Suicide bomber kills 4 in Kabul
By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer Wed Mar 28, 8:23 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber trying to blend in with street beggars exploded himself near a top intelligence official in a crowded part of the capital early Wednesday, killing four people, police said.
The bomber apparently targeted the investigations chief of Afghanistan's intelligence service, said deputy police chief Gen. Zulmay Khan.
The explosion went off near Kabul's main market place, and 12 others were wounded, Afghanistan's intelligence service said. No members of the intelligence service were hurt or killed, officials said.
The attack's apparent target, Kamulladeen Khan Echekzai, is a powerful Afghan elder from the southern city of Kandahar, the Taliban's former power base when it ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001.
An intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of agency rules, said authorities believe Echekzai was targeted because he knows details of top Taliban leaders suspected of operating from Pakistan.
The attack in Kabul came one day after a suicide bomber on foot disguised in an army uniform blew himself up outside a police station in Helmand province, killing four police.
Violence in Afghanistan has soared over the last year, and officials expect spring and summer to bring more suicide and roadside attacks.
Back to Top
No evidence of foreign fighters flooding into Afghanistan: ISAF
Xinhua / March 28, 2007
There is no evidence to substantiate the trend of foreign fighters flooding into southern Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan, a spokesman of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said Wednesday.
Over the past few days, Pakistani tribal militias have fought fiercely with foreign fighters in some Pakistani tribal regions which border Afghanistan, cutting the space and room for the foreign militants.
British media recently reported the Taliban was inviting some 10,000 foreign fighters in the regions, most of whom are Uzbeks, to come to southern provinces of Afghanistan.
ISAF spokesman Tom Collins said the invitation is "primarily Taliban propaganda," through which the Taliban intends to show it has more forces and to scare people.
"The Pakistani army is trying to prevent infiltration from Pakistan (into Afghanistan) and doing a pretty effective job," he said.
"We do know there are some foreign fighters in this country, but it is a very small percentage," Collins said, adding the vast majority of the enemies are Taliban extremists and narcotics traffickers.
Back to Top
Pakistan crosses a dangerous boundary
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / March 28, 2007
KARACHI - Even as the administration of President General Pervez Musharraf faces one of its biggest political challenges in seven years, the Pakistan Army has made the potentially explosive decision to intervene in the internecine strife in the volatile South Waziristan tribal area.
Last week, more than 100 people were killed when fighting broke out between al-Qaeda-backed Uzbek militants and the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan.
Although a spokesperson for the Pakistani armed forces and the governor of North West Frontier Province have denied that the government is involved in the conflict, independent sources confirmed to Asia Times Online that special security forces of the Pakistan Army conducted raids in an attempt to arrest Uzbek commander Tahir Yaldeshiv. There are unconfirmed reports that some Pakistani soldiers died in clashes with Uzbek militants.
Further, it has emerged that a faction of the Taliban led by Maulvi Nazir allied with the Pakistani military to take on the foreign militants. This is a controversial move. Last September, Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire with pro-Taliban, Pashtun tribal leaders under which it withdrew thousands of troops from the North Waziristan tribal area and released several hundred Taliban and al-Qaeda militants from jail.
This agreement is now in jeopardy and, more significant, it pits the "coalition" of Nazir's Taliban and the Pakistani military against the leaders of the "Islamic State of Waziristans" . These leaders control the shuras (councils) of the mujahideen in the two Waziristans and support the foreign militants.
Last year, the Taliban declared the establishment of an "Islamic state" in North Waziristan, and they in effect rule in the rugged territory, including parts of South Waziristan.
"Do not become a party to the conflict, otherwise we will sign out from the peace agreement we reached with the government," top Pakistani Taliban commander Haji Omar warned Islamabad. Omar, one of the driving forces behind the Islamic state, was speaking in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp's Pashtu service on the weekend.
Asia Times Online has learned that key leaders of the Islamic state, Sirajuddin Haqqani and Baitullah Mehsud, as well as other leaders are in South Waziristan to talk the Taliban faction out of siding with the army. Delegations of the Taliban from Afghanistan are also in the the two Waziristans to mediate in talks between Uzbek militants and Taliban warlords.
After last week's fighting ended in a temporary ceasefire, a jirga (tribal council) was convened at which Nazir was insistent that all foreigners should be disarmed and their status reduced to "refugees" in a restricted area. The demand was immediately rejected by the foreign militants.
The leaders of the Islamic state will also have nothing to do with such a proposal as they will never ask any mujahid to lay down his arms or ask any Muslim to live in the Islamic state as a "non-entity". They, like the Uzbeks, are also vehemently opposed to the Pakistani military.
For its part, the military will be keen to build on the foothold it has regained by associating with Nazir's Taliban as Islamabad is under constant pressure from the US to do something about foreign fighters in the country.
The situation is fast returning to where it was before the ceasefire last year, with the Pakistan Army, with some local support, lined up against the Pakistani Taliban in the Waziristans.
The army's previous intervention in the tribal areas was unpopular among vast sections in Pakistan, and Musharraf an ill afford further reason for political dissent.
More than 200 opposition supporters have been arrested over the past few days during protests over the recent suspension of the chief justice for alleged misuse of his office.
Critics claim that Iftikhar Chaudhry was removed because Musharraf wants a tame judiciary in general elections this year so that he can legitimize his re-election without being forced to give up his post as head of the army.
The row has set off protests across the country, with political parties and other organizations jumping on to the bandwagon of dissent.
Benazir Bhutto, former premier and now leader of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD), clearly realizes that in the present climate of dissent against Musharraf, the situation in the Waziristans could play into the hands of religious hardliners and militants.
She has instructed the ARD leadership to separate its opposition campaign from that of the six-party religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, during protest rallies. On the ground, this could be difficult to do as the groups have already protested together.
Apart from the political ramifications for Musharraf, the Taliban in Afghanistan, as they gear up for their spring offensive, could benefit. Much of their support comes from within Pakistan. An inflamed situation in the Waziristans over the Pakistan Army and growing political unrest elsewhere will push more supporters their way.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
Back to Top
Pakistani Militants Overwhelm Village Near Volatile Afghan Border
By Benjamin Sand Voice of America 28 March 2007
A large force of well-armed militants has overwhelmed a Pakistani village near the country's volatile border with Afghanistan. The militants killed at least one security official and kidnapped a local school principal. From Islamabad, VOA Correspondent Benjamin Sand reports officials are concerned that local and foreign militants are gaining control over parts of Pakistan's remote tribal areas.
Local residents say as many as 500 militants launched the pre-dawn raid in the town of Tank, in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province.
The attackers launched mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at a local police station and kidnapped a school principal before leaving the town.
Major General Wahid Arshad, a military spokesman, says the overnight battle lasted several hours, and both sides suffered casualties.
"There was fighting between the police and these people," he said. "They attacked the police station, they also burned a couple of banks and the national savings center."
He says the attack was apparently a response to clashes outside a local boy's school earlier this week, which left at least two suspected militants dead.
Arshad and other Pakistani officials say the militants, who are apparently Pakistanis themselves, were trying to recruit children as suicide bombers when the police intervened.
Officials say security forces have regained control of the town, and are actively pursuing the militants in the surrounding countryside.
There is no word on the principal's condition. The Associated Press quotes an unnamed militant as saying the educator is being questioned to see if he alerted police about the militants' recruiting efforts.
The violence is fueling growing concerns Islamist militants have taken the upper hand in the fight to gain control over Pakistan's rugged tribal areas.
Hundreds of Taleban and al-Qaida militants are also believed to be hiding out in the isolated region, which runs along the Afghan border.
Both U.S. and Afghan officials say Taleban insurgents have been massing inside Pakistan, and could be about to launch a major new offensive into Afghanistan.
Pakistan has deployed about 80,000 troops in the area in an effort to contain militant activity there, but the activity shows little sign of abating.
Back to Top
Militants attack Pakistani town
Wednesday, 28 March 2007 BBC News
Hundreds of heavily-armed militants have attacked security forces in north-west Pakistan, officials say.
Up to 25 militants died, police said, along with a soldier and a civilian in the town of Tank near South Waziristan in the troubled Afghan border area.
Security posts and property were said to have been attacked by militants with rockets in a seven-hour onslaught.
Armed men also seized the headmaster of a school, where two people died when police and militants clashed on Monday.
The local authorities in Tank say they have imposed an indefinite curfew to prevent a second night of militant attacks.
Tank's police superintendent, Mumtaz Zarin, told the BBC that 300-400 armed militants had attacked the town overnight.
The army had now been called to reinforce the town's defences against another possible night of attacks, he said.
Military helicopters circled over the town on Wednesday.
Mr Zarin confirmed the death of a paramilitary soldier and a civilian in the fighting.
He said that the militants had taken most of their dead away with them, but that sources had told the police that as many as 25 had been killed.
No independent confirmation of this figure is available.
Witnesses confirmed seeing a body of an unidentified man in the town's bazaar. A guard at a bank was among the wounded.
The militants targeted six banks, along with a paramilitary compound, a college and some government offices, officials said.
A local resident, Mohammad Noor, told the BBC the main bazaar looked like a battleground.
"Smoke was coming out of burning banks and computers and furniture lay scattered on the roads."
He said the security forces were not allowing people into the civilian areas adjacent to the military compound.
Earlier, witnesses said the streets were littered with bodies.
The authorities shut schools on Tuesday fearing a backlash after Monday's violence.
Local militant leader Ehsan Barqi was killed in the clash. Police said he wanted to talk to students at the Oxford Public School about jihad (holy war).
The latest attacks came on the day a delegation of tribal elders was to meet tribal militant leader, Baitullah Mehsud, to seek his support in restoring calm in the city.
Officials say the militants who tried to enter the school on Monday were all members of the "local Taleban", whose authority has been growing in the tribal areas.
The BBC's Haroon Rashid in Peshawar says the violence in Tank comes after a string of attacks on policemen by suspected pro-Taleban militants in the region.
Tank is in North-West Frontier Province, about 100km (75 miles) from the Afghan border.
It is not far from South Waziristan, a troubled tribal region where there have recently been heavy clashes.
Back to Top
AFGHANISTAN: Bird flu cases surge in new areas
KABUL, 28 March 2007 (IRIN) - KABUL, 28 March 2007 (IRIN) - New cases of a deadly strain of bird flu have been confirmed in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, and in the southern province of Kandahar over the past week, according to the Afghan health ministry.
A dead bird found in the garden of the Turkish embassy in Kabul on 20 March was infected with the H5N1 deadly strain of the avian influenza virus, health officials confirmed to IRIN on Wednesday. A quarantine that had been imposed on the embassy compound was lifted after a team of medical workers from the health ministry completed a bird-culling operation there.
"The blood test of an embassy driver who was injured by a bird has shown no sign of avian influenza," the ministry report said.
On 23 March, two more cases of bird flu were confirmed in Kabul, a city with an estimated population of more than 3.5 million people.
Over the past week, bird flu was also detected in the Damaan and Shah Wali Kot districts of Kandahar province in the south of the country.
Officials in Kabul say that insecurity is impeding their efforts to curb the spread of the virus in Shah Wali Kot, where insurgents have repeatedly attacked government employees.
In an effort to mitigate the outbreak of avian influenza in Afghanistan, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 25 March called on Afghans to stop buying and selling live birds.
"To prevent transmission of avian influenza to humans, WHO is recommending that persons residing in Kabul, Nangarhar and Kunar provinces avoid the live bird markets until no disease has been reported for several months, because avian influenza can spread to humans from contaminated dust and feathers of infected birds," WHO said in a statement.
In addition, WHO has requested Afghan bird-lovers to refrain from petting and touching their birds.
But given the important socio-economic role of birds in the life of many ordinary Afghans, both recommendations are difficult, if not unrealistic, for civilians.
"I have been doing this business [selling live birds] for over four years. I have no other means to feed my extended family," said one bird-seller in Kabul.
Officials in Afghanistan's committee against avian influenza said it would be difficult to close live bird markets in the country.
"I think both economically and socially it is impossible to close all bird markets," Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Ministry of Health, told IRIN on Wednesday.
Afghanistan's first bird flu case was reported in March 2006.
More than 20 cases of bird flu have been confirmed in the country since February, many in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar.
The Afghan government has prohibited the importation of live birds and poultry products from neighbouring Pakistan where several cases of avian influenza have also been confirmed.
To date, no human case of bird flu has been confirmed among the estimated 25 million inhabitants of Afghanistan.
Back to Top
Italy: Prodi Wins Afghanistan Vote, But Questions Remain
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
March 28, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The government of Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has narrowly won a Senate vote to continue Rome's military mission in Afghanistan.
But questions remain over the mission's future, as NATO allies criticize Italy's handling of a recent hostage crisis.
Prodi's center-left cabinet needed support from an opposition party and faced criticism from its own communist allies, but in the end the former European Commission president hailed the vote as a major step forward.
"This vote is a turning point -- remember that," Prodi said. "This vote is a turning point. The opposition is divided. The majority is united. That seems to be quite a difference to what was being said previously."
Last month, Prodi was forced to resign after a defeat on foreign policy in parliament. He stayed on at the president's request, and the March 27 vote has given his government -- and Italy's Afghan mission -- a new lease of life.
"Yes, [the Italian mission] is secure until the end of the year," said Giovanni Gasparini, a defense analyst at Rome's Institute of Foreign Affairs. "We have both the money and the political will [to keep it going]."
Under Fire For Hostage Deal
The Senate vote was complicated by controversy over a prisoner swap that Rome engineered last week to secure the release of Daniele Mastrogiacomo, a well-known Italian journalist whom the Taliban had held hostage for 15 days.
The United States, Germany, Britain, and the Netherlands denounced the deal, under which five jailed Taliban -- three of them high-level -- were freed in exchange for Mastrogiacomo. They said it put NATO troops in danger and rewarded kidnappers.
The deal also failed to secure the release of Mastrogiacomo's Afghan interpreter, while his driver was beheaded by the Taliban.
The incident last week sparked antigovernment protests in Helmand Province, where the kidnapping occurred.
"In exchange for Afghans, they have released the foreigner," one demonstrator told RFE/RL's Afghan Service. "What kind of government is this? This is not a government. It is merely a symbolic one."
Ronald Spogli, the U.S. ambassador to Rome, said on March 27 before the Italian Senate vote that the U.S. State Department had urged Italy to maintain its Afghan presence and to lift restrictions on its troops to allow them to engage more freely in combat.
But Amin Tarzi, an Afghan affairs analyst for RFE/RL, says there is an emerging debate over Italy's usefulness to NATO's Afghan mission. He says the debate is over whether Rome's handling of the hostage crisis has done damage to the NATO coalition in the country and the pro-U.S. government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai: "The Italians demonstrated two things," Tarzi said. "One, that they are willing to negotiate with terrorists. And, two, that they are not discussing this matter with NATO; they did it on their own. And also there's a third point, which I think is crucial outside of NATO but in the long run for NATO, and that is that this act is undermining Karzai's legitimacy in establishing his prestige, in my view, in an irreparable way."
Gasparini, however, takes issue with that view.
He points out that Italy's 1,900 troops are engaged in a key stabilization and reconstruction mission in Kabul and in the area around Herat, near Afghanistan's western border with Iran. Moreover, he says Karzai himself signed off on the hostage exchange.
"The Karzai government decided to go through this way, and he [Karazi] could have rejected our positions," Gasparini said. "Yes, [Karzai's] position has been damaging [to him], but it has not been as damaging as the fact that the government does not have control of the [Helmand Province] area as such."
NATO allies raised concern on March 27 that Italy's handling of the hostage crisis could spark similar abductions of NATO troops.
Some officials called for an alliance-wide pact to ban deals with kidnappers.
"There was a clear sense in the room that none of us should agree to negotiate the release of hostages in return for terrorists," U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said after a NATO meeting in Brussels.
Back to Top
Taleban Target Helmand's Capital
Over the past weeks, Lashkar Gah has become increasingly unstable, with bombs and murder almost daily fare. Now, for the first time in Helmand, the Taleban have killed a woman.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By IWPR trainees in Helmand (ARR No. 248, 27-Mar-07)
It has been a bad few days in Helmand’s capital, with a high-profile kidnapping and murder followed by a suicide bomb at police headquarters. Residents say the Taleban are becoming more and more visible in Lashkar Gah, and enjoy support among some segments of the population.
On March 27, a suicide bomber dressed in army uniform attempted to assassinate the chief of police.
“A man dressed as an Afghan National Army soldier came to police headquarters saying he needed to file an application for a passport,” said police chief Nabijan Mullahkhel. “He was targeting me, but the police stopped him at the gate checkpoint. So he blew himself up, killing four police and injuring two more.”
Another police official confirmed the incident, saying that a police commander was among the dead. He added that in addition to police, two civilians were wounded in the explosion.
The blast could be heard throughout the centre of Lashkar Gah, and was followed by rapid gunfire. Local residents say the police were shooting into the air to discourage crowds of onlookers from gathering at the site.
A high-ranking Taleban commander in Helmand took responsibility for the blast, although his estimate of the casualties differed from that given by police.
“We killed a lot of police, and injured many more,” said the commander, who did not want to be named.
The news from Helmand’s capital is getting worse by the day. As the spring offensive kicks into high gear throughout the province, Lashkar Gah itself is becoming a more frequent target of insurgent activity.
On March 26, the head of the women’s prison was kidnapped and murdered, in what her family says is a politically motivated killing.
Zargola, the prison warden, was seized by two men on motorcycles as she left her house in the morning, as she set out to visit her adult daughter, police officials said. A short time later, her body was found in Bollan, a district approximately one kilometre from the capital. She had been shot six times.
Mohammad Wais, chief detective with the provincial crime squad, confirmed the killing. “We found her body,” he said.
The Taleban claimed responsibility for the murder.
“We killed Zargola,” said Qari Muhammad Yousuf, spokesman for the insurgents in Helmand.
Zargola was a mother of three. Her elderly husband was unemployed and relied on her salary.
He eldest son, Amanullah, 27, runs a music shop in Lashkar Gah.
“My mother had been in this job for a long time, although she could neither read nor write,” said Amanullah. “She was killed because she worked for the government.”
While Zargola is the first woman to be kidnapped and killed in Helmand province, she is not the first to be targeted. Fawzia Ulumi, head of the official women’s affairs department in Helmand province, has received numerous death threats, and narrowly escaped assassination several months ago.
“Two gunmen on motorcycles shot at me in my car,” she said. “I survived, but my driver was killed.”
While even the governor, Asadullah Wafa, acknowledges that several of Helmand’s 14 districts are under Taleban control, the provincial capital itself has remained relatively stable until now.
But in recent days, residents have reported seeing armed Taleban patrols on the street at night.
“The police drive right by them and do nothing,” said one reporter in the town.
Residents of Lashkar Gah. especially those who fear they might be targeted, are worried by the growing boldness of the Taleban,
Sher Mohammad, 56, lives a few kilometres from the centre of the city. He hides his identity from his neighbours in the Tor Taang district because he fears retribution from the insurgents.
“I am a government employee,” he said. “But no one knows where I live. I hide because I’m afraid that the Taleban will come for me in the night.”
He has good reason to be worried.
One Taleb, speaking to a reporter, said that his entire job consisted of ferreting out government employees.
“We first leave them letters, warning them to leave the government or else they will be dealt with harshly,” he said. “If they do not obey, then we know what to do with them.”
But despite such tough tactics, the insurgents have their supporters, even in Lashkar Gah.
“Every night we are invited for dinner,” said the Taleb, “And local shopkeepers give us top-up cards for our phones.”
Residents say one motive for engaging with the Taleban is that they fear that the Afghan government is unable to protect them. Support for the Taleban is a way of hedging their bets.
“Security has become much worse compared with recent years,” said Abdul Karim, 42. “The police are unable to provide security. There are killings, robberies, all kinds of atrocities. Two years ago, there were schools open all over the district, reconstruction was proceeding and the situation was getting better.
“But with the arrival of more foreign soldiers, and the increase in numbers of police and army, things just keep getting worse.”
IWPR is implementing a journalism training programme in Helmand province. This story is a compilation of trainee reports.
Back to Top
Afghan police at work in flip-flops and high on opium
by Sylvie Briand Wed Mar 28, 2:29 AM ET
MAIWAND, Afghanistan (AFP) - Colourful ribbons tied to their Kalashnikovs and opium flowers decorating a van, police in flip-flops meet with Canadian soldiers about a new anti-Taliban operation in southern Afghanistan.
The Canadians, part of a NATO-led force, had been on time for the rendezvous with the district police chief at a highway checkpost in Kanadahar province's Maiwand, known as a through route for Taliban and drugs traffickers.
Three scruffy policemen were on duty, lounging on wooden beds and watching the cars pass. "The boss is not here. He is in Kandahar. Didn't you know?" said one, Abdul Wassi, with a smile.
He was wearing a long traditional shirt because his uniform "is being washed."
Wassi put in a call to the deputy of the district, named Gulali.
The "commander" arrived in a whirl a few minutes later at the wheel of a van with opium flowers attached to the bumpers at the front and three teenagers on the back, green, blue and yellow ribbons attached to their guns.
"They have just come back from an operation to pull up opium poppy," Wassi explained.
Canadian officer Alex Ruff, nearly twice the size of Gulali, told the deputy the evening's operation was to disturb Taliban expected to move through the area to flee offensives in neighbouring Helmand province, further west.
"We are going to reinforce this post and I need all your men," he said to Gulali, whose eyes were lowered.
"We do not have enough vehicles," the Afghan replied, still not looking at the Canadian. "Do what you can," was the reply.
There are about 250 policemen in Maiwand, a Taliban stronghold. Among them are "auxiliary policemen" who are recruited by tribal chiefs and receive a gun and a uniform after two weeks' training.
The Canadians do not really expect this small post to do much to stop the Taliban. "Two or three guys in a hut, armed with rifles, could not do much if they were attacked. They could not even stop a vehicle," said one soldier.
Wassi said he searches two or three vehicles a night and about 10 in the day.
"I am not afraid even though the Taliban captured and decapitated four policemen from this post a few months back," he said.
Night fell and Canadian armoured vehicles discreetly took positions around the post, ready to intervene should anything happen.
"There will be no clashes. The Taliban know you are here," one Afghan policeman said.
In the meantime, about 20 policemen had blocked the road for a few hours, "high after smoking opium and searching everything that moves," a Canadian soldier said.
There was no incident apart from some trucks turning back after seeing the roadblock.
Ruff, the Canadian officer, said he does not have much confidence in the police in a district where the governor himself is suspected of being involved in the trafficking of opium, of which Afghanistan is the world's top producer.
"With the army, there is no problem but the police are something else," he said, adding: "Far too many policemen smoke opium."
"It is possible that some police are collaborating with the Taliban. Some of the guys have not been paid for a year."
Back to Top
Afghan drug post created
UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL By Shaun Waterman / March 28, 2007
The Bush administration has created a post to coordinate efforts against drug smuggling and corruption in Afghanistan, and named a State Department official to the job.
The White House named Thomas Schweich to be coordinator for counternarcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan.
The announcement noted that Mr. Schweich, who currently oversees part of that portfolio as the principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement at the State Department, would be granted the personal rank of ambassador in the post.
White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore told United Press International that the ambassador rank was a technical appointment "necessary for him to hold negotiations with foreign countries" in the new post and was not Senate confirmable.
For additional information, she referred a reporter to the State Department, which did not return phone calls or respond to e-mail.
Last month, senior Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, led by the ranking member, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, wrote to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asking for the appointment of "a high-level coordinator of overall Afghan narco-terrorism policy."
The bluntly worded letter said interagency rivalry and U.S. policy failures in Afghanistan risked allowing it to slide back into chaos. A second-consecutive record opium harvest is expected this year.
"The open and public dispute with our British allies on opium-eradication methods, along with the many different and often conflicting views of NATO, our Department of Defense, the Drug Enforcement [Administration], and other U.S. agencies on how best to handle the narcotics challenge does not bode well for success," the letter said.
Disputes have run the gamut of policy issues, from how to deal with local drug kingpins who might be allies of the U.S. or Afghan military to what priority to give to efforts at eradicating the opium poppy or taking down the smuggling networks which distribute the drugs.
The letter said U.S. efforts against narcoterrorism in Afghanistan should be modeled on those in Colombia, which utilizes "all U.S. agencies, assets and assistance."
The appointment of Mr. Schweich, who began his State Department career under his mentor, former Missouri Republican Sen. John C. Danforth, when the latter was ambassador to the United Nations, appeared to be an effort to respond to concerns in Congress and elsewhere.
via Washington Times
Back to Top
NATO troops earn resentment of frustrated Afghans
By David Morgan Tue Mar 27, 2:04 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Foreign troops deployed in Afghanistan are beginning to draw the resentment of Afghans fed up with growing civilian casualties and the lack of material progress in their lives, experts say.
Resentment has posed special problems in the south, where villagers who have suffered from Western military firepower have responded to the Taliban's call to arms against foreign troops and the government of President Hamid Karzai, the experts said.
"There is growing resentment because of the kinds of military operations that have been carried out, not because of the international troop presence," Samina Ahmed, South Asia project director for International Crisis Group think tank, said this week in an interview.
Ahmed, who is based in Pakistan and travels frequently to Afghanistan, cited bombing raids based on faulty intelligence that have killed innocent villagers and shootings of innocent civilians by panicky troops as especially damaging to Afghan support for Western forces.
"What has also led to greater resentment is the fact that Kabul is not delivering," she added, referring to the Afghan government's difficulty in providing services to the people.
The United States provides about 27,000 of the 45,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, some in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and the rest under a separate U.S.-led coalition.
Pentagon and NATO officials cited opinion polls, however, that show a large majority of Afghans favoring foreign troops and only a small fraction of support for the Taliban.
"There is no doubt that the population supports the presence of international troops," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.
Added Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Vician: "Support for the Taliban has not increased. I think the majority see the Taliban for what they are or what they bring to Afghanistan, which is brutality."
But polling data has also shown Afghan support for international troops slipping in 2006 as the populace has grown less optimistic about the country's direction.
Violence in Afghanistan last year was the worst since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001. About one-quarter of the 4,000 people killed in 2006 were civilians.
NATO, U.S. commanders and Afghan leaders have said the Taliban insurgency cannot be defeated unless reconstruction brings the new jobs and economic progress that were widely anticipated after the former Taliban rulers were ousted.
But David Edwards, a U.S. anthropologist regarded as an expert on the origins of the Taliban, said reconstruction has been overshadowed by rampant corruption, meager international donations and poverty in a country where the unemployment rate is about 40 percent.
"It's important to understand that Americans have come to be seen as an occupying power," Edwards, an author who has traveled widely in Afghanistan, said at a Monday forum sponsored by the Pakistani Embassy in Washington.
"It's a way in which the Taliban has come to gain supporters," added Edwards, who said there is evidence that the Taliban pays its members better than Afghanistan's national army pays its soldiers.
The warnings about eroding support came as NATO commanders conducted a spring offensive code-named Operation Achilles against Taliban strongholds in a bid to pre-empt an expected warmer weather seasonal campaign by Islamist militants.
With fighting expected to be heavy again in 2007, Afghans have complained more loudly about the effects of combat as NATO has poured more troops into the effort to thwart the Taliban.
Scores of civilians have died during NATO operations this year. About 60 people, including women and children, were killed by NATO planes during fighting in the southern province of Kandahar in January during an important Muslim holiday.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Gray in Washington, Mark John in Brussels and Terry Friel in Kabul)
Back to Top
|Back to News Archirves of 2007|
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).