KHOST, Afghanistan (AFP) - Foreign forces in Afghanistan said they had killed around 80 insurgents in the past 24 hours, most of them in a strike on rebels preparing an attack near the Pakistan border.
A group of 45 men and several smaller ones of eight to 10 were spotted just inside the border later Friday preparing to attack a base in the Paktika province, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.
"They were clearly armed and they were clearly hostile and that is why they were engaged," ISAF spokesman Major John Thomas said.
ISAF forces conducted reconnaissance to confirm their suspicions and the insurgents fired on a US-led coalition aircraft, Thomas said.
Coalition forces then unleashed combined air and artillery strikes as the insurgents tried to escape across the border, he said. The operation was coordinated with Pakistan because the area is close to the border.
An ISAF spokesman for the east of the country, Major Donald Korpi, said "up to 60 Taliban were killed."
Thomas did not have a figure for the dead but did not dispute this toll, saying such numbers were arrived at through various battle damage assessments.
Commanders in the area said it was the largest formation of militants there since January, Thomas added.
On January 11 air and ground strikes on insurgents spotted infiltrating into Afghanistan from Pakistan killed up to 150 of them, ISAF said at the time.
The Taliban's leadership is believed to have fled into Pakistan when the coalition drove them from power in 2001.
The extremist movement and its Al-Qaeda allies are said to have training grounds just across the porous border.
The coalition reported separately that its soldiers working with Afghan troops had killed nearly 20 "enemy fighters" in a seven-hour battle late Friday in the southern province of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement.
The attackers had initiated the battle by opening fire with machine guns, it said in a statement.
Several more fighters were killed in the adjoining province of Uruzgan when a battle erupted after troops were shot at with multiple rockets.
The coalition also announced it had detained 20 militants early Saturday in an operation against Al-Qaeda militants in Ghazni province.
At one compound fighters had fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at the soldiers, who returned fire and killed the assailants, a statement said.
The Taliban's insurgency has steadily intensified since it was launched, despite the efforts of thousands of foreign troops helping the Afghan security forces.
The interior ministry announced that Afghan and foreign security forces had killed more than 1,500 insurgents in about 80 operations across Afghanistan since March.
About 530 more, including 23 would-be suicide bombers, were captured, it said in a statement.
But insurgent attacks have also increased, with regular suicide and roadside bombings claimed by the militants that have killed scores of civilians.
In a new incident, a district governor said six Afghan civilians driving trucks supplying goods to foreign military bases were killed Friday by Taliban in the southern province of Helmand.
Insurgency-linked violence killed more than 4,400 Afghans last year, the bulk of them rebels but including about 1,000 civilians, according to Human Rights Watch.
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NATO: 60 insurgents killed near Pakistan
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
FORWARD OPERATING BASE THUNDER, Afghanistan - NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces killed 60 insurgents near the border with Pakistan, in what was described as the largest insurgent formation crossing the region in six months, the military said Saturday.
Pakistan's army said a rocket fired during the battle hit a house on its side of the border, killing nine civilians. It denied any insurgents had crossed the frontier.
Extra troops have been deployed on both sides of the mountainous frontier in an attempt to prevent militants who find sanctuary in Pakistan's wild tribal regions from mounting crossborder raids and sustaining the five-year-old war.
NATO said militants attacked Afghan and alliance troops late Friday in the Bermel district of Paktika province. NATO and U.S.-led forces returned fire, killing about 60 fighters, an alliance statement said.
"These individuals clearly had weapons and used them against our aircraft as well as shooting rockets against our positions ... This required their removal from the battle-space," Col. Martin P. Schweitzer, a U.S. commander, said in a statement.
Schweitzer said some munitions fired in the clash might have landed over the border in Pakistan, but insisted his forces only targeted "bad guys."
Pakistan Army spokesman Gen. Waheed Arshad said one of several rockets which landed in Pakistan hit a house in Mangrotai area, killing nine civilians — five men, three women and one child.
Arshad said there also were reports of civilians killed on the Afghan side. Several civilians, including women and children, had straggled into Pakistan to seek medical attention, he said.
"They are not militants. They are not armed, they are civilians who were wounded," Arshad said.
An intensification of the fighting has translated into mounting civilian casualties that threaten to undermine the Western-backed effort to stabilize Afghanistan and prevent a Taliban comeback.
Police said Friday that a NATO air strike in the southern province of Helmand had killed 25 civilians as well as 20 militants who were firing on NATO and Afghan troops from a walled compound. NATO said the insurgents caused the innocent victims by hiding among them and defended the rights of its troops to defend themselves.
On Saturday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused NATO and U.S.-led forces of mounting "careless operations" that killed more than 90 civilians in the last 10 days.
Such operations "will have no benefit for Afghanistan," Karzai said, and urged foreign troops to improve coordination with Afghan forces in order to prevent civilian deaths.
In its Saturday statement, NATO said the insurgents that fought in Bermel were the largest formation observed in the area since January, when U.S. forces said they had killed around 130 of 180 insurgents crossing from Pakistan.
Schweitzer said that the number of insurgents reported moving over the Afghan-Pakistan border had also increased in recent months. However, he cautioned that the rise may be down to more troops observing activity and better cooperation with Pakistan.
Across eastern Afghanistan, where the U.S. leads NATO operations, militant attacks rose 250 percent in May compared with the same month a year previous, according to U.S. military information.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Schweitzer, who commands 6,000 troops in eastern Afghanistan, said tribal customs and open border access contribute to the freedom of movement for insurgents.
"The ability to move back and forth through that tribal network is pretty significant," he said. "Folks who've got a nefarious end state can manipulate that."
He said he was "absolutely convinced" that insurgents are trying to create friction between U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan along the border, though he didn't elaborate on how they were trying to do that.
"The enemy would love .... to get us fighting each other, but I am telling you we are becoming more and more one muscle everyday," he said.
Karzai has in the past accused Pakistani intelligence of aiding the Taliban in order to destabilize his government, which some in Pakistan view as too pro-India.
However, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf insists his country is a victim of instability spreading from Afghanistan and that the deployment of 90,000 Pakistani troops on his side of the border has not been matched by Kabul.
U.S. officials have tried to calm tempers among its two key allies, and commanders from all three sides hold regular meetings to exchange intelligence.
The eastern region has also seen a surge in suicide bombings, raising concern that the resistance is beginning to resemble that in Iraq.
Suicide attacks in the region increased 230 percent in the first half of 2007 compared with the same period in 2006, U.S. spokesman Maj. Chris Belcher said.
However, Schweitzer said the increase shows that the Taliban are less able to mount large-scale attacks.
"That to me is not the barometer that it's getting bad," he said. "What would be the barometer to me that it's getting bad is if they do large scale attacks everywhere and they're being effective."
In other fighting reported Saturday by the U.S.-led coalition:
_Afghan and coalition soldiers killed nearly 20 militants during a seven-hour gunbattle in Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar province.
_Coalition troops detained about 20 suspected al-Qaida fighters after a clash at a compound in Ghazni province.
_Afghan and coalition forces killed several militants who fired rockets at their base in Shaheed Hasas district of Uruzgan province.
Associated Press writers Fisnik Abrashi in Kabul and Stephen Graham in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.
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NATO chief vows to probe deadly Afghan air strike
Sat Jun 23, 1:47 AM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called for an investigation into the killing of 25 civilians in a NATO air strike in Afghanistan's Helmand province, saying it was "a mistake."
And in the wake of the deaths, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he would seek consensus with opposition foes on whether Canada should continue its mission beyond 2009.
"It's always a mistake (when civilians are killed)," the NATO chief told reporters during a visit to Quebec City, where the next wave of Canadian soldiers are preparing to depart for Afghanistan.
"Each innocent civilian victim is one too many," he said. "Unfortunately it happens."
"It's important to avoid these mistakes because we must keep the support of the large majority of the Afghan population," he said, calling for "a serious investigation" of the incident by NATO and local authorities.
Earlier, a NATO air strike in southern Afghanistan killed 25 civilians, local police chief Colonel Mohammed Hassan told AFP.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed its troops called in air support after being attacked in Helmand province, and said it was investigating reports of a "small number" of civilian casualties.
Hassan said the bombing came after Taliban fighters attacked an ISAF convoy from among houses and gardens in a village.
The dead included nine women and three children aged from six months to two years old, he said. The rest were men.
About 20 Taliban were also reported killed in the strike after midnight, Hassan said.
Amid the outcry over the killings and mounting calls for a retreat from the opposition, Harper promised to seek a "meeting of minds" over the next steps for Canada's involvement in Afghanistan.
"Well, I think this government has been clear ... we're committed to this military mission," Harper said.
"This mission will end in February 2009. Should Canada be involved militarily after that date? For my personal perspective, I would want to see some degree of consensus around that," he said.
"I don't want to send people in to a mission in the opposition at home is going to undercut the dangerous work they're doing in the field."
But Canada's three opposition parties seem hardly inclined to support a longer mission for the country's 2,500 soldiers in southern Afghanistan.
"If (Harper) were responsible, he would tell our allies and the Afghan government the Canadian combat mission in Kandahar will end in February 2009, and prepare on that basis," said Liberal opposition leader Stephen Dion.
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3 police officers killed in Afghanistan
By AMIR SHAH Associated Press Fri Jun 22, 3:26 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Suspected Taliban militants attacked a police patrol in eastern Afghanistan, killing three officers and wounding another, while U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops killed several militants in the south, an official said Friday.
The assailants fired two rocket-propelled grenades in Nangarhar province's Chaparhar district late Thursday, hitting and destroying one police vehicle, said the provincial governor's spokesman, Noor Agha Zuwak.
Three policemen were killed and another was wounded, Agha said.
In the south on Thursday, U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops clashed and killed "several enemy fighters," during three separate battles in Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar province, a coalition statement said.
The attack and clashes came hours after a NATO patrol vehicle struck a mine in the Andar district of eastern Ghazni province, triggering a blast that killed one NATO soldier — the 90th foreign military fatality in a year of escalating violence.
The nationality or nationalities of the NATO troops involved in the incident was not released. Most NATO soldiers in the area are American.
The mine blast occurred during an operation to build schools and clinics, and to improve ties with tribal elders in Ghazni — the first time such an effort has been led by the U.S.-trained Afghan army.
Troops from the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division were supporting the 20-day operation.
With fighting intensifying, especially in Afghan's south and east, Taliban and other militants are locked in daily battles with foreign and Afghan troops trying to support President Hamid Karzai's embattled government.
In all, more than 2,400 people — most of them militants — have died in fighting this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Western military and Afghan officials.
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Afghanistan through its own media
By the Afghan team BBC Monitoring Friday, 22 June 2007, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Afghanistan has a lively media scene, with hundreds of publications and radio and TV stations.
Newspapers tend to speak to the political elite, believing that it is the sector of society that can bring about change. The press tackles issues openly, including sensitive themes such as corruption and nepotism.
But some matters are not dealt with by state-owned media. Government-run TV, for example, shies away from openly criticising the regional powerhouses of Pakistan and Iran.
This is not to say that the private media are fully independent. Aina (Mirror) TV is known to support the northern-based warlord Abdorrashid Dostum.
The most popular TV station remains the privately-owned Tolo (Dawn). Its investigative journalism and entertainment programmes are favoured by the younger generation and resented by the conservative sectors of society.
Domestic politics: Karzai's woes
Several fronts have opened against President Hamed Karzai simultaneously and factions have emerged within his government.
The United National Front - an unlikely alliance of former mojahedin and communists set up last autumn - says it wants to work with Mr Karzai, but its proclaimed aim is to switch to a parliamentary system and elected provincial governors.
Mr Karzai's own advisor, former Defence Minister Marshal Fahim, who is in the Front, has said the president is "weak" and has set up "a unilateral government", instead of one representing all ethnic groups.
And in May, Mr Karzai was forced to defend his foreign minister, Rangin Dadfar-Spanta, through the Supreme Court after a majority of MPs voted to impeach him over alleged poor handling of Iran's deportation of Afghan refugees.
TV stations were cautious in their reporting, while newspapers were outspoken. The independent Daily Afghanistan said the impeachment case "demonstrated parliament's immaturity" and added that the vote had been "rigged".
The pro-government Weesa criticised the foreign minister for revealing what it called "a high-level secret"; that Iran's ulterior motive may have been to gain access to Afghanistan's water supplies.
"If Iran is exerting pressure on our country because of Helmand river water... why did the foreign minister not reveal this before?" the paper asked.
The views presented in the Afghan press may point to factions emerging within the government.
Relations with powerful neighbours
Distrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan stems largely from Kabul's complaints that Islamabad allows Taleban militants based in Pakistan to cross the border and mount attacks inside Afghanistan.
The two countries have long-standing border disputes and their forces clashed several times in May after Pakistan began to fence parts of the border despite strong objections from Afghanistan.
After a one-day visit to Kabul on 5 June, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz pledged his country's willingness to cooperate on security, but reaction in the local media was negative.
"Pakistani actions have forced us once again to doubt the sincerity of the Pakistani premier's comments because experience has shown that Pakistan does the opposite of what it says," wrote the independent daily Rah-e Nejat.
Meanwhile, tension has mounted between Afghanistan and Iran over accusations that Iran is supplying arms to the Taleban, as well as Iran's deportation of Afghan refugees.
Afghan media reported that allegations over Iranian-made arms captured in western Afghanistan had been played down by Mr Karzai and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.
The media are upset at Afghanistan getting caught up in the US-Iran dispute.
"The decision by those countries to use Afghanistan as a platform for their long-standing hostility is unacceptable and unjustifiable," wrote Rah-e Nejat.
The media in Afghanistan are divided over the reasons for the deteriorating security situation.
The state-run daily Hewad blames warlords and the gun culture - the legacy of nearly three decades of turmoil.
But a roundtable discussion on Tolo TV suggested that the government's "weak" response to security incidents had contributed to the rising incidence of suicide attacks in the capital.
Participants in a discussion programme on Aina TV accused "specific circles" within the government of destabilising the situation in the north in an effort to form a powerful central government at the expense of local politicians.
Civilian casualties and the behaviour of foreign troops in Afghanistan have also been mentioned as factors contributing to security problems.
"Uncoordinated and arbitrary operations, especially by US troops... have spurred feelings against foreign troops in the country and convinced the people to help the Taleban," said Rah-e Nejat.
Arman-e Melli highlighted the links between reconstruction and security and said one of the reasons for Nato's "failure" in Afghanistan was the lack of attention given to reconstruction and improving the living conditions of the people.
Etefaq-e Eslam attempted to answer questions raised by ordinary Afghans puzzled by the lack of success in restoring stability, despite the international community's good will.
"Perhaps resorting to military action alone is not the solution to the problem," it said
Corruption at "unprecedented" levels
Both private and state-run publications run features on what is seen as rampant corruption.
Hewad captured the general mood in the media when it said "government and public property has been plundered to a degree unprecedented in the 5,000-year history of this war-hit country."
Arman-e Melli went a stage further, saying most of those accused of corruption "are supported by some senior officials".
"Profession, knowledge, experience, official background and skills are still ignored in most ministries and independent departments."
Sounding a note of pessimism, the independent weekly Mosharekat-e Melli believes the government may have given up the fight.
"Fighting corruption... is no longer the government's plan, and this might be because of the government's failure in tackling them effectively."
Failure of drugs policy
Private and state media approach the drugs issue in the same way: they focus on the failure of the official counter-narcotics strategy, blaming corruption and government inefficiency.
Afghan media are also aware of the way the drugs problem has damaged the country's reputation.
While official media appeal to farmers to stop growing poppy for the sake of Afghanistan's reputation abroad, independent media generally side with poppy farmers, pointing out that the West has failed to tackle the demand for drugs.
And in a recent TV interview, an Afghan professor said that it was probable that foreign forces were themselves involved in the drugs trade.
There is growing interest in other aspects of the drugs problem, including addiction and health issues.
Recently, there have been a growing number of factual reports about the increase in the number of female and teenage drug addicts.
While addiction among these groups of society has been linked to poverty and ignorance, the prominent view is still that addiction is a habit that young male Afghan refugees picked up in exile in Iran and Pakistan.
The government is concerned over mounting criticism in the media on issues such as corruption, the insurgency and the alleged disproportionate distribution of power and aid in the country. This has prompted it to try to rein in the independent media.
In April, the legal adviser of Tolo TV, Mohammad Abdollah, was summoned to the Senate.
"The Senate's Complaints Commission had a meeting with officials of Tolo... and said the station's programmes were against constitutional law and Islamic values," said the official Bakhtar news agency.
"The legal adviser of Tolo TV said the station would make changes to its programmes as part of an understanding with parliament and the Ministry of Culture and Information," the report added.
There are encouraging signs though. It appears that the conservatives and traditionalists have adjusted themselves to the reality of co-existing with independent media.
Following meetings between the National Union of Afghan Journalists and MPs, parliament - largely dominated by former mojahedin - loosened the government's grip by amending the Media Law.
This was cautiously welcomed by media activists. Sayed Fazel Sancharaki, the president of the journalists' union, was quoted as saying that the "new law... is better than the former law and is in the interest of media officials and journalists".
The amended law, now before Mr Karzai for approval, strips the Information and Culture Ministry of some powers that were seen to be aimed at curbing freedom of expression.
Despite this, activists remain concerned over numerous prohibitions, such as those on defamation and insult, that are vague and open to interpretation.
As the independent daily Cheragh noted, freedom of expression was "the only achievement" of the government in the last five years, something that had to be safeguarded.
BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.
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Walking Afghanistan's drugs tightrope
By David Loyn BBC Developing World correspondent Friday, 22 June 2007
The drug economy in Afghanistan is now worth about $3bn a year, larger than the legal economy, and it is having a distorting effect on the attempts by the country to return to normality after a generation of war.
The legal thicket entangling Gen Aminullah Amrkhel, the former head of customs at Kabul airport, is a morality tale that says a lot about the state of the nation.
When he first did a BBC interview in the spring of last year, he was confident about his ability to capture drug smugglers at the airport, not just with random searches, but using intelligence tip-offs.
He said he was turning down huge bribes from drug smugglers, and was on the verge of breaking a major international drugs ring.
He showed us a remarkable videotape of a woman who had been arrested carrying 5kg (11lb) of heroin in bags strapped to her body.
She threatened the lives of customs officers, demanding to be given her mobile phone back. She said that with "one call", she could make them "disappear".
She did turn out to have friends in high places, and despite the protestations of Gen Aminullah, she was released from custody.
Soon afterwards, he was himself charged with several offences, none involving drug smuggling, after investigators arrived at the airport to look through every aspect of his management.
One of the investigators withdrew early on in disgust, claiming in an Afghan TV interview that they had been made to swear an oath that they would find incriminating evidence against Gen Aminullah.
In December, the sacked customs chief fled to London after receiving death threats on his mobile phone.
He returned to a hero's welcome to Afghanistan's airport in April only after receiving assurances from senior politicians that he would be protected.
But when I met him in Kabul earlier this month, he was in hiding, moving often, and again in fear of his life.
"I have lost everything including my job because of an illegal plot by the mafia and smugglers, and that is because of the attorney general," he said.
"He is the protector of the drug smugglers, and he acted on a wrong and false allegation against me by them."
But Afghan Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabet said in a BBC interview: "Don't believe him please, don't believe such nonsense as I was brought under pressure from drug dealers. If I can find a drug dealer like him, I will arrest him... He is lying.
"I am sure the court will convict him... He just tries to get away with his crimes. I am not going to let him go."
'Drugs war lost'
Gen Aminullah's case has attracted significant local support.
The speaker of the upper house of parliament, Sibghatullah Mujadidi, said he had been "working honestly" at the airport, and that he had "no suspicion" about him.
He said that instead it was the attorney general who should be dismissed: "If it was in my authority, I would not leave him one day in his job."
He said he had visited a jail near Jalalabad that was full of people who should not have been there, imprisoned after "personal clashes" with the attorney general.
A delegation of tribal elders chosen from a rally in support of Gen Aminullah outside parliament won an assurance from the speaker of the lower house, Mohammed Yunus Qanooni, that the whole case would be properly investigated.
The elders said they were planning to hold more widespread protests if the charges against Gen Aminullah were not dropped.
But the attorney general claimed they had been paid $50 each to attend the rally by Gen Aminullah. He said it was easy because "there are so many unemployed people in the city".
Gen Aminullah is bitter that the international community, and particularly the British, have not given him more support since he was removed from office.
He said they had now "lost the war on drugs... It is damaging British people in both places. Their soldiers die here, because it pays for ammunition and weapons, and the money for that comes from drugs.
"And in Britain they are dying in another way because people become addicted to drugs. It kills their youth there and their soldiers here."
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US helping build Afghan prison
By DEB RIECHMANN Associated Press / June 22, 2007
WASHINGTON - The United States is helping build a prison in Afghanistan that would take some prisoners now at Guantanamo Bay, but the White House said Friday that it was not meant as an alternative to the detainee facility in Cuba.
The Bush administration wants to close Guantanamo Bay and move its terror suspects to prisons elsewhere, but says no decision about the status of the facility is imminent. White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said the United States has released about 80 of some 375 detainees, and hopes to transfer several dozen Afghans back to Afghanistan in the near future.
"America does not have any intention of being the world's jailer," Perino said, adding that the administration wants other nations to take their prisoners back, and treat them humanely, but not let them back on the battlefield.
She said President Bush has directed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to work with her counterparts around the world to try to repatriate the detainees to their home countries, make sure that they are held safely and treated humanely and that they are not allowed to perpetrate acts of terrorism.
The Guantanamo Bay prison, set up in 2002 to house terror suspects captured in military operations, mostly in Afghanistan, has been a flash point for criticism of the Bush administration at home and abroad.
Human rights advocates and foreign leaders have repeatedly called for the shutdown of Guantanamo, and the prison is regarded by many as proof of U.S. double standards on fundamental freedoms in the war on terrorism.
Some of the detainees come from countries that are U.S. allies, including Britain, Saudi Arabia and Australia. Each of those governments raised complaints about the conditions or duration of detentions, or about the possibility that detainees might face death sentences.
Senior administration officials said Thursday that a consensus is building for a plan to shut the detention center and transfer detainees to one of more Defense Department facilities, including the maximum-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Perino would not comment on whether detainees were headed to Kansas.
Bush's national security and legal advisers had been scheduled to discuss the move at a meeting Friday, the officials said, but after The Associated Press reported it, the White House said the meeting would not take place that day and no decision on Guantanamo Bay's status is imminent.
Three senior administration officials spoke about the discussions on condition of anonymity because they were internal deliberations.
Perino said the meeting was canceled "very late" on Thursday because it was determined that a "meeting wasn't necessary at this time."
"There was going to be a meeting in which Guantanamo detainee issues were discussed today, but that has been taken off the schedule," Perino said Friday. "That doesn't mean that people don't continue to work on what the president has asked them to do, which is work towards getting that facility closed."
Expected to consult soon, according to the officials, were Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace.
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Afghan insurgent commander lands in Guantanamo
Fri Jun 22, 5:02 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - A captured Afghan insurgent commander has been transferred to the US military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, just as a storm of speculation erupted over the facility's potential closure.
A Pentagon spokesman said Friday that Haroon al-Afghani, a commander in Hizb-i Islami Gulbulddin (HiG), was transferred to the "war on terror" prison this week from Afghanistan where he had been held at a US military detention center.
He is the first Afghan among a total of 16 detainees who have been transferred to Guantanamo since September when President George W. Bush shifted a group of so-called high value prisoners from secret CIA facilities overseas.
However, the news of Afghani's transfer coincided with media reports that White House officials had been planning a high-level meeting to discuss closing the prison, where hundreds of inmates have languished since early 2002.
A meeting had been planned for Friday between different federal agencies to discuss Guantanamo Bay, where some 375 "war on terror" suspects are still being held most without charge, and without access to outside visitors.
But the meeting was cancelled late Thursday, amid media reports that a decision on closing the center was imminent.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino denied any decision would be made soon, simply saying that Friday's talks had been an ordinary meeting and that "people meet on this issue regularly and frequently."
"I think yesterday's reporting indicates something was imminent. That is not the case," Perino said.
"While the president has said that we want to make sure that we close this facility as quickly as possible, he has not put a deadline on it because there are complex issues," she said.
She stressed that efforts were underway to send prisoners back to their native countries.
"I think we've got 80 out of 375 that are about to leave ... we're trying to ratchet it down," she said, adding she was not "aware" of plans to transfer to other detention facilities on US soil prisoners who could not be extradited.
Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said officials were looking to Afghani to potentially to provide information about ongoing insurgent operations.
"He commanded multiple HiG terrorist cells, conducted IED (improvised explosive device) attacks in Nangarhar province, and is assessed to have regular contact with senior Al-Qaeda and HiG leadership," Whitman said.
Whitman said Afghani was captured in Nangarhar province but would not say when or how long he had been held by the US military in Afghanistan.
It is the first time since September 2003 that a suspected fighter captured in Afghanistan has been directly transferred from the country to Guantanamo.
Hundreds of prisoners captured after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001 were shipped to the prison from Afghanistan during 2002, but the practice was stopped.
The move suggested that the Pentagon again wants to use the island prison to hold "high value" prisoners involved in a new wave of insurgent violence in Afghanistan.
Whitman said Afghani was transferred to the prison because "he may have additional information with respect to ongoing Al-Qaeda operations, and may have information that is useful to us in thwarting future attacks."
"Remember that Guantanamo serves a number of functions. One is it's an intelligence center as well as a detention facility, and it's a place where we have built the structure and capacity to try people for ... war crimes through the military commission process."
Human Rights Watch renewed its call for the facility to close, saying the administration's assertion that time was needed for repatriation and the creation of military commissions in the United States were not "legitimate" reasons for delay.
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Germany fears terror strike because of role in Afghanistan
By Mark Landler New York Times News Service June 23, 2007 via Chicago Tribune
FRANKFURT, Germany -- Germany faces a heightened threat of terrorist attacks because of its military involvement in Afghanistan, security officials here said Friday. The danger, they warned, is comparable to that in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
Three German residents believed to be radical Islamic militants have been arrested in Pakistan in recent days, said the Federal Criminal Police. Officials here suspect them of traveling to the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan to join terrorist training camps.
"This tells us that German interests are in danger of being attacked, for example, by suicide bombers," a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Christian Sachs, said by telephone.
Sachs said the authorities do not have concrete evidence of a terrorist plot being planned in Germany. But the police have tightened security at the borders and are scrutinizing people traveling to and from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
German soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan face the most immediate threat, officials said, citing an attack last weekend on a convoy outside Kabul that included vehicles from the German Embassy. No one was hurt.
Authorities gave few details about the German residents arrested in Pakistan, saying two had been under surveillance while at home and were viewed as potentially dangerous.
The authorities said they feared that the detained residents might have planned to return to Germany to carry out attacks. "We are following up all leads, and therefore I don't think there is any reason to panic," the deputy interior minister, August Hanning, said in Berlin. "But I do think that increased vigilance is needed."
Hanning likened the atmosphere to that in the summer before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in the United States, "when obscure threats surfaced, which, as we know, became reality."
Several of the hijackers in that attack hatched their plot while posing as students in Hamburg.
The latest warning, which was amplified in public statements by the interior minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, and by the head of the Federal Criminal Police, Joerg Ziercke, is likely to fan the country's debate about its military operations, which now range from Africa to Central Asia.
Germany has 3,000 troops in Afghanistan, part of the NATO force that has battled a growing Taliban insurgency.
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Afghanistan: Kabul Investigates Reported Militant Movement From Iran
By Ron Synovitz Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
June 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- An Afghan border guard commander has told Western and Afghan journalists that armed militants have been seen crossing from Iran into Afghanistan. But when questioned by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan shortly after his comments were published, the commander said he couldn't confirm the intelligence reports until an investigation is completed.
Afghan officials have confirmed they are investigating intelligence reports about gunmen in two pickup trucks crossing into Afghanistan's western Farah Province from Iranian territory on June 18.
Increased Military Activity
Colonel Rahmatullah Safi, an Afghan border guard commander for three provinces that border Iran, told the German news agency dpa on June 19 that about 20 armed men had crossed the border from Iran.
DPA quoted Safi as saying that intelligence reports indicated the gunmen were heading to a part of Farah Province that has seen escalating militant activity in recent months.
Safi made similar comments in an interview that was broadcast by Afghanistan's Ariana TV.
But when questioned by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan shortly after the German news agency published his remarks, Safi said he could not comment while an investigation is under way.
"We had some reports that two vehicles entered our country from the border areas," he said. "There were only some reports. We have not seen them personally. We have ordered our forces to control such movements. However, we did not find any other incidents."
Safi also has told Western and Afghan journalists that remnants of Iranian ammunition were discovered on the ground in Herat Province after fierce clashes last weekend between Taliban and Afghan police. He said five antitank mines with Iranian markings were also seized at the border two weeks ago.
But Safi told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that there is no evidence proving the weaponry has been sent by the Iranian government.
"So far we don't have any evidence which would satisfy our government and the international community that our neighboring countries have been undermining our country’s [laws]," he said. "We would need evidence to prove it. We have ordered our military units to check the reports. We will see what results we are getting after the investigation and assessments in the area."
Earlier this month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai rejected allegations that the Iranian government may be sending weapons to Taliban fighters in an attempt to destabilize his country.
"We don't have any such evidence so far of the involvement of the Iranian government in supplying the Taliban," he said. "We have a very good relationship with the Iranian government. Iran and Afghanistan have never been as friendly as they are today."
But U.S. officials have accused Tehran of shipping advanced weaponry to militants who are trying to bring down Karzai's government.
Earlier this month, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Washington has "irrefutable evidence" that Iran's Revolutionary Guard is arming Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
'Difficult To Believe'
But later, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Washington has suspicions but no hard evidence of a direct link between the Iranian government and weapons used in Afghanistan by the Taliban.
"I haven't seen any intelligence specifically to this effect, but I would say, given the quantities we are seeing, it is difficult to believe that it is associated with smuggling or the drug business or that it is taking place without the knowledge of the Iranian government," Gates said.
Tehran on June 21 categorically denied that it was sending any aid or weapons to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
Iran's state news agency, IRNA, quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari as saying that the allegations are "so unfounded and irrational that independent officials" in both the United States and the United Kingdom has assessed the claims as "unsubstantiated and unreal."
Karzai Under Attack
Jean MacKenzie, the Afghanistan country director of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, says Karzai and his administration may be downplaying the issue in order to maintain good diplomatic relations with Tehran.
"Hamid Karzai is in a very difficult situation...at present," MacKenzie said. "He is under attack from all sides within Afghanistan -- people in the government who are not supporting him, a new political front dedicated to undermining Karzai's position and overthrowing him if possible, and then, of course, he has got the Taliban always making problems. Karzai needs all the friends he can get in the international sphere. His relationship with Pakistan is quite troubled. So I think he does not want to make any more enemies on his border and he is trying to keep the relationship with Tehran on as even a keel as possible."
MacKenzie says she is unsure if Karzai or his administration would publicly announce any "irrefutable evidence" that proves the involvement of Iran's government in weapons shipments to Taliban fighters.
"We have got reporters who are trying to run down the weapons link," she said. "There are many reports, much more than anecdotal evidence, that weapons are coming into Afghanistan from Iran. Specifically, into Herat and the other western provinces -- but mostly into Herat. It is very difficult to get people to go on the record on such a topic as weapons shipments, particularly when it involves a foreign government."
(Contributors to this report include RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Rashteem Qadiri in Herat and RFE/RL correspondent Farangis Najibullah in Prague.)
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NATO chief urges Canada to extend Afghanistan mission
by Guillaume Lavallee Fri Jun 22, 1:30 AM ET
MONTREAL (AFP) - Visiting NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer urged Canada to prolong its mission in Afghanistan beyond February 2009, as Canadians mourn the deaths of three more soldiers this week.
"If you ask me: will the NATO mission continue? My answer is categorically 'yes,'" he told reporters at the International Economic Forum of the Americas in Montreal.
"I would of course hope, as the secretary general of NATO ... that (February 2009) is not the end of (Canada's military mission), and that is my message to Canadians," he said, adding that it will take more time to rebuild and develop democratic institutions in the war-torn country.
In the afternoon, de Hoop Scheffer met privately with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa, as well as Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and Defense Minister Gordon O'Connor.
Canada has deployed 2,500 troops in southern Afghanistan, fighting Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents.
Unless Canada's minority parliament votes to extend the mission beyond its current commitment, the troops now fighting as part of the 40,000-strong International Security Assistance Force are expected to return home in 2009.
Harper's minority Conservative government has refused to say if it is considering an extension, but managed to scuttle an opposition motion in the House of Commons in April demanding a fixed withdrawal date of February 2009.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's request to extend the mission comes one day after three Canadian soldiers died in a roadside blast in the volatile southern Kandahar region of Afghanistan.
Ninety-one foreign soldiers have now died in Afghanistan this year, most of them in combat and about half of them from the United States which has the most soldiers in the international operation in Afghanistan.
Wednesday's attack brought Canada's death toll in Afghanistan since 2002 to 60. A senior Canadian diplomat was also killed in an attack.
With Canadian casualties mounting, public support seems to be waning.
In Toronto, municipal leaders voted on Wednesday to keep "support our troops" stickers on emergency vehicles, after a heated debate at city hall about whether the message implied support for the war.
But according to a poll published last week, 67 percent believe Canada should bring its troops home in February 2009.
And in Quebec province, home to the next rotation of Canadian soldiers expected to deploy in July, support for the operation is at less than 30 percent, according to a poll released Thursday by Leger Marketing.
"Quebecers are often ambiguous in surveys, but they were very clear in this case that they're opposed to the mission in Afghanistan," Jean-Marc LÃ©ger, president of Leger Marketing, told the daily Journal de Montreal.
To critics of the mission, de Hoop Scheffer said: "Please realize (that) in a nation like Canada, with such an enormous tradition of peacekeeping ... you are there for a good cause, and I know how dramatic it is if Canadian soldiers pay the high price, but I still say you are there for a good cause, you are there to defend basic universal values."
Still, groups opposed to the "occupation of Afghanistan" vowed to hold a rally in Quebec City on Friday, during a visit by de Hoop Scheffer to this historic provincial capital.
To all members of the NATO alliance, de Hoop Scheffer added: "I hope the alliance remains united (in their resolve to quell unrest and rebuild Afghanistan)."
"For now, I do not believe Canada or the others will decide to leave Afghanistan," he said. "I hope that all 26 NATO countries will find a way to assume their respective responsibilities in Afghanistan."
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Canada sees reduced Afghan involvement after 2009
By Randall Palmer Fri Jun 22, 4:40 PM ET
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada might continue some sort of military involvement in Afghanistan after its current mission in the southern city of Kandahar ends in February 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Friday.
It looked increasingly clear that any major combat role would have to end in 2009, because of lack of support from opposition parties, though political leaders were not ruling out tamer roles in peacekeeping or in development.
Harper has pledged to put any military involvement after February 2009 to a vote in the House of Commons, where the Conservative government has only a minority of seats and must rely on at least some support from opposition parties if it want to continue the mission in Afghanistan.
"I would want to see some degree of consensus around that. I don't want to send people into a mission if the opposition is going to, at home, undercut the dangerous work they're doing in the field," he told a news conference on Friday.
He said the two largest opposition parties -- the Liberal Party and the Bloc Quebecois -- seemed amenable to the military continuing to take some kind of a role in Afghanistan.
"My own sense, listening to ... the Liberal leader, the Bloc leader, is that I don't think they're suggesting -- based on recent comments -- that they would simply abandon Afghanistan in 2009," Harper said.
"So I hope that sometime in the next few months we would be able to get a meeting of the minds on what the appropriate next steps are."
Canada has 2,500 troops in Kandahar, the most volatile part of the country, and has lost 60 soldiers since deploying in 2002.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, a Dutch citizen, urged Canada to extend its mission in order to fight the Taliban forces.
"We are fighting a scourge which is called terrorism, and which we should not allow to prevail, because if they prevail it is not only in Afghanistan and the region, it is in Canada and in the Netherlands as well, because they want to destroy the very fabric of our society," he said in Quebec City.
Liberal leader Stephane Dion repeated that Harper must make it clear to NATO and the allies that Canada's combat role in Kandahar will end in 2009, so replacements can be found.
The troops might be able to train Afghan soldiers after that date, Dion told reporters, and he did not rule out the soldiers acting as peacekeepers in the Afghan capital of Kabul, where they have served before.
"If it's outside the combat zone, it would not be a combat mission," he said when asked about the possibility of peacekeeping in Kabul or elsewhere.
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1,500 Taleban killed in three months: police
(AFP) 23 June 2007 Khaleej Times, United Arab Emirates
KABUL - Security forces killed over 1,500 insurgents across Afghanistan since March and hundreds more were captured including two-dozen would-be suicide bombers, the government said on Saturday.
The interior ministry said in a statement the figures were a ”good achievement”.
It said Afghan soldiers and their foreign counterparts had killed 1,554 insurgents in about 80 anti-Taleban operations across Afghanistan since March.
About 530 militants, including 23 would-be suicide bombers, were captured, it said.
Among them were 34 foreign nationals believed to be from Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terror network, which supports the insurgency. More than 700 rebels were wounded during and scores of weapons seized, it said.
The ministry did not give a figure for its own casualties but more than 200 Afghan policemen have lost their lives, according to figures based on reports.
Several Afghan soldiers have also been killed this year as have more than 90 foreign soldiers, most of them in combat.
Insurgency-linked violence killed more than 4,400 Afghans last year, the bulk of them rebels but including about 1,000 civilians, according to Human Rights Watch.
There is growing concern about the number of civilians dying in military action, with a group of NGOs saying this week its figures showed nearly 250 were killed by Afghan and foreign soldiers already this year.
Insurgent attacks kill the most civilians however.
The Taleban regime was ousted for failing to hand Osama bin Laden to US authorities for the September 11, 2001 attacks on its cities. The group is now waging a guerrilla-style insurgency to unseat its successor government.
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Cat and mouse games in Afghanistan
Friday, 22 June 2007 BBC News
BBC Kabul correspondent Alastair Leithead comes face-to-face with the human cost of the guerrilla war in Afghanistan, embedded with British troops in Garmsir on Operation Bataka.
In the darkness I tried to find somewhere soft to lie down inside the open-air mud compound.
We were with British forces overnight on Operation Bataka in Garmsir, Helmand province, and the compound had for the last few months been in Taleban control.
I found a place and, still sweating in my body armour and with a big pack stuffed with water, rations and broadcast equipment, I settled down to catch some sleep before the men moved on.
The ground was unusually soft and comfortable but there was a strong, very unpleasant yet familiar smell.
It was the smell of a decomposing human body.
The Taleban had fought from here for months - even in the darkness there was evidence of where bombs and artillery shells had struck.
I moved to somewhere a little harder and somehow, despite the tension and anticipation, the heat and the insects, fell into a deep sleep that lasted until first light - and first contact.
Burying their dead is very important to the Taleban, and under fire from such high-tech opponents this would have been the perfect place for an improvised graveyard, as well as a bed for the night.
It was not to be my last encounter on this mission with the human cost of this guerrilla war.
The operation had begun at sunset on Thursday - a day later than planned - with more than 500 British troops and about 200 from the Afghan National Army.
Garmsir town centre is deserted, its shops looted and metal shutters flapping in the wind that also keeps the Afghan flag flying over what has been the frontline against the Taleban in this area for more than six months.
The small British bases at either end had been hammered day and night for months by the insurgents, using the network of irrigation channels and compounds to navigate the ground unseen until their attack.
The operation was designed to change all that - to push through into Taleban ground and to build a large bridge across the canal - to allow British troops to move into the no-man's land with relative ease in armoured vehicles.
Artillery shells barraging Taleban positions marked the beginning of the operation and with darkness we crossed the canal with British forces and gradually moved through to the compound that we would stay in until daylight.
And it was the sound of heavy machine-gun fire that began the day, as the British infantry troops moved forward one compound at a time.
Explosive charges created a route through as those further forward turned every corner expecting to see a Taleban fighter waiting for them.
Other units were responsible for different areas, all attempting to push the Taleban back on different fronts.
Apache attack helicopters hovered menacingly overhead, occasionally firing their distinctive and eerie high-powered canons at targets on the ground.
There was the threat of booby-traps so engineers worked carefully to move through the compounds.
We went through one doorway with the troops and saw the body of a Taleban fighter.
He had been shot a number of times - his and two other weapons were nearby. One frontline soldier said his compatriots had fled without their guns as the British troops moved forward.
The ground force then pulled back as the artillery shells, mortar bombs and helicopter fire continued to rain down on the area - considered by the UK commanders to be free of civilians.
And there was little sign of normal life amid the bombed-out houses and courtyards.
We headed back to the bridge - built in less than six hours by the Royal Engineers while I had been looking for somewhere to sleep.
It seems strange to plan and carry out such operations that gain ground, only to pull back straightaway, but British forces say they do not have the troops to completely secure such vast areas - and they never could have.
It's the tactic of guerrilla war - a game of cat and mouse between British and Taleban forces on the frontline in Helmand province and as I write, back in the main base, the shelling and mortaring continues.
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Taliban losing the will to talk
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / June 22, 2007
KARACHI - Back-channel negotiations between the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Taliban proved so successful in Helmand province in Afghanistan that North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led forces took advantage of the lull in Taliban activities to step up their offensive.
The result, ironically, was a breakdown in the peace initiative and intensified fighting that continues today.
The FCO, the British government department responsible for overseas relations and foreign affairs, began negotiations with the Taliban in Helmand last year and continued through to early this year. The medium was tribal elders and religious clerics, and especially former Taliban commanders who were also tribal leaders.
The talks, which were a part of an official FCO policy to engage and "reconcile" with the Taliban, resulted in peace agreements in many parts of Helmand and Kandahar provinces between the Taliban and the Afghan administration. By this March, a lot of sting had been taken out of the Taliban's much-vaunted spring offensive.
NATO forces, however, used the lull among the Taliban's rank and file to step up operations from March onward. This caught the Taliban by surprise, and they retreated from many of the districts they had occupied.
They resurfaced over the next few months in large numbers in the southwest on the border areas with Iran, in turn taking NATO by surprise.
The FCO is still looking for a broader political deal with the Taliban leadership, but things have changed. The Taliban, having taken up the offensive again, want to keep the momentum going, and few leaders now want to talk of any political power-sharing formula.
A key figure in the interaction between the FCO and the Taliban was Rais Baghrani, a tribal chief in Baghran district, Helmand province. Rais left the Taliban movement several years ago. He engaged top Taliban commanders, including Mullah Dadullah, who was killed fighting coalition forces last month.
The initial motivation of the FCO was to establish a more secure environment for British troops posted in Helmand province and, second, to obtain guarantees and safeguards for reconstruction projects from Taliban attack. Ultimately, the FCO's aim was to establish the rule of law in the province.
The initial motivation for the Taliban was to get some breathing space and ultimately to take over full governance of the province. The focal point of this was to legitimize the Taliban so they could take power, even if it meant sharing it to some extent at first.
So the peace process began to roll. The Taliban were talking and FCO officials were allowed to visit districts in Helmand province. British officials noted that the Taliban were very relaxed; some commanders and men went to Pakistan on vacation and others returned to normal life.
All the same, there were sporadic attacks and NATO believed that the Taliban would never give up on trying to rule Afghanistan. So intensive operations were resumed in March. The Taliban lost many of their top commanders, including Dadullah.
But they have fought back, including in the Kajaki district, where NATO forces are thick on the ground to protect workers involved in the refurbishment of the hydroelectric Kajaki dam on the Helmand River. The dam, which was built in 1953, currently generates as little as 12 megawatts of electricity. It is hoped to increase this to 51MW. According to recent reports, the Taliban have retaken the area.
In this climate, the FCO's desire to re-establish back-channel contact with the Taliban is bound to fail, especially as the Taliban are passing through another transition in which various groups under their field commanders are devising tactics according to their own ideologies.
The Taliban have also received a fillip with the revival of activities in the Pakistani tribal areas of South Waziristan and North Waziristan on the Afghan border. The Taliban command center there has gathered thousands of fresh jihadis. They are mostly of non-Afghan ethnic stock and the flag bearers of an emerging caliphate that is envisaged to spread from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond.
As long as the number of these jihadis remains relatively small, the Taliban can remain flexible and pragmatic, but should global jihadis become a dominant force, the Taliban will become totally rigid and geared for idealist absolutism.
With Iran and Pakistan looking to further their interests, the Afghan quagmire is deepened. At this stage, neither the Taliban nor the coalition forces appear strong enough for a decisive victory.
Thus the Taliban's present push in the southwest will be watched closely. Whether either side will be prepared - or willing - to return to the days of back-channel talks remains an open question.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Antiwar protesters in Quebec City target parade of Afghan-bound troops
June 22, 2007 - 23:17 By: DENE MOORE
QUEBEC (CP) - Antiwar protesters chanting "Canada out of Afghanistan"
evaded police Friday night and marched side-by-side for a time with Quebec soldiers as they paraded through the streets in fatigues.
While a small number of protesters tried to taunt soldiers as they marched in step, the antiwar contingent was far outnumbered by loved ones and supporters of the more than 2,000 members of the Royal 22nd Regiment, who will head to Kandahar this summer.
"We're here to support our troops," said Alexis Miller, who was visiting Quebec City from Kamloops, B.C.
She was not happy with the protesters.
"I don't like it at all. You might not agree with the war but you have to support your troops."
Soldiers from CFB Valcartier, known as the Van Doos, will deploy to Afghanistan en masse for the first time this summer. More than 2,000 Van Doos and a total of 2,500 troops will begin heading to Kandahar in July.
Before they go, the military is trying to win over the public in the province where opposition to Canada's role in the war is highest.
The military parade Friday set the scene for a show down.
"We're protesting against the war," Sophie Schoen, one of the organizers, said from one of two school buses full of protesters headed to Quebec City to protest. "We have every right to be in the streets and show our opposition."
Schoen said politicians and top military brass are the target.
"Our aim is not a confrontation with the soldiers and their families," she said.
At the military base in Valcartier, organizers said they were not concerned about the protest.
"They're pacifists. Nobody's scared of pacifists because they're peaceful people," joked Capt. Mathieu Dufour, spokesman for the base. "We don't expect any problems."
But the stakes in Quebec are no joke.
Small numbers of the province's legendary "Fighting Van Doos" quietly deployed to Kandahar last December.
This time, there is nothing quiet about the deployment of 2,000 plus Van Doos throughout July and August.
Earlier this week, soldiers held a tail-gate party at a Montreal Alouettes game.
On Friday, Premier Jean Charest, Afghan Ambassador Omar Samad and Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor were among those who honoured the soldiers at a ceremony before the parade.
With row upon row of soldiers at attention before him, Charest lauded the soldiers for defending liberty and justice.
"You are the acting arm of Quebec pacifism," Charest said. "You are liberators.
"The hour has come for the recognition of your courage."
Samad stressed that the presence of NATO troops in his country is necessary to help rebuild.
"I ask all Canadians, including those who may have doubts about this mission, to take a look at the alternative," he said. "For millions of women and children and men, there is no alternative."
But as the military has ramped up its offensive to win the hearts and minds of the public, so have antiwar groups.
A few weeks ago, they mailed out 3,000 letters to homes around the military base in Valcartier, Que., a direct appeal to soldiers of the Royal 22nd Regiment to refuse deployment.
On Friday, several hundred protesters took to the streets, chanting and waving banners.
"Blood on our hands," read one banner.
"Support our troops. Bring them home," read another.
A survey released this week suggests 70 per cent of Quebecers were opposed to troops from CFB Valcartier going to Afghanistan.
The mission is the victim of both Quebec's sovereigntist aspirations and uncertainty over the success of the NATO action in Afghanistan.
"We're protesting because 2,500 soldiers (including 2,000-odd Van Doos) will be leaving to participate in an unjust mission," said Schoen.
Let them protest, said the military.
"This is a democracy," said Dufour. "Soldiers have laid down their lives on the front lines for democracy."
Canada currently has 2,500 soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan. Since the war began in 2002, approximately 14,900 troops have been to the region.
Three Canadian soldiers were killed this week in Afghanistan, bringing the military death toll in Afghanistan to 60. A Canadian diplomat was also killed.
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Few venture into Kandahar's streets
By Jason Motlagh THE WASHINGTON TIMES June 21, 2007
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The sight of children playing outside is a good sign, but people of any age are still scarce on the streets of Kandahar.
"The Taliban has lost lots of support by killing innocent civilians, so during the day it's fairly secure and people are out," said Canadian Lt. Des James, before a convoy of four armored vehicles rumbled out of the Canadians' concrete fortress deep within the warrens of this strategic desert city, the second largest in the country.
"Today, there's commercial activity again, fresh fruits in the market," Lt. James said.
In the city center, local produce was on display at vendor stalls, along with flea-bitten shanks of meat and shiny new home appliances from Pakistan and China. But relatively few customers browse the market or walk the streets.
Unlike last year, when the Taliban fought gunbattles against NATO's multinational force across the southern provinces, militants now increasingly rely on roadside bombs and other terrorist tactics to thwart reconstruction efforts around their former capital.
A Canadian convoy was attacked Friday by a suicide bomber here. No troops were injured, but earlier in the week a Canadian soldier was killed when a roadside bomb was detonated near his vehicle about 24 miles north of the city.
Roadside bombs have killed 20 Canadian soldiers, including three yesterday. In all, 60 Canadians have died fighting in Afghanistan.
On this late spring afternoon, haggard children were about the only people moving around. A passing military convoy received the thumbs-up sign from some and a middle finger from others — emblematic of the divided perspectives here.
The 110-degree heat is a factor, too, but some local entrepreneurs say it is mainly fear that stifles commerce in the south's traditional trading hub.
"There are security problems here in Kandahar city," said Mohammad Salim, an Afghani contractor for construction projects. "Each year since [the 2001 fall of the Taliban], business has been good. This year there is no one coming."
"If [NATO] was not here, we could not even work for one hour," he added.
According to a 2006 survey by Altai Consulting, 84 percent of Afghans nationwide said their lives are better now than under the Taliban. In the south, this number plummets to just 40 percent.
Leaders of the Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) later spoke with local leaders at a mosque, where they had funded construction of a water well for devotees to perform ablutions before prayer.
Afghan elders shook hands with team members, touching their hearts in a traditional gesture of gratitude.
But as the team prepared to leave 20 minutes later, Mr. Salim admitted that some Taliban fighters were holed up about four rows back from where they stood — a tricky, if common scenario for security forces who know part-time fighters stash their weapons and blend in when it's convenient.
"It's time to go," said Lt. James. "We've been here longer than I'm comfortable with."
Navigating the city's bullet-strafed roads to visit project sites is a tense affair. Gunners inside the armored vehicles trained their sights on cars, vans and even motorcycles potentially packed with lethal explosives.
NATO officials say terrorist tactics are being used much more frequently this spring, a sign the insurgency has been hurt by an aggressive counteroffensive begun last year that has killed hundreds of fighters and eliminated key Taliban commanders.
"We are now seeing the fruits of Operation Medusa, which has had a tremendous effect on the leadership of the Taliban," said Canadian Lt. Col. Bob Chamberlain, commander of the Kandahar PRT.
Suicide bombings are down compared with last year, Western officials say, considered a sign that the hard-core, or "first-tier" Taliban leaders are finding it harder to attract less-motivated "second-tier" recruits for suicide missions.
Regardless of the tactics used, ordinary Afghans continue to bear the brunt of Taliban violence. A Friday suicide attack in neighboring Uruzgan province killed 13 Afghans, including five children and a Dutch soldier.
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Helmand Residents Cast Doubt on Success of NATO Operation
It is either the best of times or the worst in northern Helmand, depending on who your source is.
NATO says Operation Lastay Kulang - or "Axe Handle" - which its forces launched in early June to clear the Taleban out of the Upper Sangin Valley has been an unqualified success.
"From Sangin to Greshk, the entire area is under government and ISAF control," said Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Mayo, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, ISAF. "The Taleban are weak. They are not able to fight with ISAF and the Afghan government."
There is, however, another version of this story, according to which Operation Lastay Kulang has been a miserable failure, causing death to civilians and destruction of homes and livelihoods without producing any lasting results.
"We took Kajaki district back from the NATO forces and the Afghan government and it is now completely under our control. We also took some parts of Sangin district," said Taleban spokesman Qari Yusuf.
NATO and the Taleban may be about as far as possible away from each other on their view of Operation Lastay Kulang. But residents of the area are not swayed by spin - their daily lives are directly affected by the reality on the ground.
?At ten in the evening on Thursday [June 14], NATO took its soldiers away by helicopter," said Mahmadullah, a resident of Kajaki. "Then the Taleban came back. They took over those areas that NATO and the Afghan government captured two weeks ago, called Kata-Kajaki [lower Kajaki]".
Nazar Mohammad, also from Kajaki, confirmed this version of events. "When I woke up early on Friday morning, I went to the mosque," he told IWPR. "On my way there, I saw a lot of Taleban walking around, and I asked why they were there. All the people said, 'The British have left, and now the Taleban are back.'"
A Taleban district commander, who did not want to be named, was more specific: "The centre of Sangin and Sori-Gaari to the north of the centre, as well as the Tangay area, are under government control. The rest of Sangin, including Sarwan Qala, is the Taleban's."
According to ISAF sources, a small number of British and American "advisors" are accompanying Afghan National Army, ANA, troops and driving northwards in a wedge from Greshk to Kajkai, clearing the area of insurgents. The foreign forces then push on, leaving the national troops to hold the area that has been taken.
But locals say that as soon as the last foreign boots leave the ground, the Taleban, deterred only by NATO's overwhelming air advantage and heavier armour, swarm back.
The area around Sangin and Kajaki is strategically important because it furnishes electricity to Helmand and to a great extent also neighbouring Kandahar. More than two million people depend on the Kajaki dam and hydroelectric power station, which are in need of major reconstruction. The power supply has been highly unstable since January, when Taleban insurgents began cutting electricity lines that run through Sangin.
The Provincial Reconstruction Team, PRT, in Lashkar Gah has been promising for months that work on the power station would soon begin, but the standoff between Taleban and ISAF has prevented any real progress from being made.
HEARTS AND MINDS GONE WRONG
Sangin, located between the provincial capital Lashkar Gah and Kajaki, has been the scene of bitter fighting in the last two months that has left much of the district centre a mass of rubble. In part to reach out to local residents and assure them that their concerns were being heard, ISAF organised a shura, or council, to confer with tribal elders in Sangin on June 7.
As hearts and minds campaigns go, it was certainly unique.
After a tentatively optimistic beginning, during which British forces listened sympathetically to complaints about the lack of water and electricity, the need for reconstruction, and demands for compensation for damages, a bearded American Special Forces officer who identified himself only as "Major Gill", jumped to his feet.
"You do not actually want assistance! You are all Taleban! It is my job to kill Taleban and I will not leave here until all the Taleban are gone," he said, speaking through an interpreter.
As an angry murmur spread through the crowd, Gill continued, "You continue to allow the Taleban into your villages and homes. I have seen them misuse your women and children as human shields.
"The ISAF forces have come to help you, and you ask for power and water. But you don't want schools and hospitals. No one will come to build these things if the Taleban are there and the workers are getting killed."
Major Gill was not best served by his translator, in whose interpretation the words "You allow the Taleban to misuse your women and children" took on a slightly seedier meaning than Gill perhaps intended.
The American also took the somewhat unusual step of unilaterally offering amnesty to Taleban fighters, although forgiveness under the law is normally the prerogative of a country?s elected government.
"The Taleban should come and lay down their arms and we will guarantee that no one will say anything to them," the US officer told the white-bearded elders, who by now were standing up and shouting, some making threatening gestures.
"Do you want us to dig up our dead women and children so you can see that they were not Taleban?" said Gul Agha, an elder who had to be physically restrained by his colleagues. "The British do not help us. They just come for a look, and then leave again. They kill civilians, innocent people."
"You came to arrest the Taleban but you can?t do it!" screamed another man.
Gill continued, seemingly unperturbed.
"Millions of dollars are coming into Sangin," he said. "If you don't grow poppy, we will spend the money on you."
The US Congress recently passed a 6.4 billion US dollar assistance package for Afghanistan, the Afghanistan Freedom and Security Support Act. But the bill mandates a cut-off of aid to those provinces and districts that support "terrorists" or continue to grow opium poppy.
Helmand is far and away the leader in Afghanistan's drugs trade; according to a 2006 survey by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. This one province furnishes close to 40 per cent of the world's supply of heroin. Despite stirring rhetoric and billions of dollars spent on the counter-narcotics effort, this year's crop looks certain to be even larger, according to provincial officials.
Given the disappointing results of assistance programmes to date, the anti-poppy speeches may be a bit of a hard sell in the province.
"We will never stop cultivating poppy until the end of your life, Gill," said one shura member who did not want to be named. "This is our land and our livelihood. If we stop planting poppy life will get much harder."
SECURITY A "LIE"
Sangin's district governor, Ezatullah, insisted that the area was getting back to normal.
"We have created a tribal shura and invited people of every tribe, and the people have assured us that they will help us with security," he said. "We will start first with power and water, and then begin to rebuild the bombed-out houses."
But Afghan army officials say privately that there is no real security in Sangin.
"Those foreign [expletive deleted] say there is security ? it?s a lie," fumed one commander. "They don?t risk their asses out here. There are Taleban right in the district centre, but the British and the Americans stay in their holes."
This latest operation against the insurgency has been costly. While exact figures are difficult to come by, most accounts track hundreds of civilian casualties, and dozens of ANA deaths. The British and American forces have also sustained losses, with seven killed in a helicopter crash in early June, and dozens others killed or injured in fighting or terrorist attacks over the past three months.
"The Taleban are all over the place," said Abdul Hakim, a resident of Sangin. "The British will never be able to get rid of them. We now have troops from 35 countries. They could make it 70 countries, and still they wouldn?t succeed."
SANGIN A GHOST TOWN
Locals have had enough of empty promises. Sangin's bazaar is almost entirely flattened, and those walls still standing exhibit black gaping mouths instead of doors.
The town itself is almost deserted, with a few isolated specks of life. The small army of journalists at the shura had to hunt hard to find residents to interview.
Most people were unwilling to talk.
"I saw 18 people killed here in this bazaar," said Noor Mohammad, a young shopkeeper. "Not even a cat can live here now. Anyone who so much as moved was shot so full of holes he looked like a soup strainer."
According to Noor Mohammad, barely three per cent of the shops are now open.
Abdul Razzaq, who had a small shop in the bazaar, looked sadly at the ruins of his enterprise.
"I lost 50,000 rupees worth of goods, and mine was the smallest shop," he said, shaking his head. ?Others lost much more ? millions in damages.
"I don?t think the British have got even with us yet. There will be more bombs," he said.
But some local people seem to be taking the harsh lessons of the past month to heart, and are uniting to deny the Taleban access to their homes and their villages.
In May, an insurgent attack on coalition forces called down a retaliatory strike that all but flattened the village of Sarwan Qala. In response, residents rose up against the Taleban, chasing down and killing a commander and his deputies.
"There was a fight between locals and the Taleban, and Commander Wali Mohammad and his two friends were killed," said Sultan Mahmud, chief of police in Sangin district. "They captured their weapons, and now the people are more powerful than the Taleban."
Some of Sangin?s residents agree.
"Last week the American Major Gill accused us of being Taleban," said one shopkeeper. "But we are against the Taleban. We won?t let the Taleban use our houses and our people.
[In Sangin district people are getting closer to the government, because right now the Taleban are weak. We will help the government kick the Taleban out of Sangin district."
IWPR is implementing a journalism training and reporting project in Helmand. This story is a compilation of reports filed by the trainees.
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Gold up, food prices down in Kabul
KABUL, June 21 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Prices of several food items have come down while gold prices increased in Kabul during the outgoing week.
The jump in gold prices was due to the increasing trend in the international market, said Abdul Basir, a jeweler at Shahr-i-Naw market.
Basir said prices of Iranian gold went up from 800 to 820 afghanis per gram while Arabian gold mounted from 960 to 980 afghanis/gram.
Khan Ali, a retailer in Kart-i-Seh locality of this capital city, said rate of 50kg rice bag dropped from 2,650 to 2,520 afghanis, 50kg sugar bag from 1,230 to 1,200 afghanis and five-kg cooking oil can from 375 to 365 afghanis this week.
Prices of flour (1,350 Afs/100kg), green and black tea (140 Afs/kg) stayed stable.
Rates of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) also stayed stable at 35 afghanis per kilogram of the last week. In the same token, diesel prices also remained unchanged at 32 afghanis per litre.
Exchange rate of one US dollar was 50 afghanis and 1,000 Pakistani rupees 817 afghanis. Last week, exchange rate of one US dollar was 49.90 afghanis and 1,000 Pakistani rupees 818 afghanis.
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Suicide bombers from Pakistan sneaking into London: Report
LONDON, June 21 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A fresh brigade of suicide bombers is sneaking into London to unleash carnage after being trained at camps in Pakistan, reported the Daily Telegraph.
The report claims that a Taliban propaganda film has shown prospective suicide bombers vowing to bring carnage to Britain and other Western countries after "graduating" from a training camp in Pakistan.
According to the report, the Taliban leadership is a prolific producer of DVDs designed to inspire followers as well as sow fear, but the latest footage broadcast by ABC News was genuinely chilling.
It purported to show large teams of foreign nationals, supposedly from Britain, the United States, Canada and Germany, pledging to return home to carry out attacks.
Filmed on June 9 at a camp said to be used by Taliban and al-Qaeda, the ceremony is conducted by a Taliban military commander Mansoor Dadullah, whose brother, Mulla Dadullah, was killed in an operation last month.
Dadullah said: "These Americans, Canadians, British and Germans come here to Afghanistan from faraway places. Why shouldn't we go after them?"
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