucks - laden with a variety of trade goods and food items -cross the border on a daily basis between Afghanistan and Tajikistan at the bustling Sher Khan Port.
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Shariah enforcement panacea for all ills: Ulema
HERAT CITY, July 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): More than 200 religious scholars and intellectuals have demanded the immediate enforcement of Shariah (Islamic system) to curb immoral activities in Afghanistan.
At a gathering in western Herat province on Monday, they approved a 10-point resolution, asking the government to implement Islamic punishments under the Hadood (defined by Islam and Hadith) to discourage adultery, alcohol consumption and other un-Islamic practices.
The resolution sought death penalty for murder, chopping off a thief's hand, public execution of an adulterer and similar Islamic punishments for other crimes. It hailed the screening of religious programmes and provision of an alternative livelihood to poppy farmers as a breakthrough in the prevailing situation.
Via the resolution, the scholars urged President Hamid Karzai to take concrete measures for implementing the Hadood Islam enjoined on its followers. They also called for public support to the government in restoring peace and security and rooting out corruption.
Reminded that meeting the demand would mean a return to the Taliban era, deputy head of Herat Ulema Council Maulvi Muhammad Kababiani replied enforcing the Islamic system was in the interest of the entire society and had no link to past governments.
Concerned about the obtaining conditions and their negative impact on society, Kababiani stressed religious scholars were responsible for guiding people to virtue and preventing them from vice.
Shariah-based sentences, he insisted, would deter criminals of all descriptions in addition to paving the ground for lasting peace and harmony and preventing a slide into chaos.
Ghulam Nabi Hakak, regional officer of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), said the Constitution envisioned all the Sharia punishments. They would endorse the adoption of such an order if demands of Hadood were duly met in their entirety, he promised.
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India vows $5 million for 38 schools in Afghanistan
KABUL, July 1 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The Indian government will grant over five million dollars to Afghanistan for the construction of 38 schools and other uplift projects.
An agreement to the effect was inked in Kabul on Sunday between the Indias Deputy Ambassador Saneeb Kumar and deputy ministers for economy, rural rehabilitation and development and education.
Seddique Patman, deputy minister for education, said over $4 million would be spent on the construction of 38 schools in Khost, Nangarhar, Kunar, Badakhshan, Nuristan, Nimroz, Paktia and Paktika provinces.
Construction work on the schools would be launched in a month and completed by the end of the year. Together the schools, when functional, will enroll more than 40,000 students.
MRRDs deputy minister Raz Muhammad Raz, said a $0.3 million contract was also signed for digging up 71 wells in Marwar district of Kunar, building a bridge and a constructing supportive walls in Sherzad and Lal districts of Nangarhar.
According the deputy minister for economy, the projects will be implemented under the Border District Development Programme. Nazir Ahmad Shaheedi said the programme, launched last year, was being implemented jointly by MRRD, education, agriculture and irrigation, public health and economic affairs ministries.
He estimated an amount of $76 million was needed for executing the programme and India had promised to provide $20 million. He would not explain where the rest of the money would come from.
The projects would be implemented in backward border districts, said the envoy, who described the objective behind the grant reflected Indias support for Afghanistans development and reconstruction.
According to the finance ministry, India has provided $750 million for Afghanistans reconstruction over the last five years. Of that, more than $500 has already been utilised.
Hours before the agreement was signed in Kabul, unidentified miscreants set ablaze a newly constructed middle school in Yaqubi district of the southeastern Khost province.
Wazir Badshah, Khost police spokesman, told Pajhwok Afghan News all windowpanes of the schools were smashed and its stationery and furniture gutted down Saturday night.
Tribal leaders, who had accepted responsibility for protecting the school, were summoned to district headquarters for inquiry.
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