KABUL (AFP) - Nearly 60 militants, including some Pakistani nationals, were killed in a major NATO-led offensive in a restive southern Afghanistan district, an Afghan commander told AFP on Tuesday.
The casualties occurred Monday in the Sangin valley in southern Helmand province, which has been plagued by violence, after NATO-led and Afghan troops began an anti-Taliban operation the same day, the military spokesman said.
"During the course of events yesterday a significant number of insurgents were killed," a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan told AFP.
Local and international forces continue to make efforts "to create security conditions in the Sangin valley so that meaningful reconstruction and development can occur," said the spokesman, who declined to be named.
About 2,000 NATO-led and Afghan troops began the offensive -- called "Operation Silicon" -- in the Taliban-dominated area, which has seen some heavy fighting in the last month.
Silicon is part of Operation Achilles, which was launched March 4 with some 4,500 ISAF soldiers and 1,000 Afghan troops in northern parts of Helmand.
Sangin, some 70 kilometres (40 miles) northeast of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, is said to be a Taliban stronghold supported by drug money.
Helmand produces about 40 percent of Afghanistan's opium, the raw ingredient required to make heroin. The impoverished, war-torn country provides some 90 percent of the world's illegal opium supply.
The Taliban are active across southern and eastern Afghanistan, even though they were ousted from power more than five years ago by a US-led invasion.
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4 militants killed, 11 detained in Afghanistan
Tue May 1, 3:58 AM ET
KHOST, Afghanistan (AFP) - US-led coalition warplanes killed four militants who had attacked a government building in eastern Afghanistan, the coalition said Tuesday.
Separately, Afghan security forces supported by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force detained 11 suspected militants, some of them linked to Al-Qaeda, a governor said.
The casualties occurred after nearly a dozen militants attacked the administration office of eastern Khost province's Spera district late Monday with rockets and gunfire, it said.
"In response to a request from the (police), coalition forces responded with close air support, killing four insurgents," the statement said, adding seven more rebels were wounded.
Two Afghan policemen defending the facilities in the remote town near the Pakistani border were also wounded, it said, adding the gunfight lasted more than two hours.
Attacks on remote government buildings and police checkposts are routine in Afghanistan, where the remnants of the Taliban have waged an insurgency since their 2001 ouster.
The Taliban were toppled by a US-led invasion for failing to hand over Al-Qaeda's chief, Osama bin Laden.
The 11 suspected Taliban militants with links to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network were seized in a "joint operation" by Afghan and ISAF troops in the Khost's Yaquobi district, provincial governor Arsala Jamal told AFP.
The governor rejected claims by the relatives of one detained militant who said the man, Haji Nazir, was a businessman not a Taliban.
"We've accurate intelligence that these men are involved in destructive activities," he said.
Nazir's brother-in-law told AFP that his relative was running a petrol pump and denied he was linked to Taliban.
More than 1,000 people, many of them militants, have died in the violence this year.
About 50,000 foreign troops are in Afghanistan to help the government gain control of areas overrun by Taliban militants, drug barons and private armies.
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Afghans protest over civilian deaths for third day
By Noor Rahman
JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Burning an effigy of U.S. President George W. Bush and chanting anti-U.S. slogans, hundreds of Afghans staged a third day of protests on Tuesday over the killing of civilians by U.S.-led coalition forces.
The police chief for the western province of Herat, Sayed Shafiq Fazli, said 30 civilians had been killed in the past several days by U.S.-led forces, adding to pressure on President Hamid Karzai over civilian casualties as coalition forces hunt for Taliban insurgents.
Tuesday's protests were in the eastern province of Nangarhar, where up to six civilians died on Sunday in the second killing of civilians in the region by U.S.-led coalition troops in less than two months.
The protestors, mostly students, briefly blocked a main road into the provincial capital, Jalalabad, and repeated calls for Karzai to step down.
"Karzai should go. He has no power and he can't serve us," said one student, referring to Karzai's repeated calls for Western troops to avoid civilian casualties.
"We do not want American forces. They should go. Death to America," another chanted, before the protest ended peacefully under a tight police watch.
A powerful tribe in the province, the Shinwar, on Monday vowed not to allow U.S.-led forces and troops under a separate U.S.-led NATO command into their district to hunt the Taliban.
Neighbours of the dead and Nangarhar officials said those killed in the raid on Sunday were civilians, including three women. But the U.S. military said four were Taliban fighters and civilian casualties were a woman and a teenage girl killed in crossfire.
In Herat, protests erupted over the weekend after U.S. officials said more than 130 Taliban had been killed in several days of ground and air attacks.
Provincial authorities rejected the coalition figure of Taliban deaths and dispatched a team to investigate.
"We have learnt from various sources ... that 30 civilians are among those killed," police chief Fazli told reporters in Herat city.
The death toll of suspected Taliban killed in the raids was less than reported by the U.S. military, he said.
The deaths in Nangarhar follow the killing in early March of nearly a dozen civilians by U.S. Marines.
The Marines opened fire after their convoy was attacked by a suicide car-bomber. The unit was called home after protests.
Neighbors of those killed at the weekend attended Tuesday's protest and said five people had died, including two women, with only a young girl surviving from the family. Afghan police and the U.S.-led forces say six were killed.
Civilian deaths are a sensitive issue for Karzai and the foreign troops, facing an upsurge in attacks by the Taliban in what is seen as a crunch year for both sides in the conflict.
Scores of civilians have died, most due to suicide bombings and other attacks by the Taliban, but a significant number also due to action by foreign forces.
More than 4,000 people, including 1,000 civilians, died last year in the worst fighting since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.
(Additional reporting and writing by Sayed Salahuddin)
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Afghans protest eviction of refugees by Iran
Tue May 1, 8:13 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Hundreds of people rallied in Afghanistan's capital Kabul on Tuesday to protest Iran's expulsion of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees, witnesses said.
Some 500 people marched from western Kabul to the Iranian embassy carrying banners condemning Tehran's action.
One of the banners described Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his forces as "devils."
"Islam has no borders, we condemn Iran's brutal act," the banner said.
Iran launched a drive to expel the refugees on April 21 and sent back some 25,000 within the space of a few days, prompting strong protests by the Afghan government.
Iran's Interior Minister Mostafa Pour Mohammadi has said the government planned to send back around 500,000 refugees in the first phase.
Afghan interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said Tuesday's protest was peaceful.
On Sunday Afghanistan called on Iran to stop the expulsions, saying the destitute country could not afford to resettle the refugees.
Around 20,000 refugees were dropped across the border in Afghanistan's Nimroz province, among them women who were picked up from the streets and who had left family members behind, Nimroz governor Ghulam Dastageer Azad has said.
"Among the forced returnees here, there are women who have left family members in Iran, there are people who have left their accounts unsettled in Iran," said Azad.
Millions of Afghans have fled their country because of the violence and conflict that has destroyed much of Afghanistan over the past three decades.
There were up to four million Afghans in Iran during Afghanistan's civil war.
Following the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, millions of Afghans returned home from Iran and Pakistan. But both countries are still each estimated to host two million Afghan refugees.
Many of the Afghans in Iran are employed as labourers in the construction industry or in other low paid jobs.
More than 25,000 Afghans have been sent back by Iranian authorities since April 21, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and more are being forced out.
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30 Afghan civilians among 'Taliban' casualties: police
by Fridoon Poya
HERAT, Afghanistan, May 1, 2007 (AFP) - At least 30 civilians, including women and children, were among the dead after clashes in western Afghanistan that the US-led coalition said killed 136 Taliban, police said Tuesday.
Hundreds of people had demonstrated in the Shindand district of the western province of Herat on Monday, after coalition and Afghan operations there on Friday and Sunday, insisting civilians were among the victims.
Herat police chief Mohammad Shafiq Fazli told AFP an investigation had found that "there were at least 30 civilians, including women and children, among those killed in Shindand's fighting."
The information was based on "reports from various sources" from the area, he said, giving no details.
A delegation had gone to investigate, a spokeswoman for Herat's governor said. "We know civilians have been killed but we don't have the figure," said spokeswoman Farzana Ahmadi.
Fazli's announcement came hours after 500 students protested against US military action in the eastern province of Nangarhar, where six people were killed Sunday.
The demonstrators, who burned an effigy of US President George W. Bush, said all six were civilians. The coalition has said four were militants and that a woman and a teenager were killed in crossfire.
The incident was in Nangarhar's Bati Kot area, where US Marines were accused of opening fire on civilians after a March 4 ambush. About a dozen people were killed. The Marine unit was ordered out of Afghanistan days later.
In the Herat fighting, coalition and Afghan troops responded to an attack Friday by more than 70 Taliban fighters in Shindand's Zerkoh Valley with ground and air fire that killed 49 Taliban, the coalition said. A US soldier also died.
On Sunday the security forces attacked Taliban fighting positions, including with bombs. Another 87 Taliban fighters were killed during the 14-hour engagement, it said.
"The people they have killed are not Taliban, they are civilians," one of the demonstrating locals told AFP Monday. "We don't want the Americans in our area."
There is growing concern at mounting civilian deaths in operations against Taliban insurgents, including those carried out by the US-led coalition, which invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime in 2001.
"The American military unfortunately makes such mistakes which definitely is having a deep negative impact on the international forces' mission against terrorism," a parliamentarian from Herat, Ahmad Behzad, told AFP Tuesday.
"If the US forces do not concentrate on military targets and if they make such mistakes again, this will cause the defeat of the coalition forces," he said.
The UN mission in Afghanistan had been asked by the government and local community to look into what happened at Shindand.
"We do have concerns about the possible use of disproportionate force and possible displacement of people in the area," its spokesman Adrian Edwards told AFP.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission also expressed concern about civilian casualties.
"It's the civilians who pay much of the price of the war," said commissioner Nader Nadery.
"The increasing civilian casualties could affect the confidence of the people in operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. It will also provide an easy tool for the Taliban to use against the progress over the past five years."
While scores of civilians have been killed in military operations, more have lost their lives to militant attacks, including bombings and assassinations.
New York-based group Human Rights Watch said this month assaults by the Taliban and associated Islamist groups had killed nearly 700 Afghan civilians since the beginning of 2006.
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Afghan insecurity putting pressure on NGOs
by Bronwen Roberts Tue May 1, 3:59 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Amid kidnappings, assassinations, bombings and all-out battles, aid groups say Afghanistan's violence is forcing them to cut back on efforts to help the destitute country's neediest people.
Worryingly, the security threat is growing in areas outside the southern stomping grounds of insurgents and the drugs mafia, where the non-governmental organisations which are sticking it out are already taking precautions, one analyst said.
The Taliban's demand for France to pull out its troops or for Kabul to free prisoners in return for the release of one French and three Afghan aid workers has raised concerns about a trend in kidnappings for political reasons rather than financial gain.
A French woman being held with them was freed Saturday.
The government's release in March of five Taliban prisoners in exchange for an Italian hostage has had an "encouraging effect on these kinds of problems," said Handicap International country director Arnaud Quemin.
"We observe a global warming of the situation in the country so we are more careful about how we manage our movements," said Quemin, who has 250 staff -- 10 of them expatriates -- working with people with disabilities.
"The risk is statistically becoming higher, either to be taken in fire between different forces or because of bombing in the cities. So we try to decrease the risk of exposure to such things by limiting our movements."
The group does not keep its expatriate staff in the southern province of Kandahar for security reasons, he said.
Last month it suspended work in parts of adjoining Helmand province when NATO-led and Afghan forces launched Operation Achilles, intended to wrest back control from the Taliban and drugs lords.
"There was a risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.
However the Agency Coordinating Body For Afghan Relief (ACBAR), an umbrella body of nearly 100 Afghan and international non-governmental organisations, is not seeing NGOs pulling out of the volatile south.
Rather, "people are very much tuned into what is happening and adjusting their operations," said director Anja de Beer.
"Their area of operations has shrunk considerably and people keep a watchful eye on where to go and when."
They also keep international staff down to a minimum, and foreigners rarely move outside the comparative safety of Kandahar city, which was struck by a rash of suicide bombings last year.
The paucity of expatriate personnel "makes it difficult
sometimes to comply with the monitoring and evaluation demands of donors," De Beer said.
The general situation means "you cannot serve the community as well as you would like," she said, commenting on a recent surge in attacks in the once-calm north.
Mercy Corps copes in Kandahar by staffing the office only with Afghans who wear local dress and travel in ordinary cars or taxis when they visit projects.
Some districts are even a no-go for certain Afghans, with only staff from those areas allowed there "because they are part of the community," agriculture advisor Atiqullah said.
The Afghan Development Association, an NGO involved in reconstruction and development projects in the south and southeast for 15 years, relies largely on its community links to keep its staff safe.
"Security is one of our biggest concerns -- it affects travelling from one location to another, the movement of our staff, logistics," director Esmatullah Haidary told AFP.
"We take careful measures. Sometimes we delay projects. We are all the time approaching community structures, the beneficiaries. They travel with us," said Haidary, whose group employs about 890 staff, all Afghans.
Organisations still in the south "have been there a long time and know how to operate down there," a Western security analyst said on condition of anonymity.
He does not expect many kidnappings in that area as most foreigners avoid the roads, travelling by plane from hub to hub.
"Generally in the south, no one is getting out -- they are all stuck in the centres," he said.
Problems were likely to arise in other regions "where they get out and do what they want, where they don't adhere to security procedures," he said.
There was also a certain degree of naivety among people who "think they are invulnerable because they are aid workers and here to save the world."
"Attacks are increasing countrywide.... We are picking up more static of threats to NGOs and aid workers."
The analyst expected security to plummet in the relatively calm north in the coming months, with the Taliban's release of Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo in exchange for prisoners sending a bad message.
The reporter's Afghan driver and translator were beheaded.
"It has just opened the door for everyone (to be kidnapped) -- Afghans and foreigners," he said.
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Terrorist Attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan Rose Sharply Last Year, State Department Says
By SCOTT SHANE May 1, 2007 The New York Times
WASHINGTON, April 30 — Terrorist attacks against noncombatants nearly doubled in Iraq from 2005 to 2006 and were up sharply in Afghanistan, with those two countries alone accounting for a 29 percent increase in terrorism worldwide, according to a report released Monday by the State Department.
The report shows that the two countries where large numbers of American combat troops are deployed are also where terrorism is rising fastest. Terrorist attacks are up 91 percent in Iraq and 53 percent in Afghanistan, according to statistics compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center. In the rest of the world, total terrorist attacks declined by 3 percent.
The new statistics record a rise in terrorist attacks on nonmilitary targets globally to 14,338 in 2006 from 11,153 in 2005, with an increase in deaths to 20,498 from 14,618. But Iraq alone accounted for nearly half of all the attacks and about two-thirds of fatalities, according to the report, “Country Reports on Terrorism, 2006,” posted Monday on the State Department’s Web site.
The numbers underscore the ineffectiveness of battling terrorism with conventional military means, said John Arquilla, who studies terrorism at the Naval Postgraduate School.
“It is most curious that the areas where we have military operations have the most attacks,” Mr. Arquilla said. “These statistics suggest that our war on global terrorism is not going very well. It suggests we need to try a new approach.”
The State Department report said that the invasion of Iraq “has been used by terrorists as a rallying cry for radicalization and extremist activity that has contributed to instability in neighboring countries.”
At a news briefing to release the report, Frank C. Urbancic Jr., the State Department’s acting coordinator for counterterrorism, said the statistics reflected the viral spread of terrorists’ methods. In Afghanistan, there has been a rapid rise in suicide attacks mimicking those in Iraq, and methods for making improvised explosive devices have evolved in the face of American moves to counter them.
“The terrorists, there’s no question, are intelligent people, and they learn from each other,” Mr. Urbancic said. “The people in Afghanistan are watching the people in Iraq, the people in Iraq are watching the people elsewhere, and there’s a snowball effect. And they work through the Internet, they communicate.”
The annual report is the second to follow a controversy over the government’s count of terrorist attacks in 2004, when the secretary of state at the time, Colin L. Powell, acknowledged that the numbers publicly announced were artificially low. The admission followed a critique from two academic experts, Alan B. Krueger, of Princeton, and David Laitin, of Stanford.
With two years of data compiled using the same definitions and methodology, this year’s State Department report allows a meaningful comparison. Mr. Krueger, an economist who has advised the government on the statistical questions since 2004, said the new methodology has cleared up some confusion.
“I’d give it a B-plus,” said Mr. Krueger, who is writing a book on the causes of terrorism. He said he believes the definition of terrorism used by the National Counterterrorism Center is still too broad, including some assassinations of particular individuals rather than random attacks intended to spread fear.
Mr. Krueger also said he regretted the fact that the change in methodologies over time has made tracking long-term trends in terrorism very difficult.
The report lists five countries as “state sponsors of terrorism”: Iran, Syria, Sudan, Cuba and North Korea. Libya was dropped after more than two decades on the American list, and the report notes that in February, the United States agreed to “begin the process of removing” the terrorist sponsor designation from North Korea.
The report acknowledges the resilience of Al Qaeda, whose leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, are believed to be in hiding in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area. It says the terrorist group has shifted from “expeditionary” plots such as the Sept. 11 attacks, in which a team is assembled and sent to another country to carry out the assault, to “guerrilla” attacks, using local recruits in the country where the attack takes place.
Mr. Arquilla said American tactics in some parts of Iraq were beginning to be adjusted to achieve better results, notably in Anbar Province, where American commanders are working closely with Sunni tribal leaders to counter Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
Mr. Urbancic, of the State Department, suggested a shift in tactics in Iraq and beyond. “While killing and capturing key terrorist actors is fundamental in combating terrorism, these actions do not eliminate the threat,” he said at the briefing. “We must also seek to build trusted networks of governments, private citizens and organizations, multilateral institutions, and business groups that will work collaboratively to defeat the threat from violent extremism and its radical ideology.”
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Canadians reported Afghan torture claims
Mon Apr 30, 11:50 PM ET Associated Press
OTTAWA - Canada's government conceded Monday that it has received reports from its officials about alleged torture in Afghan jails.
After a week of denying knowledge of any specific claims of abuse, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day revealed that officers in Kandahar had heard at least two firsthand allegations of torture.
"Yes, they have actually talked to detainees about the possibility if they were tortured or not," Day said in response to a reporter's question.
"They actually had a couple of incidents where detainees said they were."
Asked whether the prisoners in question were handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian troops, Day replied: "I don't have that precise information, but we'll look into it and we'll get back to you."
Canada signed an agreement with Afghanistan in 2005 that committed Canadian soldiers to hand over captured Taliban prisoners to local authorities. The Canadian government has tried to deflect criticism that its agreement is flawed.
Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper reported last week that dozens of detainees said they had been choked, starved and given electric shocks by Afghan officials after they were handed over by Canadian forces.
Day did not reveal when the claims came to light — he did not mention them under intense questioning last week — or what action was taken to follow up on them.
Day said the officers had no evidence to back up the abuse claims, but did not say whether an investigation had been conducted.
Day has long insisted that the allegations of abuse were lies made up by captured insurgents, despite the fact that no probe has been completed.
Some 2,500 Canadian soldiers are fighting alongside Afghan, American and other NATO forces trying to weed out Taliban fighters in the most violent areas in southern Afghanistan.
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Afghan politician rejects prisoner abuse claims
Tue. May. 1 2007 8:02 AM ET CTV.ca News Staff
Kandahar province's governor rejects allegations that Canadian-captured prisoners endured abuse at the hands of Afghan police and intelligence officers.
"I know this (did) not happen but still, it is not a joke. We have to investigate, we have to see," Asadullah Khalid told CTV News on Monday.
The investigation has been ordered by Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai. "He was the one who wanted the investigation to see is it true or not," the governor said.
However, Khalid's statement comes on the same day that Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said Corrections Canada officers in Afghanistan have heard first-hand allegations of torture.
"Yes, they have actually talked to detainees about the possibility if they were tortured or not," Day said Monday in response to a reporter's question. "They actually had a couple of incidents where detainees said they were."
However, he told The Canadian Press the officers didn't seen any evidence, such as physical marks, to back up the allegations.
The minister doesn't know if the detainees were turned over by Canadian troops or other NATO soldiers.
Day's remarks are believed to be the first time that a senior Conservative minister has clearly admitted that Canadians in Afghanistan had been informed of specific abuse allegations.
Last week, Day claimed any allegations of abuse were lies made up by captured Taliban fighters.
Retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis Mackenzie says torture is widespread throughout the region.
"Torture happens in the region -- not just in Kandahar, not just in Afghanistan, all the stands around the neighbourhood. Torture happens, so acknowledge that and then deal with it," he said, appearing on CTV's Canada AM.
The problem of torture is not a Canadian issue, but a NATO one, he said.
"They're the ones running the show over there at the diplomatic and the military level," he said.
Mackenzie suggested NATO may eventually set up their own facility that could show the Afghans how to properly run a prison.
In Brussels, NATO spokesman James Appathurai told CTV Newsnet's Mike Duffy Live that while NATO welcomes the investigation, only allegations exist at this point.
"The Geneva Convention says that it's our responsibility to make sure that prisoners of war -- and we are at war there -- are not put in a situation where they could be tortured. And that's why we should stop the transfers now," NDP Leader Jack Layton told MDL.
Khalid confirmed that Canadian monitors now have access to prisons. "Canadian delegation was there. Uunder new agreement they can come anytime and meet anyone," he said.
However, he still doesn't have a copy of the new agreement with Canada permitting this to happen.
An agreement signed in December 2005 didn't give Canada the right to check up on the well-being of prisoners it handed over, even though other NATO countries had such clauses.
Earlier, in Monday's question period, the Conservatives said the claims of suspected Taliban insurgents should not be believed over Canada's officials on the ground -- a retreat from their position at one point that the allegations are actual fabrications.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper maintained there is no specific evidence of detainee abuse and if the rumours materialize into fact, they will be investigated.
"We have no specific cases and the Afghan human rights commission has said they have no specific cases," the prime minister said in French.
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion called for a "straight story" from the Conservatives over the allegations in the second week of debate around the handling of Afghanistan detainees.
"When will the prime minister end this mismanagement and the dishonesty and get some control over this mission?"
Harper responded by saying the Liberals needed to trust the Canadians on the ground.
"Unlike the members opposite, we don't automatically assume any allegations made by the Taliban against the Canadian Forces are the unbiased truth," Harper fired at the opposition.
The Tories repeated that the opposition should be taking the word of Canadians in Afghanistan over the Taliban.
The Afghan men alleging abuse told The Globe and Mail newspaper last week that they were well-treated by Canadian soldiers, with the trouble starting after they were transferred into the custody of the Afghan police and intelligence services.
Despite an attempt by Harper to switch the subject to the environment issue, the opposition continued to pound the Conservatives.
Layton called for an inquiry into the detainee abuse allegations.
"It seems as though the prime minister remains in full denial on the situation of detainees in Kandahar," Layton fired back.
Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh said a leading human rights group warned of possible abuse five months ago and Foreign Affairs refused to address it.
"Human Rights Watch told the foreign affairs minister to work with NATO to develop policy for better monitoring," Dosanjh said of a memo sent to Foreign Affairs and recently unearthed by the opposition.
Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, who has taken heavy fire from the opposition over this controversy, wasn't in question period on Monday. One of his aides sent out an email message to reporters addressing rumours the minister might not be in his portfolio for long.
"If any of you give credit to the rumour that (the minister of national defence) will resign, (you) will look (stupid). It is not true, he will NOT resign.''
With a report from CTV's Lisa LaFlamme and files from The Canadian Press
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Czech diplomat comes under fire in Afghanistan, 2 guards lightly injured
The Associated Press Tuesday, May 1, 2007
PRAGUE, Czech Republic: A car carrying a Czech diplomat came under fire south of the Afghan capital on Tuesday, and two diplomatic guards were injured, Czech Foreign Ministry said.
The Czech charge d'affaires, Filip Velach, was not hurt in the daytime incident, which occurred about 100 kilometers (63 miles) south of Kabul, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Opletalova said.
It was not clear who opened fire or why. After the shooting, Velach and the two Czech police guards hid in a nearby house until they were rescued by a helicopter from the NATO-led international force in Afghanistan, Opletalova said.
The two guards — part of a special police force that guards the Czech Embassy in Kabul — were lightly injured, she said, but gave no further details.
The Czech Republic currently has about 150 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, and plans to increase that to about 225 later this year.
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More aid share going through Afghan government
01 May 2007 12:45:27 GMT
More KABUL, May 1 (Reuters) - International donors are increasingly routing Afghan aid through the government, but requiring too much to be spent that way may drive some donors away, the U.N.'s Special Representative to Kabul said on Tuesday.
Under pressure over the mounting insurgency and what many Afghans see as a failure to rebuild the country, President Hamid Karzai has urged donors to give his government more control over the billions of dollars pledged for reconstruction after decades of war.
About 30 percent of aid currently goes through the government, and U.N. Special Representative Tom Koenigs said the increasing ability of Afghan institutions to handle rebuilding work meant more could be given that way.
"It has been increased in the past year and it will increase," Koenigs told reporters after an annual aid coordination meeting between government and donors.
But he added: "To say nothing except through the budget, then you might lose some money."
Issues for donors included constitutional bans in some countries on giving aid directly to other governments and a need to continue efforts that were particularly effective, he said.
A foreign military reconstruction team had built 50 schools around the eastern city of Gardez for $1.2 million using local materials and labour, while some other schools had cost $1.2 million each, Koenigs said.
The varying priorities of the more than 60 Afghan and foreign agencies helping rebuild Afghanistan are apparent in the capital, Kabul.
While aid money is funding the replanting of Kabul's highest hill, the road up to the project, used by hundreds of people every day to access their homes, is a heavily potholed dirt track wide enough in parts for only one car.
At the meeting of the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board, aid donors agreed to fund an increase in police numbers by about a third -- taking the maximum number of officers to 82,000.
But Koenigs was unclear how many extra police would be employed, saying there were varying estimates about official police numbers and the reality of boots on the ground.
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Denmark to send 200 more troops to Afghanistan to help reconstruction
JAN M. OLSEN Associated Press Writer 2007-05-01
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) - Denmark will increase its military contingent in Afghanistan by about a third, to 600, to join reconstruction effort, the government said Tuesday.
The 200 new troops would be in charge of security of civilian advisers who will help set up 200 schools and a center to train teachers in the volatile Helmand province in the south, Foreign Aid Minister Ulla Toernaes said.
"It is extremely important to focus on Afghanistan's long-term development," Toernaes said in a live interview with the TV2 News channel. "To this effect, the education sector plays a very big and essential role."
The move had been expected since February, when the government said it would withdraw troops from Iraq and increase its Afghanistan contingent.
The government will present its plan on Wednesday and a majority in Parliament is expected to back it.
"There should be no doubt that the mission in Afghanistan is extremely dangerous but there is no way around it," Defense Minister Soeren Gade said. "Focusing on creating schools is extremely important. Only educated people can bring Afghanistan forward."
Toernaes said Denmark's foreign aid has been focusing on education in Afghanistan which has allowed the training of some 20,000 teachers, building of 21 schools and distribution of 21 million school books. For the period 2005-2009, Denmark has earmarked 670 million kroner (euro90 million; US$122 million) for Afghanistan.
It was unclear when the 200 extra troops would be sent to Afghanistan, but it is expected to happen after Denmark has pulled back its nearly 500 army troops in southern Iraq and replaced them with an air force crew of about 50 and four helicopters.
Denmark presently has some 420 troops in Afghanistan under NATO command.
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Taliban Behead Afghan Police Officer
Radio Free Europe: Radio Library
May 1, 2007 -- The governor of the southern Afghan Kandahar Province says Taliban militants today beheaded an 18-year-old police officer.
Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi said the police officer was returning to duty from holidays when he was captured by insurgents in the village of Mushan in Panjwayi district.
"Terrorists beheaded the officer, and his headless body was left in a school in the village," Sarhadi said.
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Osama look-alike arrested twice along Pak-Afghan border
By ANI Tuesday May 1, 01:37 PM
New York, May 1 (ANI): US forces looking for al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden along the Pak-Afghan border areas have erroneously arrested twice an Afghan national who is known to be having a stark resemblance to the international fugitive carrying a 25 million dollar US' reward.
Sher Akbar comes from an Afghan village Bagh-i-Metal, which lies in an area where US officials believe Osama is hiding.
Like Osama, Akbar is also over six feet tall and has the same angular nose as Osama.
According to the Dawn, 50-year-old Osama is believed to be six feet four inches to six feet six inches tall and weigh 160 pounds.
The most recent arrest of Osama's look-alike came after Afghani officials reported informants saw Osama moving across the border into Pakistan, near the town of Chitral. "We arrested this man as a result of this investigation, but it's not who you might think it is," the paper quoted a senior Pakistani intelligence official as telling ABC News.
The official further said that an extensive investigation involving Pakistani and intelligence officers found that the look-alike has no connection to Osama, but that local residents had tried to collect rewards based on Akhbar's resemblance to Osama. (ANI)
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New NATO commander takes over in southern Afghanistan
GRAEME SMITH Globe and Mail Update May 1, 2007 at 5:43 AM EDT
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — The incoming commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan says one of his biggest concerns is improving the quality of Afghan security forces.
Major-General Jacko Page, a British officer with experience in Sarajevo and Iraq, formally took control of troops in the southern region -- including Canadian forces based in Kandahar -- at a ceremony on the back of a flatbed truck this morning.
“A lot has already been achieved, but there is, of course, a lot more to do,” Maj.-Gen. Page said, in a speech. “One of my priorities will be contributing the building of the Afghan national security forces.”
The behaviour of Afghan forces is now under scrutiny from Canadian investigators, as they try to determine whether suspected Taliban insurgents are tortured in Afghan custody.
Minutes before the event, reporters were informed that the new commander's plans to speak with the media had been cancelled.
Maj.-Gen. Page replaces Major-General Ton van Loon of the Netherlands.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization rotates responsibility for the vital southern command among the major countries involved in the fighting; Maj.-Gen. van Loon's predecessor was Canadian Brigadier-General David Fraser.
Fighting has been heating up in the last week, as the poppy harvest finishes in the southern fields and labourers find new employment with the Taliban.
In his speech, however, the incoming commander focused on the softer side of the campaign.
“We are focused not just on short-term gains against extremists, but the long-term prosperity and stability of Afghanistan,” Maj.-Gen. Page said.
He added later: “While security is a critical part of the equation, ensuring development can take place to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans will remain a priority in the south. ... Whether it be roads, clean water, or electricity supplies, development can only happen if the security conditions are right.”
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Truck strike 'hits Afghan goods'
Ilyas Khan BBC News, Karachi Monday, 30 April 2007, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Thousands of tonnes of goods in transit to Afghanistan are piling up in the Pakistani city of Peshawar because of a truckers strike, traders say.
The truckers are protesting about increased taxes in Afghanistan and roadside extortion by warlords.
Landlocked Afghanistan receives most of its imports via the Pakistani sea port of Karachi.
Most supplies are taken to Kabul and northern Afghanistan through Peshawar and over the Khyber Pass.
They include supplies for Western forces fighting the Taleban, as well as supplies for non-governmental organisations, the government and Afghan traders.
Traders said on Monday that more than 6,000 tonnes of durable goods destined for Afghanistan, as well as thousands of tonnes of fruit and vegetables due to be taken to Kabul, had been held up.
The truckers are protesting because they say the Afghan government has raised road taxes and toll fees by more than 11 times in the past year.
They also complain of extortion by security personnel at various points on the road to Kabul.
The strike was announced on Thursday, when negotiations with the government in Kabul failed, the truckers said.
On Sunday, their representatives met with the commercial attache at the Afghan consulate in Peshawar and were told that their demands had been forwarded to the authorities in Kabul, Sawab Khan, a spokesman for the truckers' union, told the BBC.
But members of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Chamber of Commerce (APCC) in Peshawar said they did not expect an early resolution of the crisis.
"The truckers' complaints are genuine, but the Kabul government is not expected to bring down the taxes by almost 70%, as the truckers are demanding," said Abdul Hamid Gurwara, a member of the APCC.
More than 350 trucks carry an average of 7,000 tonnes of goods over the Khyber Pass to Kabul every day, the truckers and traders say.
This includes between 40 and 50 tankers taking oil for the Western coalition forces in Afghanistan, traders say.
Most of these goods are sent forward from Peshawar, which is fed by Pakistan Railways and trucks from the army-owned National Logistics Cell (NLC).
A small portion of the goods are taken by trucks directly from Karachi to Kabul, though they, too, pass through Peshawar.
Sawab Khan said every truck pays about 400,000 Pakistani rupees (more than $6,500) annually in taxes and bribes.
"This is too much for our transporters, who are mostly poor and hard-pressed to make both ends meet," he said.
Truckers who refuse to pay bribes are often made to park along the road and wait, sometimes for more than 24 hours, before they are allowed to move on, he said.
Some truckers also complain of extortion on the Pakistani side of the border.
Sawab Khan said that truckers carrying supplies into Afghanistan from Iran via Herat and from Central Asia via Hairatan were also on strike.
Supplies to the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, and also partly to Herat, pass through Quetta and across the Chaman border in Pakistan's Balochistan province. The truckers operating on this route say they confront fewer problems and are not planning to go on strike.
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Pakistan Not to Stop Fencing Pak-Afghan Border: FO
By Maria Khan 'Pakistan Times' Diplomatic Correspondent
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will not review the ongoing fencing of its border with Afghanistan and the process would continue, the Foreign Office said Monday.
"Not at all...We are doing it (fencing) inside our territory, on our side of the border," Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said in response to a question whether Pakistan would make a review to stop the fencing.
The spokesperson said Pakistan was fencing its border with its western neighbour to strengthen the border control and categorically stated that the work would continue.
About the meeting between President Pervez Musharraf and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai held in Ankara on Monday said, "It is our hope that meeting would help clear misunderstandings."
She said the meeting would also help the two countries better coordinate in countering terrorism, streamlining efforts for peace and strengthening the relationship.
The spokesperson said Pakistan and India would hold talks on Sir Creek on May 17-18 in Rawalpindi, whereas discussions on Wullar barrage would be held on June 26-27 in New Delhi.
She said meetings on peace and security and the Jammu and Kashmir issue had also been taken place as part of the ongoing peace process.
She declined to comment on the recommendations by Indian External Affairs Minister on Kashmir at a round-table meeting held in New Delhi.
However, she said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statements on Kashmir had many positive aspects, adding that it was important for Pakistan and India to continue working towards the resolution of Kashmir issue.
The spokesperson said upon reaching a stage of Kashmir resolution, President Musharraf would take the nation into confidence.
About foreign ministers' conference to be held in Islamabad in May, Ms Aslam said confirmation of delegates was still in the process. However about 600 participants were expected to attend the meeting, she added.
To a question about contacts with Nuclear Suppliers Group, she said Pakistan was engaged with NSG and its position was based on principles.
Due to growth in economy, Pakistan needed nuclear power plants and was ready to remove any concerns in this regard, she said.
She said Pakistan aimed at using nuclear fuel for power generation and it showed country's seriousness to reach an agreement to meet the growing energy requirements.
Ms Aslam also announced the establishment of Strategic Export Control Division at Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take a number of measures and formulating laws in pursuance of export control of goods, technology and material.
She said Pakistan was strongly committed to non-proliferation and the export of items on the control list of Pakistan will always be possible as settled by the newly set up Authority.
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Karzai, Gillani inquire after Pakistani minister
PESHAWAR, April 29 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Afghan President Hamid Karzai and spiritual leader Pir Syed Ahmad Gillani have inquired after Pakistan's Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao.
Last night, the Afghan leaders rang up the interior minister, who was wounded in a suicide bombing at a public meeting in his home district of Charsadda - 28 kilometres from here. More than two dozen people were killed and 33 others wounded in the attack.
An official in Sherpao's office, Muhammad Tariq, told Pajhwok Afghan News on Sunday Karzai and Gillani wished the interior ministry speedy recovery and denounced the suicide attack as a dastardly terrorist act.
Sherpao and the callers renewed their resolve to press on with their campaign against terrorism, said the official, who added the leaders agreed on joint efforts against the scourge in the neighbouring countries.
After the deadly explosion, state-controlled Pakistan Television (PTV) showed Sherpao being helped to a car - his clothes and face stained with blood. Such acts cannot break our resolve to fight terror, he was quoted as saying.
The explosion came when the minister was walking to his vehicle after ending his speech and listening to party workers at Station Koroona in Charsadda. He suffered minor cuts and bruises to his legs.
The minister, who fell to the ground owing to the sheer impact of the blast, was rushed to the District Headquarters Hospital, Charsadda, from where he was shifted to his residence in University Town in Peshawar.
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Parliament fails to meet - thanks to absenteeism
KABUL, Apr 29 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Both houses of parliament failed to reconvene on Sunday, a day after a national holiday, due to absence of a large number of legislators.
Saturday was a closed official holiday on account of Mujahideen's victory that saw the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. But the MPs did not bother showing up for Sunday's session either.
Abdul Sattar Khawasi, the first secretary to the lower house, expressed disappointment over the absence of lawmakers. He urged the MPs to attend the session for the wellbeing of the electorate.
Each member was responsible to the voters, the secretary observed, warning the absentee legislators might have their salaries slashed and ran the risk of being exposed to the public through the media.
Although absenteeism is no new issue in parliament, names of those staying away have twice been leaked to the media.
Malali Joya, Qayyum Karzai, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani and many others remained absent on Sunday. They have been in attendance only for a few days since the new parliamentary year began.
Noorzai Atmar, one of the few MPs present today, remarked: "It's very unfortunate that public representatives are not taking the parliament session seriously."
She suggested names of the absentees should be released through the media to the voters concerned and their salaries should be cut so as to make them realise their responsibilities.
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