Romanians securing vital Afghan highway
By DENIS D. GRAY Associated Press / Sat Mar 31, 3:10 AM ET
HIGHWAY 1, Afghanistan - The Romanian soldier quietly makes the sign of the cross, then thrusts his rifle through the narrow slit of an armored vehicle as it rolls toward one of the most vital — and dangerous — highways in Afghanistan.
As night falls, machine gunners constantly rotate their turrets and searchlights on the four patrol vehicles and rake the passing countryside for possible ambush sites amid rocky outcrops, mud-brick farm houses and orchards of blossoming almond trees.
The Romanian presence, analyst say, is an example of what must be done to win the war in Afghanistan: convince NATO countries unwilling to put their soldiers in fighting situations that engaging in combat will pave the way for progress.
One of only six NATO nations willing to take on combat operations in the country, the Romanians are tasked with securing a stretch of Highway 1, the strategic and economic lifeline between the capital, Kabul, and the key southern city of Kandahar.
The Taliban were preparing to cut off the highway, isolate and then recapture their one-time stronghold of Kandahar before major NATO pushes blunted their advances late last year. Whether they can regain their momentum this spring is still uncertain.
"Cutting off Highway 1 would be a major information campaign victory for the Taliban. But it is almost impossible," says Maj. Ovidiu Liviu Uifaleanu, commander of the 500-member Romanian unit. "If they attack us, they have a problem."
Taliban insurgents, he says, now largely confine themselves to quick, shoot-and-retreat attacks against the 20 checkpoints manned by Afghan military and police in Zabul province. The Romanians bolster the Afghans with their mobility and firepower, rushing to threatened outposts and otherwise trying to reassure the local population that they can provide security.
"I feel that I am trying to swat a fly with a 40-pound hammer, and only with luck will the fly stay put," Uifaleanu says in fluent English.
"Our last unit in Zabul fell into two or three ambushes. But the Taliban learned. The machine guns we carry can demolish a mud building and anyone standing behind it," says the major, who commands the 812th Infantry Battalion. The unit, known as the "Carpathian Hawks," has seen service in Angola, Iraq and on an earlier Afghanistan tour.
The greater problem now faced by the Romanians appears to be Zabul's inadequate and poorly equipped Afghan National Police.
Normally paid just $70 a month, they haven't seen a paycheck for the past four months due to restructuring of the force. So some of the checkpoints along Zabul's 93-mile stretch of the highway are abandoned, others manned by a handful of policemen, some of whom sleep on the job.
"It's possible," says provincial police chief Gen. Abdull Ghafar, when asked if some of his men accept bribes. "If they don't get a good salary they try to get money from other sources."
Maj. Christopher Clay, who commands the U.S. Army unit in Zabul, says the Taliban and drug traffickers pay off police to pass through checkpoints. "Some attacks are staged by traffickers against police units which refuse to accept the bribes. That's how we can sometimes identify an honest ANP unit — it's the one which gets hit," says the commander of B Company, 4th Infantry Regiment.
Clay, who serves under Uifaleanu within Task Force Zabul, gives the Romanians high marks and some of his officers say they're a more finely honed fighting force than some American units. The Hawks trained with U.S. troops in Romania and Germany before being ordered to Afghanistan three months ago.
Romania, which joined NATO in 2004, joined the United States, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Estonia and the Netherlands as one of the member nations willing to engage in combat. The notable "stand asides" among the 37-nation coalition are Italy, Germany, Spain, Turkey and France.
Analysts, offering recommendations on how the war in Afghanistan can be won, say that "national caveats" that prevent the "stand asides" from engaging in combat must be removed so that all NATO members can march to the same tune.
"NATO needs integrated operations with common rules of engagement," Anthony Cordesman, a terrorism expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the U.S. Congress last month. And the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank said in a recent report that "hard questions need to be asked of those who sometimes appear to put force protection, not mission needs, at the fore."
Uifaleanu declines to speak about decisions made in other NATO capitals, but says, "We are keeping our promises as a NATO nation and we are here based on a political decision and taking orders from our higher echelon."
From a coalition base on the edge of Zabul's capital, Qalat, Uifaleanu launches more than 50 missions a week, most centered on Highway 1. It's transformation from a potholed track to an asphalt highway, cutting travel time between Kandahar and Kabul from a full day to about five hours, is hailed as a key achievement in Afghanistan's reconstruction.
The Romanian night patrol covers nearly 60 miles, the last stop a concrete blockhouse manned by a dozen Afghan soldiers along a desolate, lonely stretch of the highway.
A half moon casts an eerie glow over an arid plain and a jagged range of hills from which the insurgents emerge to attack the outpost almost weekly.
Sgt. First Class Gabi Sasalman, a 12-year-veteran of all Romania's overseas missions, points to the distant peaks.
"It's the same danger here as we faced in Iraq," he says.
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Five Afghan troopers killed
Kabul, March 31 (Xinhua) Five Afghan troopers were killed by Taliban militants in Uruzgan province of southern Afghanistan, a military statement said Saturday.
The militants attacked a police checkpoint in Uruzgan Thursday, the statement said, adding Afghan and NATO led troops rescued a captured policeman who was wounded during the fire fight.
The statement did not say if there was any casualty on the Taliban side.
Uruzgan has been a hotbed of Taliban fighters, who clash with Afghan and foreign troops frequently.
Due to rising Taliban-linked insurgency, over 600 people have been killed in Afghanistan this year.
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Former Afghan Official Says Country Lacks Adequate Security, Governance
By Sayed Zafar Hashemi Saturday, March 31, 2007
Ali Ahmad Jalali served as interior minister of Afghanistan from January 2003 until September 2005. When he stepped down, he announced that it was because he was moving back to the United States to continue his academic research.
Washington, D.C. - Scripps Howard Foundation Wire - infoZine - He joined the National Defense University faculty as distinguished professor in the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, focusing on Afghanistan, Central and South Asian reconstruction, stabilization and peacekeeping issues.
He immigrated to the United States in 1982 and became a U.S. citizen. Jalali, 65, served as the director of the Afghanistan National Radio Network Initiative and chief of the Pashto Service at the Voice of America in Washington.
Jalali - a Dari, Pashto and English writer - is the author of numerous books and articles on political, military and security issues in Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia. He has taught at institutions of higher education in Afghanistan and lectured extensively at U.S. and English army institutions.
He talked with Scripps Howard Foundation reporter Sayed Zafar Hashemi, who is also from Afghanistan, in his office in Southwest Washington this week. What follows is an edited transcript of the interview.
Q. How do you define security?
A. Let me take a minute or two to look at the notion of security in a conflict-ridden society such as Afghanistan where the people have been facing a variety of security threats, including terrorism, insurgency, factional fighting, criminality, warlordism and official corruption and suppression.
Security in such an environment finds its meaning in the notion of human security, which ensures freedom from fear and freedom from want. Providing human security requires more than building the state security forces. It entails the development of good governance, social security, economic development and protection of human and political rights of the citizens.
The Afghanistan Compact, adopted in London in 2006, which is a joint commitment between the international community and the Afghan government, defines security as a multifaceted process and an integration of all pillars of Afghan development.
The definition of security in the Afghanistan Compact is, "Security cannot be provided by military means alone. It requires good governance, justice and the rule of law, reinforced by reconstruction and development."
Q. How do you assess the security situation in Afghanistan?
A. Everybody knows that the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. If you compare today with a year back, you see negative changes. Example includes the increasing number of suicide attacks. In 2006, it nearly reached 140, in the year 2005 there were 17, while 2004 had five attempts and 2003 only two. And in the year 2001, there was only one case of suicide that assassinated Ahmad Shah Massod, the Northern Alliance commander.
The Taliban were removed from power but not defeated. The intentional community had taken no actions about their potential of return. They were pushed back and expelled from power but not from Afghanistan and they found safe havens in Pakistan.
The Iraq invasion shifted the focus from South Asia to Iraq, and the extremist elements had the opportunity to regroup as the insurgent Taliban. Also, other groups that eventually had deep ties with al-Qaida started regrouping.
Q. Why is the deterioration in an increasing rate?
A. After the 2001 invasions, the people of Afghanistan kept hopes and expectations. The people saw no major change in their lives, lack of governance increased and in many occasions, absence of central government in their communities made people distrust the government, or at least not stand with it. On the other hand, the spoilers who find peace and stability against their factional and personal interest found an opportunity to participate the in the insurgency efforts. During the civil war in Afghanistan and the breakdown of central government, local strongmen who were well powered with access to local and foreign resources and weapons established a kind of influence in certain areas across the country.
The operation against the Taliban was conducted in a way that reinforced the power of these regional strongmen, and they became allies in the war against terror. During the past five years, the Afghan government succeeded in removing some of the strongmen from power in Kabul. However, their networks will remains in the regions until the government provides people with good governance, security, protection and positive changes in their lives.
These networks, now, in order to survive, conduct illegal activities that include drug trafficking, organized crimes, smuggling, taxing people, extortion, seizing public property and even illegal export of the country's natural resources.
The U.S. intervention in Afghanistan was driven by two contradictory concepts: From one point, it was considered as a main battlefield against the war on international terrorism, and from the other angle, there were concerns among NATO members that deployment of forces in huge numbers may cause resistance in the country. Afghanistan's experience of resistance against the Soviets was behind this notion, though the situation has changed as Afghans suffered for decades. It took several months until, finally, NATO succeeded in expanding its international security assistance forces outside Kabul. Even after a long length of time, due to the resistance notion, the forces entered provinces as provincial reconstruction teams.
The investment was another problem, despite Afghanistan receiving very low aid compared to other post-conflict nations. As the government of Afghanistan did not have the ability to use the resources in implementation of reconstruction and restoration projects, the funds were channeled though the U.N., non-governmental organizations and international contractors.
These organizations took big chunks of the money as overhead. What actually hit the valleys of Afghanistan was not even 25 percent of the money, and there was waste of resources.
Today, with the deterioration of security in the country, the government is looking for short-term solutions and compromise with local commanders. The government does not have powerful and skilled teams and parties. This factor undermines the security of Afghan citizens.
Q. Does the insurgency have any external links too?
A. The problem in Afghanistan is not rooted only in domestic factors. It also has external dimensions, which need the international community's efforts and wider approach in the region, in particular the countries with an interest in Afghanistan. Examples include Pakistan, India and others.
Q. How are the capacity and ability of Afghan security forces?
A. There has been some good progress in building Afghanistan security forces. The Afghan national army was organized and trained by the U.S. Today the 35,000 or 40,000 troops in the national army are better than the militias that Afghanistan had before. However, a strong army is not possible to build in one year. It takes decades to build a powerful army to be able to independently respond to security challenges. The Afghan army has good training and structure, while it does not have sufficient fire power in air support. Therefore, their operation is dependent on international forces.
Police is different from the army. It is not to go in the battlefield and fight the enemy, while it is to support law enforcement and protect societies and it is an element of law enforcement. Less attention was paid in training. A major problem is that the police has been used as another counter-insurgency force and fighting insurgents was a priority for police, not protection of the local community. Police is a subset of law. In Afghanistan, it is different; the rule of law has become a subset of security.
Based on the standard norms of one police officer for 500 people, the international community set the number of Afghan national police at 50,000 and a 70,000-troop national army. In 2002, the population of Afghanistan was estimated to be 25 million. In this calculation, no other facts - such as security situation, level of recruits' education and mobility - were taken into consideration. The government of Afghanistan accepted the numbers provided to build a strong police force with full sustainability, including good pay, training and equipment.
But today, the poorly trained police are more a problem in the country than an asset, and the same is with the army. The government and international community should pay the security forces well and equip them with needed equipment, and the present army will have an efficient performance. The number is not important.
Q. Do you think there will be intensified operations by the insurgents in the spring?
A. Spring is always the time for the insurgents to become more active because of warm weather, possibilities of hiding in mountains, etc. This year, three major factors make the spring offensive a source of concern. As a result of attacks and operations the Taliban conducted last year, they increased their morale and showed their presence in the eyes of the international community. The ability to seize and control some the districts in the country gave them operational techniques and advantages. Lack of development and insecurity created disenchantment in the local communities in the South.
Q. How will the government of Afghanistan and international forces respond?
A. The international forces and government are better prepared. More British, Canadian and Dutch forces are deployed in the southern areas compared to last year. The government deployed more security troops and created the auxiliary police forces to support responding to the challenges.
But the bottom line is that governance was neglected in the last years. Now, the most important aspect to defeat the insurgency is to develop governance because now development will not help any more. Even if you provide funds to develop the areas without governance, it will not have a positive impact. The Taliban are only promising security and protection and, thus, they are getting calls from people. Even if the people do not support the Taliban or their political vision, they at least will not stand with the weak central government.
Q. Is that the only reason?
A. No, this insurgency has also external sources. The Taliban have safe havens, training camps and logistical support across the border in Pakistan. They also enjoy support and funds from international terrorism networks.
Q. How should this be resolved?
A. The international community should have a regional approach by addressing the legitimate concerns between Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the disputes over Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
The international community should also help develop poorly urbanized areas along the Pak-Afghan borders. Bringing some democratic changes in Pakistan is also one of the necessary measures to be taken.
Q. How do you asses the Afghanistan and Pakistan diplomatic relationship?
A. The reality is that there is no substitute for close cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. As long as Pakistan is unwilling or is unable to deal with Federally Administrated Tribal Areas, these areas will be always used by insurgents and border- crossing attacks to Afghanistan.
As long as Pakistan has the Kashmir dispute unresolved with India, it will try to have some political influence in Afghanistan.
With the deterioration of security and lack of the international community's commitment in rebuilding and securing Afghanistan, Pakistan is unsure of a stabilized Afghanistan. Even after operations to arrest and eliminate al-Qaida members, Pakistan sees a future for the Taliban, and therefore it keeps its choices open.
Pakistan for many years cultivated, created and built a network of extremist parties through which it outsourced the fighting in Kashmir and Afghanistan. The parties have strong ties in the Pakistani government, and it is far from possible to overcome that overnight.
Pakistan is also concerned about the Durand Line, and it tries to keep leverage in Afghanistan.
[The Durand Line is the 1,500 mile border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was agreed upon in a treaty signed Nov. 12, 1893, in Kabul, by Sir Mortimer Durand, representing British India, and Abdul Rahman, the Amir of Afghanistan.]
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Afghan hostage appeals to Karzai for freedom
KABUL, March 31 (Reuters) - An Afghan translator kidnapped by the Taliban with an Italian journalist a month ago has personally appealed to President Hamid Karzai for help, at the same time accusing him of caring only for foreigners.
"You have forgotten the Afghan journalist. You are worried only for the foreigners and you are not worried for Afghans," Ajmal Naqshbandi told Karzai in an appeal passed on through Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai late on Friday.
Naqshbandi has been held for almost a month since he, driver Sayed Agha and La Repubblica daily reporter Daniel Mastrogiacomo were kidnapped in lawless Helmand province.
Agha was beheaded in what most analysts say was a move to put pressure on Rome and Kabul to release five senior Taliban officials.
The Italian was released just over 10 days ago and spirited back to Italy after the Afghan government released the five.
Naqshbandi told the Pakistani reporter, who spoke to Reuters, Taliban military chief Mullah Dadullah said he would be released in exchange for Afghanistan freeing three more junior Taliban.
Asked what would happen to him if the three were not released, the phone was taken by a Taliban commander who said no decision had yet been taken.
The Taliban and foreign governments now warn the risk of kidnap for foreign journalists and aid workers has increased because of the Italian government's actions, something which also roused strong criticism in Italy.
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Charity blasts Italian gov't over kidnapped Afghan
ROME, March 30 (Reuters) - An aid group which helped secure the release of an Italian kidnapped by the Taliban criticised the Italian government on Friday for doing nothing for an Afghan employee arrested in Afghanistan.
Rahamtullah Hanafi, who operates the Afghan hospitals set up by Italian charity Emergency, was arrested after negotiating the release of reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo in exchange for five Taliban guerrillas who had been imprisoned by Afghan forces.
It has not been made clear why Hanafi was arrested.
Gino Strada, the head of Emergency, said the Italian government had a duty to pressure Kabul to release Hanafi after the charity had negotiated on its behalf with the Taliban.
"We find it indecent and shameful that they haven't had the courage to officially ask the Afghan government, in writing, to free Hanafi," Strada told a news conference in Milan.
Mastrogiacomo, a reporter for Italian daily La Repubblica, was captured by the Taliban in Helmund province along with two Afghans, a driver and a translator.
The driver was beheaded and the Taliban have demanded the release of a further two of their comrades in exchange for the interpreter, Adjmal Nasqhbandi.
Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema denied the accusation he had done nothing to help Hanafi.
"Even if we're talking about an Afghan and not an Italian citizen, the government had taken several steps to ask (Kabul) for explanations," he said. "We're still waiting for a reply."
The exchange of Taliban prisoners for the Italian reporter has been criticised by the U.S. and British governments and some journalist groups have expressed concerns it will make reporters in war zones more of a kidnap target.
Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi rounded on Italy's centre left government over the affair. He told supporters at a rally on Friday: "It's open season on westerners if with every kidnap some terrorists get released."
(Additional reporting by Ilaria Polleschi in Milan)
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Afghans assist in removing Kandahar Taliban leader
March 30, 2007
COMBINED JOINT TASK FORCE- 82 COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER BAGRAM AIRFIELD, AFGHANISTAN
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Intelligence provided by local Afghan civilians led to a successful Afghan and Coalition mission that detained a notorious Taliban leader in the Arhandab District of Kandahar Province March 30.
The combined force detained a known Taliban leader and facilitator, and two of his men during a night raid on his compound located in the village of Maranjan.
The extremist, who routinely operated in the Zharie District, was also reportedly responsible for carrying out the assassination attack on a Tribal elder in the Arghandab District March 9.
There were no Afghan civilian injuries reported during the mission.
“The Afghan civilians of Maranjan village were directly responsible for this man’s fate,” said Army Maj. Chris Belcher, a Combined Joint Task Force -82 spokesman. “They decided to end the violence and terror that he and his Taliban fighters brought to their village. With the support of the Afghan people, we will continue to pursue Taliban leaders and fighters who threaten the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.”
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Afghanistan: A Quiet Corner for U.S. Troops
The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, but the soldiers of the 4-73rd Calvary battle boredom and worries about home life.
By Silvia Spring Newsweek
March 30, 2007 - For the past four months, the forecasts for the nightly patrols of the U.S. Army’s 4-73rd Cavalry’s Bravo Company have been shockingly consistent: quiet, clear and well below freezing. Last Friday, March 23, was no exception. Patrolling deserted dirt roads in a four-Humvee convoy in eastern Afghanistan’s Paktika province, the soldiers passed a few mud houses before stopping at an Afghan police checkpoint to ask about suspicious activity in the area. In exchange for telling the Americans where the bad guys were, the Afghan officers asked for money and porn. The U.S. troops ignored the pleas for cash but promised to search their barracks for magazines they could pass along next time. “We’ve had only one exciting patrol,” says Lt. Tim Brooks. “We went to go investigate an IED, and our truck got stuck in the mud.” All the others blend together into an endless evening of driving in the dark.
While Afghanistan as a whole has seen continually increasing violence—particularly from Iraq-style suicide bombings and IEDs (2006 was the worst year in terms of attacks since 2001), Paktika, a province roughly the size of Vermont, has stayed relatively quiet. Because the 4-73rd’s main base in Sharona, home to around 1,200 troops, is about 50 miles west of the Pakistani border, the unit’s encounters with the Taliban have been few and far between. In the past year, it has suffered just one rocket attack. But the Americans have kept busy. As part of a counterinsurgency strategy that focuses more on political than military maneuvering, the United States has been working closely with both the police and the Afghan National Army (ANA) to hand over an increasing amount of responsibility for the area’s security. The base’s Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) has also been working with local leaders to build new schools, clinics and district centers.
S/Sgt. Mark Wong says he knows some of his soldiers are restless because of the lack of enemy engagement. “They don't feel like they're defending their country. They feel like they've come to the other side of the world, and they should be [fighting].” Instead, the troops spend most of their days working on base, testing their mortar fire, repairing the Humvees (which are easily damaged by the rocky desert terrain) and preparing themselves for whatever the expected Taliban spring offensive might bring. When days drag on for Wong, he gets out his golf club and practices his swing.
Even for those working off base, things can get dull. Sgt. Ben Weber didn't see much fun in delivering backpacks, volleyballs, desks and chairs on the first day of school in Jani Khel. As he watches children from the local village trek on a kilometer-long foot path through the desert landscape to their newly built school, he says, "It's not our job, but it's what we're stuck doing." While desks are off-loaded from trucks, the children spike volleyballs with the soldiers in front of the single-floor cement structure. Others take their free backpacks, turn around and head straight back home. Notably, all the children are boys. When asked where the female students are, Weber shrugs and says he thinks he heard about a girls-only school in a neighboring district. "It's their culture," he says.
Though most of the soldiers didn’t join the Army to “nation-build,” according to Navy Cmdr. Michael Varney, leader of the PRT, it’s just as important as fighting. And because Paktika is unusual in its level of support for American forces, compared with the rest of the country, Varney says the progress he's seen has been impressive, with districts that were controlled by the Taliban as recently as last year now backing Coalition forces. In the past 12 months, with more than 750 missions completed, his team has yet to fire their weapons, a fact he points to as evidence that Americans have the trust and respect of these Afghan communities.
But just because the area is relatively secure doesn't mean the troops do not suffer from their own particular anxieties. Baptist Chaplain Dustin Rodriguez says about a quarter of the several hundred troops he oversees have come to him for spiritual support, which Rodriguez—just 24 years old himself—offers in a mostly informal manner. He says the main issue the men struggle with is separation from their spouses, particularly since most of the soldiers are between 18 and 22 and many are recently married.
Conveniently, Rodriguez's wife, Hilary, lives at Fort Bragg, the 4-73rd’s home base, which means the couple sometimes works together to get the perspectives of both spouses. Rodriguez recalls one soldier who came to him because his wife was talking about leaving him, but he didn't know why. Rodriguez asked his wife to investigate. She did and found out the wife's family was against American involvement in Afghanistan. With the permission of everyone involved, the Rodriguezes helped the couple communicate their doubts to each other, and as of now, they're still together. "What gets them through is that pretty much everyone here has something hard they're dealing with back home," says Rodriguez.
Also discouraging for some of the troops is the lack of attention Afghanistan gets back home, compared to the war in Iraq. Capt. Sean Kelly completed two tours of duty in Iraq between deployments to Afghanistan and believes that Iraq has had a negative impact on the situation here. "When the war in Afghanistan started, we had everything: the money, the resources, everything we needed," says Kelly. "But when Iraq kicked off, all the attention was diverted over there. It degraded the Afghanistan mission by shifting the focus." As a result, both operations have been lumped together in U.S. popular opinion. "I guarantee they don't know about the school opening up downtown [in Sharona] right now."
But local leaders know. And being aware that Americans are their only shot right now at developing local infrastructure, they express interest, at least to a NEWSWEEK reporter, in continued American assistance. Paktika's governor, 33-year-old political rising star Mohammad Akram Khpalwak, stresses that Afghans need more help from the international community to achieve the peace, democracy and reconstruction most of them want. "There are some poor people; there are some angry people," says Khpalwak. But after 30 years of war and last year's droughts, the rural community—basically the entire country outside of Kabul—is in desperate need.
Afghans are also certainly aware of the American presence; it would be hard to miss the heavily armored Humvees bullying their way though the local bazaar, where nearly everyone else arrives on foot. In Sharona, a shopkeeper who refused to give his name for fear of being targeted by the Taliban, said he appreciated the help and donations his community has received from the Americans, but deemed projects such as the cobblestone street they built in the town center "a waste of money." (He predicts that within two to three years, it would be too worn down to use.) He said he'd like to see a new school, a clinic and better irrigation systems instead. Momen, an Afghan translator who has worked with the U.S. military since 2003 and only gives his first name, says he’s confident the Americans will not leave until the job is done. After all, the United States’ reputation is on the line. "If anything goes down here, America's name goes down with it," says Momen. And that’s what the 4-73rd is really fighting for.
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Commander US Central Command calls on Musharraf
Islamabad, March 31, IRNA
Commander of US Central Command Admiral William J. Fallon called on President General Pervez Musharraf on Saturday and discussed with him the situation in Afghanistan, the on-going war against terrorism and other issues, an army statement said.
During the meeting at the President's Camp Office, the CENTCOM Chief expressed deep appreciation of Pakistan's efforts and its role in the war against terrorism, it said.
He particularly mentioned the role of Pakistan's armed forces who have made numerous sacrifices and contribution towards regional and global peace efforts, the statement said.
President Musharraf, reiterating Pakistan's role in the war against terrorism, said there was a need to focus on the root causes of militancy, terrorism and extremism that exist within Afghanistan.
The President spoke of the elaborate security arrangements put in place along the Pakistan-Afghan border to check all sorts of illegal activities including unauthorized movement and trafficking of narcotics and drugs.
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Hicks' father hails suspended Guantanamo sentence
SYDNEY, March 31 (Reuters) - The father of convicted terrorist David Hicks said on Saturday he was relieved his son would serve out his sentence in his homeland.
Hicks is due to be sent back to Australia in weeks, and possibly days, to serve nine months in jail and could be a free man by New Year's Day.
"The bottom line of all this is that at least he's back home. He's out of that hell hole," Terry Hicks told local media.
Hicks, 31, who has spent five years at Guantanamo Bay, was sentenced by a U.S. military commission on Friday to seven years' jail after pleading guilty to supporting terrorism. He made the plea after reaching an agreement with U.S. military prosecutors.
However, the commission suspended six years and three months of the sentence, meaning Hicks will serve just nine months in an Australian prison.
Hicks is the first war crimes convict among the hundreds of foreign captives held at the Guantanamo prison camp.
His father, who has spearheaded a campaign to have his son returned to Australia, said the sentence was better than it could have been, but his son's case was never properly tested in court.
"It's a real shame David had to go through this way to get released when he should have had the Australian government standing up for Australia's citizens' rights," he told Australian Associated Press.
Terry Hicks said his son had been "through hell" and should never have been made to endure the conditions at Guantanamo Bay.
Australia, a close U.S. ally with forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, had refused to ask for Hicks to be returned home because he could not have been charged with any offence under its laws.
But conservative Prime Minister John Howard, facing a tough election later this year and under growing public pressure to bring Hicks back, complained to Washington about the long delay in putting the Australian on trial.
Howard said on Saturday he believed Hicks had pleaded guilty because the U.S. military had a strong case against him.
"He's not a hero in my eyes and he ought not to be a hero in the eyes of any people in the Australian community," Howard told reporters in Sydney.
"The bottom line will always be that he pleaded guilty to knowingly assisting a terrorist organisation."
Hicks, who was captured in Afghanistan in December 2001, acknowledged that he trained with al Qaeda, fought against U.S. allies in Afghanistan in late 2001 for two hours, and then sold his gun to raise cab fare and tried to flee by taxi to Pakistan.
Hicks' defence lawyer, Major Michael Mori, said his client had gained certainty about a return to Australia from his plea.
"That's what he's focused on. He's focused on seeing his family," Mori told local radio.
Australian Greens leader Bob Brown, who has been a fierce critic of Hicks' detention, said the sentence was simply aimed at helping Howard weather political unrest.
"It is clearly a political fix arranged between Mr Howard and the Bush administration to shut up Hicks until after the election in November," he said in a statement.
Hicks' plea agreement bars him from speaking to the media for one year and requires him to give the Australian government any money received for the rights to his story.
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Avalanche kills 12 in Badakhshan
FAIZABAD, Mar 29 (Pajhwok Afghan News): At least 12 people were killed and as many wounded, including women and children, as avalanche hit Raghistan district of the northern Badakhshan province.
The joint rescue team, including personnel from north-eastern command and the Badakhshan police headquarters, have reached the scene to rescue the survivors and dig out bodies from the snow, says a statement released by the Ministry of Interior on Thursday.
Engineer Mohammad Din Khuwani, director of the information and culture department in Badakhshan, told Pajhwok Afghan News of the 12 people buried in the snowstorm, residents had dug out three from the debris and snow in the Dahn-i-Shala area of the Raghistan district.
Khwahani was unable to say how many people were killed and injured. He said remoteness of the area was causing difficulties in rescue operations.
Mohammad Usman Abuzar, head of the Badakhshan Red Crescent Society, said roads were blocked due to heavy snow and aid could be sent into the area only through helicopters.
According to Abuzar, Arghistan district is located some 150 kilometres from Faizabad and abutting the neighbouring Tajikistan.
Last week, avalanches killed 10 people in Panjab district of the central Bamyan province, while 13 more were reported dead in Salang Pass, connecting Kabul with the northern provinces.
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