By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces clashed with Taliban militants Wednesday in eastern Afghanistan, leaving six suspected insurgents dead and one wounded, the coalition said.
Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry spokesman rejected the Taliban's call for international Red Cross workers and independent journalists to investigate civilian casualties caused by the insurgency.
"In most cases the civilian deaths or casualties are the result of suicide attacks and bomb explosions," Zemeri Bashary said. "So I think sending a delegation ... for the investigation of civilian casualties from the legal side is not right. It doesn't have any meaning and it is baseless."
On Tuesday, Taliban leader Mullah Omar said on the group's Web site that the militant group is "concerned" about civilian casualties. Omar called for an independent body to investigate them, saying the group should be guaranteed safe passage from Taliban fighters and from U.S. and NATO troops.
Civilian casualties have been on ongoing issue in Afghanistan, sparking demonstrations and a demand from President Hamid Karzai that they stop. Three incidents involving U.S. Special Forces since March left 90 civilians dead, according to numbers from Afghan, U.N. and U.S. officials.
U.S. and NATO officials point out that suicide and roadside bomb attacks from the Taliban kill far more civilians than international or Afghan forces.
Coalition and Afghan forces, acting on intelligence reports, were conducting a raid early Wednesday on a compound suspected of housing Taliban fighters near the eastern city of Jalalabad when they came under fire, the coalition said in a statement.
A brief gunbattle killed six militants and wounded another, it said, adding that no civilians or coalition forces were wounded. Four militants were detained for questioning, the statement said.
Also Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed four policemen and wounded another in the southern province of Uruzgan, provincial police chief Gen. Abdul Qassim Khan said.
And in Kabul, between 200 and 300 demonstrators — many of them women — gathered in front of the offices of the United Nations, holding posters and banners and chanting slogans calling for female lawmaker Malalai Joya to be reinstated to her parliament seat.
Lawmakers voted out Joya this month over comments she made comparing parliamentarians to animals. Lawmakers said Joya violated a parliament rule that bars them from criticizing one another.
Joya has repeatedly referred to members of parliament as criminals, warlords and drug lords. Many former commanders involved in factional fighting in the 1980s and 1990s now hold positions in parliament or the administration.
A U.N. spokesman, Aleem Siddique, said the protesters gave the U.N. a petition calling for Joya to be reinstated. The U.N., he said, was not taking sides in the debate but wanted the rule of law and due process to be followed.
Joya, 29, has said she was suspended until the end of parliament's session in 2010, but is waiting for the Supreme Court to make a final decision as to whether her ouster is valid.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Six police, guards killed in new Afghan attacks
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - New attacks in Afghanistan left six policemen and guards dead Wednesday while the US-led coalition said soldiers had killed six Taliban, although a local insisted they were civilians.
In one of the attacks, similar to those carried out regularly by Taliban insurgents, four highway policemen were killed in the south when a bomb exploded underneath their vehicle, the Uruzgan province police chief said.
Another policeman was wounded, Mohammad Qassem told AFP.
In the adjoining province of Helmand, a bomb struck Afghan guards with the US private security firm USPI, killing two of them, according to a commander in the group named Rahmatullah. Another was wounded, he said.
Four USPI guards were killed in a similar bombing in the southern city of Kandahar nearly two weeks ago.
In the eastern province of Nangarhar meanwhile the US-led coalition said its soldiers and Afghan troops killed six Taliban fighters in an early morning raid. A villager said the six were all civilians.
The soldiers went to a compound in mountains west of Jalalabad city after receiving intelligence that it was "suspected of housing local Taliban fighters," the coalition said in a statement.
As they arrived, they were shot at and returned fire. "The brief firefight resulted in six enemy fighters killed and one slightly injured, with no injuries to civilians or coalition forces," the statement said.
Four were detained for questioning, it said.
A man from Banga Shir village, where the raid took place, gave a similar toll but said none of the people involved had links to the Taliban.
"Six people have been killed, three captured and six to seven others have been wounded," the villager, Abdul Ghafoor, told AFP by telephone.
"They were civilians and had no links to Taliban or others. They are just innocent civilians," he said.
Nangarhar has seen several incidents in the past months in which coalition forces said they had killed rebel fighters while residents insisted they were ordinary villagers.
The Taliban were in government for five years until late 2001 when they were driven from power by the coalition for not handing over their Al-Qaeda allies following the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
They now lead a spreading insurgency despite the efforts of the coalition, Afghan security forces and a separate NATO-led deployment of about 37,000 soldiers in the country.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Afghans dispute U.S. version of raid casualties
By Noor Rahman Wed May 30, 3:45 AM ET
JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The U.S. military said coalition and Afghan troops killed six Taliban and arrested four in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, though a provincial official and residents said the casualties were villagers.
According to a coalition statement there were no coalition or civilian casualties suffered during a firefight that erupted in an operation in the mountains of Nangarhar province.
The statement did not mention the location in Nangarhar, but Dadak Zalmai, the chief of Khogiani district, said there was a pre-dawn raid on a house in his district.
"The troops killed three civilians and took four with them," Zalmai said.
Several residents said seven civilians, including women and children, were killed and eight wounded in the raid.
Scores of civilians have been killed during foreign troops operations against the Taliban in the past three months, according to Afghan government officials. Taliban attacks have also resulted in heavy casualties among ordinary Afghans.
The U.S. military and NATO are coming under mounting pressure over a surge in civilian casualties resulting from counter-insurgency operations.
Afghans have staged angry protests in recent weeks demanding the expulsion of U.S. forces and resignation of President Hamid Karzai because of his perceived failure to rein in the foreign military.
Faced with a resurgent Taliban, criticism over rampant corruption, lack of development, and rampant crime, Karzai has warned that Afghans' patience with foreign troops is wearing thin.
More than 1,300 civilians have been killed by violence in the past 16 months in Afghanistan, the bloodiest period in the insurgency since the Taliban's ouster in late 2001.
U.N. officials in Afghanistan had on Monday urged Western troops and the Taliban to respect laws protecting civilians.
The Taliban's elusive leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, on Wednesday demanded formation of an independent panel of Afghans, the Red Cross and journalists to investigate civilian deaths.
In a statement read to Reuters by a Taliban commander, Omar said foreign troops were most to blame for civilian casualties.
(Additional reporting and writing by Sayed Salahuddin, and Saeed Ali Achakzai)
Back to Top
Back to Top
G8 foreign ministers meet with counterparts from Pakistan, Afghanistan
By David Rising
POTSDAM, Germany (AP) - The foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan are to meet with their Group of Eight counterparts Wednesday amid concern the acrimony between the two Asian neighbours is helping the Taliban inflict mounting losses on NATO troops and Afghan civilians.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country holds the G8 presidency, helped broker the meeting with Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta and his Pakistani counterpart, Khurshid Kasuri, during a trip to both countries this month.
Other officials on hand included U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Before their afternoon meeting with the Afghan and Pakistani officials, the G8 foreign ministers travelled from Berlin to the venue in nearby Potsdam aboard a high-speed train.
Rice had no comment on arrival at the station, where snipers wearing black balaclavas guarded the entrances and helicopters hovered overhead.
Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay said, "inevitably there will be discussion about Afghanistan and about burden sharing," and about "how we continue with the whole-of-government approach that has to focus on reconstruction and development," particularly in the country's south.
Some 2,500 Canadian troops are serving in the south, the country's most violent area. Some other contributors to NATO forces, such as Germany and France, restrict use of their forces to the relatively peaceful north.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf have repeatedly accused each other of responsibility for the Taliban's resurgence.
Musharraf insists Pakistan is doing all it can to counter Islamic militants sheltering among sympathetic tribes in its remote border region and that Afghanistan is not matching its effort to seal the frontier with thousands of troops.
However, Karzai has accused Pakistan of using the militants to undermine his government and said putting soldiers on the border does nothing to shut down militant bases inside Pakistan.
In recent weeks, Pakistani and Afghan troops have also fought several skirmishes along a contested portion of the border.
In a statement before the meeting, the German G8 presidency said Pakistan and Afghanistan had been invited to the talks because "the G8 wants to support co-operation between these two countries, particularly with regard to improving border security, resolving the refugee problem and developing the border region."
The G8 members - Britain, France, Japan, Italy, Russia, Canada, Germany and the United States - have held several ministerial-level meetings before the group's main summit June 6-8 in the northern resort town of Heiligendamm.
At a meeting of security and justice ministers last week, German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the group resolved to work more closely with Afghanistan's neighbours - including Iran - to combat the Afghan drug trade.
Beyond the talks with the Pakistani and Afghan officials, the G8 foreign ministers are to discuss the situations in Iran, Kosovo, Sudan's Darfur region and the Middle East.
Later in the day, Steinmeier, Lavrov, Rice and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon plan to meet in Berlin under the auspices of the so-called Middle East "Quartet" to discuss the recent escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and parts of Lebanon.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Losing the 'other war' in Afghanistan?
By Karl F. Inderfurth Tuesday, May 29, 2007 International Herald Tribune
Controversy rages over the war in Iraq, but what about the so-called other war in Afghanistan, for which there is strong bipartisan support in the United States and in the international community? Is there a danger of losing in Afghanistan? The answer is yes.
Almost six years after U.S.- led military forces removed the Taliban and its Qaeda support network from power, major challenges are seriously undermining popular support and trust in the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai: A resurgent Taliban and a growing sense of insecurity throughout the country, including Kabul; rampant corruption, ineffective law enforcement and a weak judicial system; a failure to provide social services, lagging reconstruction and high unemployment; a booming drug trade and too many warlords.
Now another challenge is rising to the top of that list - the increasing civilian death toll.
Last year more than a thousand Afghans died. Three quarters were killed in Taliban attacks, many deliberately aimed at civilians. But some 230 innocent Afghans also died as a result of air strikes and ground operations by U.S. military and NATO forces. This year those numbers are on the rise.
Since March there have been at least six incidents in which Western troops, mainly those under American command, have been accused of killing Afghan civilians, with more than 135 deaths reported and many more wounded. According to Red Cross, bombing by U.S. forces in western Afghanistan last month destroyed or badly damaged some 170 houses and left almost 2,000 people in four villages homeless.
Mounting civilian casualties are turning Afghans against the nearly 45,000 U.S. and NATO troops in their country, provoking demonstrations and a motion in the upper house of Parliament to set a date for their withdrawal. These incidents also provide a propaganda windfall and new recruits for the Taliban.
Karzai has told U.S. and NATO commanders that the patience of the Afghan people is wearing thin. He said civilian deaths and aggressive, arbitrary searches of people's houses have reached an unacceptable level, adding "Afghans cannot put up with it any longer."
Several actions are needed to address this problem. First, the United States and NATO should publicly adopt the goal of "zero innocent civilian casualties," as recommended a year ago by retired General Barry McCaffrey after a trip to Afghanistan. To accomplish this, military tactics must change to limit casualties even where this means, in McCaffrey's words, "Taliban units escape destruction by hiding among the people."
Second, more must be done to put "an Afghan face on operations," as called for by the former NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Richards of Britain. This means closer coordination on military operations with the Afghan Ministry of Defense and the Afghan National Army. Afghan soldiers should also be included in U.S. and NATO military actions to act as a buffer, a longstanding demand of Karzai. It is also imperative to work more closely with the local authorities and do more to respect Afghan sensibilities. U.S. and NATO policies regarding house searches and detentions of residents should be reconsidered.
Third, the United States should conclude a Status of Forces Agreement with Afghanistan. Such an agreement is intended to clarify the legal terms under which a foreign military is allowed to operate in a country, including locations of bases and access to facilities as well as matters affecting the relations between a military force and civilians. Nearly six years into the U.S. military campaign, a formal, binding understanding with the Afghan government is needed, in part to underscore the political message that the U.S. military is there at the invitation of the Afghan people, not as an "occupier" (which some Afghans are beginning to feel that it is).
Finally, NATO should set up a compensation fund for civilian deaths, injuries or property damage resulting from its military operations in Afghanistan. Since 2002 the United States has appropriated more than $12 million to help Afghan civilians harmed by U.S. operations. The funds are used for medical, rehabilitation and reconstruction aid. But NATO, as a whole, does not have an equivalent program.
On May 8, a U.S. Army brigade commander issued a formal apology to families of 19 Afghan civilians who were killed by U.S. marines after they were ambushed by a suicide bomber. "I stand before you today," he said, "deeply, deeply ashamed and terribly sorry that Americans have killed and wounded innocent Afghan people."
But military actions in the coming weeks by U.S. and NATO forces will speak louder than those sincerely expressed words. As the death toll of civilians mounts, Afghan hearts and minds are being lost and, with that, the specter of losing the war looms.
Karl F. Inderfurth, a professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, served as U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 1997 to 2001.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Minister defends CIDA's record in Afghanistan
Tuesday, May 29, 2007 | 4:11 PM ET CBC News Canada
The federal minister in charge of aid and development says it's simply "not true" that the Canadian International Development Agency's contribution to Canada's mission in Afghanistan is ineffective.
A report released on Monday by international think-tank Senlis Council said CIDA should be relieved of the responsibility of delivering aid in Afghanistan.
International Co-operation Minister Josée Verner held a news conference in Ottawa Tuesday to rebuff statements made by the Senlis Council, a European-based agency that has conducted extensive field research in Afghanistan. The council has offices in Brussels, Kabul, London, Paris and Ottawa.
Senlis board member Noreen MacDonald said CIDA is not equipped to operate in a war zone and should be relieved of its duties and replaced with a special envoy.
MacDonald is a Vancouver lawyer who spends most of her time in Kandahar.
She said starving Afghans often have to show up at the gates of the United Nations World Food Program to get food.
But Verner said there is no evidence of starvation in the Kandahar region. The United Nations delivered more than 10,000 tonnes of food to people in the southern Afghan province last year, much of it paid for by Canada.
MacDonald said Monday that CIDA's "limited achievements" are undermining Canadian military efforts and compromising the likelihood of mission success.
"The failure to demonstrably address the extreme poverty, widespread hunger and appalling child and maternal mortality rates in Afghanistan — let alone boost economic development — is decreasing local Afghan support for Canada's mission and increasing support for the insurgency," she said.
In the House of Commons on Tuesday, Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh demanded that the government respond to the report.
"When will the prime minister stop belittling his critics and address the concerns raised in this very important report?" Dosanjh asked.
He said despite CIDA spending $139 million on development programs, the report outlines a grim situation, including a Kandahar hospital that is unheated, filthy and falling apart.
"As a result of such failures, we are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people," he said. "When will this government recognize there's more to winning in Afghanistan than just combat?"
Verner responded by listing the aid programs the government is supporting, including food, vaccination and women's rights initiatives.
She attacked the former Liberal government for its own record in Afghanistan.
"The former government had not set aside money for development in Afghanistan," she said. "How many times have they really supported our troops in Afghanistan?"
Critics have long accused CIDA of making little headway with aid programs, many of which are meant to persuade Afghans to support the government of President Hamid Karzai instead of Taliban insurgents.
Last March, a Senate report recommended the federal government overhaul or abolish CIDA.
With files from the Canadian Press
Back to Top
Back to Top
Qaeda leader in Afghanistan money man behind Bin Laden
by Habib Trabelsi Tue May 29, 4:06 AM ET
DUBAI (AFP) - Mustafa Abu Yazid, reported by the Al-Jazeera television channel to be the new head of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, is a former treasurer to Osama bin Laden and a founder member of his network, according to an expert on Islamist groups who knew him personally.
"Mustafa Abu Yazid, also known as Said, has come forward as the general director of the Al-Qaeda organisation in Afghanistan," the Qatar-based channel reported on Thursday, airing video extracts of a black-bearded man with thick glasses and a white turban.
The expert on Islamist groups, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, said Abu Yazid would replace Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, an Iraqi and high-ranking member of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, whose arrest was announced by the United States in April.
"Mustafa Abu Yazid is a former member of Egyptian Jihad who enjoys the confidence of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden," he said.
In the 45-minute video Yazid spoke about Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and the Palestinian territories.
He punctuated his speech with verses from the Koran and quotes from the Western media, including an April 2 New York Times article.
"In Afghanistan the mujahedeen expecially need money. We have hundreds of volunteers for martyrdom operations, but don't have the money to equip them," he said, appealing for funds from "Muslims all over the world."
According to Yasser al-Sirri, the director of the London-based Islamic Observatory, Yazid "was born in December 1955 in the Al-Sharqiya area of the Nile Delta."
Sirri said Yazid was "trusted by Bin Laden, for whom he ran businesses in Sudan" when the founder of Al-Qaeda lived in exile there before Khartoum expelled him in 1996.
"Yazid is known for his integrity and management skills, but has never taken organisational or military responsibility at the heart of Al-Qaeda, of which he was one of the founders in 1989," Sirri said.
Yazid is on the list of 27 individuals, organisations and charities whose assets were frozen by the US Treasury in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
He is number four out of 12 individuals on the list, after Bin Laden himself, Mohammed Atef (alias Abu Hafs al-Masri) and Sayf al-Adl, but ahead of Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri, another Egyptian.
According to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, it was Yazid who transferred funds via Dubai for Mohammed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Wal al-Shehri, three of the September 11 hijackers who flew aircraft into the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC.
In the video posted last Thursday on an Islamist website, Yazid pledged allegiance to Bin Laden, Zawahiri and Mullah Omar, spiritual chief of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
He also claimed the presence of "numerous Arab and other nationalities in Afghanistan for the past year."
In a reference to "Afghan Arabs," who battled against forces of the then Soviet Union in Afghanistan before they pulled out in 1989, "the role of these mujahedeen was as important (now) as it was during the time of the anti-Soviet jihad."
Back to Top
Back to Top
Prince Harry may train Afghan Army soldiers
By ANI Tuesday May 29, 12:57 PM
London, May 29 (ANI): Prince Harry, third in the line of succession to Britain's Queen Elizabeth, may be sent ot Afghanistan to train soldiers of the Afghan Army.
Senior Army officers have drawn up plans for him to serve with UK forces in Afghanistan this summer, the Daily Mail reports.
Harry has always been keen to serve in a combat zone with his fellow officers. He was due to be deployed as a troop commander with his Blues and Royals Regiment to southern Iraq this month, until the head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, decided it was too dangerous both for him and his fellow-soldiers.
Now, it has been learnt that an alternative plan is being developed for Harry to fly to Afghanistan to join the 6,500-strong UK force battling Taliban insurgents.
The 22-year-old prince has been trained to lead a 12-strong armoured reconnaissance unit, but he would instead join a small group of fellow officers - including some from his own regiment - in Afghanistan.
Senior defence officials hope commanders would be able to keep Harry away from the public gaze, allowing him to carry out a meaningful role without facing excessive risks. It is hoped he could travel to Afghanistan unannounced, spend a few weeks there and return without attracting publicity.
"Everything depends on security, both for him and the people around him."
Clarence House declined to comment, saying: "Operational deployments are a matter for the Ministry of Defence." (ANI)
Back to Top
Back to Top
Taliban learns tactics, propaganda from al Qaeda
THE WASHINGTON TIMES By Philip Smucker May 30, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Taliban has merged its propaganda and field operations with those of the global al Qaeda network led by Osama bin Laden, say senior Afghan officials and the group's former leaders.
Afghan security officials say the association has enabled the Taliban to develop from a xenophobic, home-grown Islamist movement into a more outward looking force that is helping to advance al Qaeda's global interests.
While there is no evidence the movement that ruled Afghanistan until it was ousted in 2001 has abandoned any of the fanaticism that led it to ban singing, shaving and schooling for girls, the group appears to have fed off the larger global jihad to hone previously nonexistent media skills as well as new fighting tactics.
"The Taliban have changed immensely in the last year due to the mentoring they are getting from leading Arab jihadists in Pakistan with al Qaeda, both in the realm of battlefield tactics and media operations," said Lutfullah Mashal, a senior official in Afghanistan's National Security Council.
"They are doing what works in Iraq and often succeeding," said Mr. Mashal, who as director of strategic communications designs media operations to oppose the Taliban.
A former leading Taliban official who recently spent four years in the U.S. government's Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba and is living under house arrest in Kabul agreed that the movement is increasingly media savvy.
"When the Taliban were in power, they were not focused on this important thing, but they have learned from al Qaeda the importance of media in their operations," said Abdul Salam Zaeef, the group's once outspoken ambassador to Pakistan.
Afghan and Western analysts familiar with the changing face of the Taliban say the local movement is gaining sustenance through recruiting, propaganda and tactics such as suicide bombing. The strategy is gleaned from the godfathers of the global jihad -- bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri -- and from battlefield skills honed in Iraq.
Before his violent death this month at the hands of Afghan and U.S. Special Forces, the Taliban's military commander, Mullah Dadullah, claimed that the Taliban's planning and operations were one and the same with those of al Qaeda.
Afghan officials also said the Taliban's suicide bombing attacks in Kabul and other large cities were approved in advance by senior al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.
"The Taliban is now an integral part of an internationalized jihad," said Waheed Mujda, an Afghan writer who served as a deputy minister in the Taliban's government between 1997 and 2001.
"The Taliban's war has now moved outside the boundaries of Afghanistan and is part of a global struggle."
Pakistan denies that al Qaeda is running its global terrorist network from its side of the border.
The transformation of the Taliban is best exemplified through its changing battle tactics and slick videotapes depicting training exercises and attacks on NATO, Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces.
A cameraman travels with Taliban fighters on most major operations, a major step for a group that once banned television.
The videos also show how al Qaeda's trusted Arabs have resumed their roles as military trainers and media advisers for the Taliban, which is mainly an ethnic Pashtun-based movement. Pashtun tribes straddle the Afghan-Pakistani border.
The al Qaeda trainers also facilitate travel for Afghan militants who move between Afghanistan and Iraq and regularly "wave" to each other over the Internet.
In one recent video, Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior Libyan trainer for the Taliban in Afghanistan, sends a message of encouragement to Iraqi insurgents from an al Qaeda and Taliban training base inside Afghanistan.
When in power, the Taliban regularly mangled its own media operations. But now its press statements and military gains are regularly featured in the independent Afghan media -- so much so that officials from the government of President Hamid Karzai accuse the press of being too sympathetic to "the enemy."
The Taliban insurgents, mimicking al Qaeda's Web sites and its video production wing, Al Sahab, are producing daily news articles covering events in Afghanistan and the Muslim world, as well as slick videotapes that depict Iraq-style beheadings and young militants in al Qaeda training camps.
Mullah Zaeef denied that the Taliban "in their hearts" had global jihadist intentions. He said Afghans would not attack U.S. soil as long as the U.S. military abandons Afghanistan.
He insisted that Taliban fighters and leaders, isolated and hiding in Pakistan, have been forced into the arms of al Qaeda, with which they do not agree in full.
"If I am the Taliban, I must try to find something to help me fight with America to defend myself -- if this [is] possible from al Qaeda, or if it is possible from Pakistan or from Iraq -- because with empty hands it is not possible to fight."
Back to Top
Back to Top
AFGHANISTAN: Food aid trucks come under increasing attacks
30 May 2007 11:25:32 GMT
KABUL, 30 May 2007 (IRIN) - Dozens of commercial trucks carrying World Food Programme (WFP) food aid to vulnerable communities in different locations in Afghanistan have been attacked by armed men over the past few months, the UN agency said on Wednesday.
Over 500 tonnes of food aid worth about US$350,000 has been lost in some 20 attacks to date, according to WFP.
"The increasing frequency of these attacks has become a huge concern for us," Rick Corsino, WFP's representative for Afghanistan, told IRIN in Kabul.
The most recent incident took place on 24 May when four commercial trucks loaded with 52 tonnes of wheat were looted in the Bala Murgab District of southwestern Badghis Province, WFP said.
The looted aid was intended for the department of education in Bala Murgab to be distributed to local students through an incentive programme called Come to School and Take Home Rations.
Unharmed truck drivers delivered a letter ostensibly issued and stamped by Taliban insurgents and showing a satellite telephone number for the Taliban in which they claimed responsibility for the relief looting.
Delivery costs go up
"Transport costs are now 25 percent higher than last year and it's becoming very expensive to deliver assistance," Corsino said.
Mainly unmarked private trucks ferry WFP supplies to communities across Afghanistan.
UN officials in Kabul have not confirmed whether the organisation is a direct target for insurgents, though trucks carrying WFP relief supplies typically do not display a UN marking.
As insecurity plagues swathes of southern Afghanistan and attacks on relief trucks increase, many drivers find it less attractive to be involved in the risky transportation.
In another incident armed men attacked trucks in Farah Province which were transporting 150 tonnes of wheat to the western province of Herat in mid-May. The trucks were diverted to a remote location and their cargo offloaded. No one has taken responsibility for the robbery, said officials.
Most of the attacks have occurred in the volatile south, southeast and southwestern parts of Afghanistan where Taliban rebels have intensified their insurgency.
US forces operating in Afghanistan have accused the Taliban of deliberately targeting relief convoys and denying vulnerable Afghan civilians access to humanitarian assistance.
According to a US army press release on 25 May, "Taliban members stole a stockpile of WFP goods intended for beneficiaries in the Khas Oruzgan District of Oruzgan Province."
Juma Khan, a police officer in Farah Province - where most of the attacks have happened - blamed gunmen associated with the Taliban for continued attacks on UN humanitarian operations.
"Insecurity restricts our access to first hand and reliable information needed to be sure of the motives for, and perpetrators of, these attacks," Corsino said.
WFP has called on the government of Afghanistan and local communities to hold attackers, whoever they are, accountable for their actions.
"Whatever their motives, they are contributing to the already considerable hardship of the poorest Afghans who need assistance more than ever," WFP said in a statement.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Afghanistan agri-education to be developed
UPI May 30, 2007 Middle East Times
WEST LAFAYETTE, IN, USA -- The US Agency for International Development has awarded a $7 million grant to Purdue University for developing agricultural education in Afghanistan.
The program will help develop agriculture and veterinary science programs at Afghan universities and create partnerships among the country's ministry of agriculture, local economic development organizations, and universities.
"We want to revitalize the university environment and link education to local needs and opportunities," said Kevin McNamara, a Purdue professor of agricultural economics who leads the project.
"Most of the skill-requiring jobs in the country are held by foreigners," McNamara said. "So it is essential for Afghanistan's development that people from there are trained to participate. The program will prepare students for meaningful job opportunities, while empowering them to contribute to the country's development."
Several US land-grant universities and development organizations will partner with Purdue to develop the program, including the University of California-Davis, Cornell University, Kansas State University, Catholic Relief Services, Joint Development Associates, and the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas.
Back to Top
Back to Top
World Bank provides US$133.8 million in grant support to Afghanistan
Press Release No:2007/406/SAR Source: The World Bank Group 29 May 2007
WASHINGTON, May 29, 2007 - The World Bank today approved a US$133.8 million package of grant assistance to Afghanistan, of which US$80 million will deepen and sustain the reforms underway in the areas of public administration and fiscal management; US$33.4 million will enhance public financial management systems; and US$20.4 million will improve the management of the country’s civil service for better results on the ground. This package brings the total World Bank commitments to US$1.4 billion since re-engagement in 2001 and closes a record fiscal year in which over US$312 million has been committed to seven projects (compared to US$240 million in fiscal year 2006).
After two decades of conflict, significant progress has been made to secure peace and start the reconstruction of the country. Growth has been strong since 2001 and is expected to grow at around 8 percent per annum over the next five years. The government has initiated important structural reforms, including introducing a new currency and an open trade regime. Important achievements have also been made to build core state institutions by reforming public administration and improving budget and fiduciary management. All of the World Bank’s assistance is channeled through the government’s own systems towards the core priorities of government as set out in the interim National Development Strategy.
“Despite the impressive achievements of the past five years, Afghanistan remains a challenging environment,” said Alastair McKechnie, World Bank Country Director for Afghanistan. “In addition to security and governance problems, capacity remains weak and the needs for investment and services are very large. The government’s challenge is to deepen its reform program beyond Kabul and to implement reforms that will deliver effective government services and generate broad-based growth.”
The US$80 million Programmatic Support for Institution Building III is designed to deepen and sustain the reforms underway in the areas of public administration and fiscal management. The project will support reforms to enable efficient allocation of fiscal resources in the areas of health and education development and private sector development. It complements separate investment and technical assistance operations that, together, support the implementation of comprehensive reforms in key sectors such as public administration reform, private sector development, public finance management and budget management.
The US$33.4 million Public Financial Management (PFM) Reform Project is designed to develop an efficient and effective public financial management system and the human resource capacity of the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and Control and Audit Office (CAO) to ensure better operation of public financial management. To meet these objectives the project will assist departments within the MOF and the CAO to develop and implement the structures, procedures and systems required to carry out their mandates under the new public financial management law and provide consultants, training opportunities, and materials for the development of skills of MOF staff, line ministry staff, and CAO staff.
The US$20.4 million Civil Service Reform Project aims to support key government ministries to improve their performance in terms of service delivery and accountability for the use of public resources. To meet this objective, the project will provide support to core ministries as they reorganize their structure and staffing so as to better meet their tasks. The project will also support the government in managing the civil service according to clear rules and procedures.
“The success of these reforms is essential for building an accountable and effective state and is critical for successful poverty reduction,” said Mariam Sherman, World Bank Country Manager for Afghanistan. “These projects will help the country achieve satisfactory and sustainable development outcomes, set out in the Interim Afghanistan National Development Strategy.”
The grants are from the International Development Association, the World Bank’s concessionary lending arm. The World Bank also administers the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), in partnership with the United Nations, the Islamic Development Bank, and the Asian Development Bank. The ARTF has mobilized over US$2 billion from 27 donors for the government’s recurrent budget and for government’s priority development investments.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Supreme Court To Decide Foreign Minister's Fate
Eurasianet 05/29/2007 By Fariba Nawa
Silver hair blowing in the wind, acting Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta stood at the podium next to his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, at a recent news conference. Toward the end, one journalist asked a simple, yet complicated question: When will Dadfar Spanta's status be clarified?
The 53-year-old foreign minister response was telling: he used the tone of a man unsure of whether he possesses the energy to win this present political battle. "Whether here in the ministry, or somewhere else, my wish is to serve the Afghan people and to struggle for democracy. As a democrat, I've spent 80 percent of my life working toward democratic values and I respect the laws which govern democracy, be it social justice, human rights, or belief in the equal rights of men and women," he said.
Spanta, a scholar with a doctorate in political science, has been foreign minister of Afghanistan for the last year. But since May 12, he has been waiting for the Afghan Supreme Court to clarify his fate, which is tied to a power struggle between the legislative and executive branches of Afghanistan?s nascent democratic government. In early May, parliament voted to remove Spanta, but President Hamid Karzai is challenging the legislature?s authority to make cabinet changes. Karzai believes cabinet appointments and firings are the chief executive's prerogative.
The Supreme Court has no deadline to issue its decision, and until its ruling is announced, Spanta will continue to serve as foreign minister. The international community, including the United Nations, is supporting Spanta, and is anticipating a decision in his favor. The UN said the Afghan constitution gives parliament the right to give no-confidence votes to the cabinet, but it does not have the right to fire cabinet members.
The origin of the constitutional row goes back to Karzai's controversial move to replace former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah with Spanta. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
The move received parliament's blessing at the time, but developments over the last year, culminating in Iran's expulsion of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in April, resulted in the majority of MP voting no-confidence in both Spanta and Minister of Refugees Akbar Akbar. In explaining their no-confidence vote, legislators assailed the two ministers for ineffectiveness in representing Afghanistan?s interests in the international diplomatic arena.
Ahmed Behzad, a member of parliament's lower house, had helped Spanta campaign and gain approval from other members in 2006. But on May 12, he voted against the minister. "He's without a doubt one of Afghanistan?s worthy scholars. But he didn't meet our expectations last year. We didn't see any positive changes and instead, we saw a lack of interest ? in how he dealt with political issues on a global level," Behzad said. He added that the last straw was his inability to prevent the expulsions of Afghan refugees from Iran. When Spanta appeared before parliament to account for his actions, his report was flawed and unconvincing, Behzad said.
Karzai approved the parliamentary ouster of Akbar, but the president seems determined to try to keep Spanta. The debate over Spanta's future is causing many in Kabul to grapple with the question of parliament's ability to act responsibly. Many of its members, including former warlords, communists and royalists, have poor democratic credentials. Meanwhile, some MPs are only semi-literate. Debates have occasionally culminated in shouting matches and objects being thrown within the chamber. Critics say many MPs base votes on personal considerations, not on the country's best interests, and with little regard to the constitutionality of the matter at hand.
In Spanta's case, his supporters consider him a victim of political posturing and foreign meddling. They add that Iran and Pakistan both would like to see Spanta ousted because he has tried to protect Afghanistan's interests. For example, Afghanistan plans to build a dam on one of the rivers it shares with Iran ? a move that Tehran opposes due to concerns about decreasing access to water supplies. One of the reasons for Iran's decision to expel Afghan refugees may have been connected to the dam issue, suggested Siamak Herawi, Karzai's deputy spokesman. Iran argues that the forced repatriation of refugees was part of a well-publicized plan to send Afghans back to their country. There are about 2 million Afghans living in Iran and, to date, about 90,000 undocumented Afghans were deported and Afghanistan has no resources for them
"Spanta has been one of the most active and energetic ministers and he was able to better relations with other nations during his tenure," Herawi said.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sultan Ahmed Baheen, suggested that Spanta?s fate have become entangled in a much larger political battle, in which opponents of Karzai are striving to force the president from power. "Mr. Spanta is an independent individual who is not linked to any party but loyal to the law and the people of Afghanistan," Baheen said. "Perhaps that?s why he?s being punished."
On paper, Spanta seems to be a good fit for the Foreign Ministry. He can speak German, Turkish, the Afghan languages of Dari and Pashto, along with some English. He was an important adviser to Karzai on international relations before becoming minister, and taught law and political science for many years in Germany and in Kabul. One of his achievements as minister has been an agreement that was signed with Saudi Arabia to allow thousands of Afghan migrants to continue working in the country with legitimate visas and passports.
Analysts say that Spanta's weakness is that he is too much of an academic and not enough of a politician. "He's too soft," an adviser with NATO in Kabul said. "These academics educated in the West do not know how to contain the warlords and deal with an illiterate population. You need to be tough and somewhat of a dictator in this government in order to survive."
Back to Top
Back to Top
Bad blood spreads to Afghanistan's north
Asia Times 05/29/2007 By M K Bhadrakumar
The warriors of northern Afghanistan, whom former US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad thought he had astutely mothballed and consigned to the dustbin of history, are reappearing in the Amu Darya region that borders Uzbekistan.
Of course, it was naive to have fancied that fighters like Rashid Dostum would simply walk into the sunset. Afghans are notorious for hunkering down. They may have begun to sense that they can soon hope to reclaim their native dwellings.
Their unfailing instincts honed through hardy life must have told them it would only be a matter of time before the edifice that the US created in post-Taliban Afghanistan would begin to crack. They knew it was an edifice built on quicksand, and that its facade apart, it was inherently fragile. They cannot be missing the point that in the meantime, competitive great-power politics has reappeared in the Hindu Kush.
Dostum was one of the founding members of the United Front set up in February in opposition to President Hamid Karzai's US-backed government. Last month, he volunteered to go and fight the Taliban, openly mocking the ineptitude of the Kabul setup and its foreign backers.
On Monday, 13 followers of Dostum were killed, with more than 30 reportedly injured, in the northern ethnically Uzbek town of Shibirghan at the hands of forces under the command of Juma Khan Hamdard, the governor of Jowzjan province on the Amu Darya River bordering Uzbekistan.
A Pandora's box of northern Afghanistan's ancient ethnic and tribal rivalries may have opened. Dostum is an ethnic Uzbek, while Hamdard is a Pashtun, and Jowzjan is in the ethnic-Uzbek heartland. Dostum's followers, numbering 1,000, were protesting against Hamdard, seeking his dismissal. They accused him of involvement in drug trafficking and of his clandestine links with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami (HIA) and the Taliban. Hamdard says it is all a plot by Dostum.
Dostum versus Hamdard Not too long ago Hamdard was a rising star in the HIA under Hekmatyar's leadership - and a field commander obeying instructions from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence. But Hamdard says that was a time when all patriotic Afghans joined up with one mujahideen group or the other. The parting of ways, if ever there indeed was one, is shrouded in mystery.
Hamdard is immensely popular among the Pashtuns of Balkh province in northern Afghanistan, where he originally belonged. In the late 1990s, most certainly, Hamdard traded with the Taliban, who had taken power in 1996. His betrayal, while notionally an ally of Dostum, significantly helped the capture of the Amu Darya region by the Taliban after a chaotic, treacherous, extremely bloody campaign in 1997-98. It forced Dostum into a three-year exile in Ankara, Turkey.
Then, with the US intervention in 2001 leading to the ouster of the Taliban regime, Hamdard resumed links with Dostum, but only to desert him once again and pledge support to Karzai in late 2004. That was part of the celebrated deal worked out by Khalilzad involving the defection of 150 mujahideen commanders, mostly Pashtun, to Karzai's side on the eve of the presidential election in October 2004.
Hamdard was handsomely rewarded. He was made governor of the northern province of Baghlan. From there he moved on as governor to Jowzjan, Dostum's power base. Karzai was riding high at that time, and Khalilzad, a Pashtun himself, was determined to "pacify" the Mazar-i-Sharif region (where he originally belonged). Hamdard's induction into Jowzjan was the ultimate insult to Dostum - an ethnic Pashtun reigning as the provincial governor in Shibirghan, where Dostum used to receive foreign dignitaries posing as the emir of northern Afghanistan.
Branded as a warlord, ridiculed in the Western media as a political dinosaur, and constantly under the US threat of a war-crimes tribunal, Dostum hunkered down. Given Karzai's US support, he couldn't do much about his humiliation.
Meanwhile, Hamdard seized the opportunity and rubbed Dostum's nose in the dust. In March last year, he "recovered" in Shibirghan the largest cache of arms ever found in Afghanistan. The cache belonging to Dostum's forces included one bunker of detonators, two bunkers containing a total of 80 tonnes of Russian TNT, and one bunker with 15,000 anti-personnel and 10,000 anti-tank mines. Hamdard promptly claimed credit for the seizure as the validation of his commitment to bringing sustainable security to northern Afghanistan and to creating the conditions for good governance and the rule of law.
Uzbek fear of Taliban resurgence Uzbek-Pashtun tensions in the Amu Darya region go back a century when King Amanullah Khan created pockets of Pashtun settlements in the northern region as a way of keeping a check on the notoriously fierce fighters of the Uzbek-Turkmen nationalities inhabiting the region and contiguous Central Asian regions.
The Taliban resurgence in the south and eastern provinces in recent months has sent alarming signals to the Uzbek tribes in the north. They see the Pashtun communities in the northern region as once again becoming a potential "fifth column" for the Taliban in the Amu Darya region. The fear is legitimate, as that was what happened in the 1996-98 period. The blood feud remains unsettled. The violence in the Amu Darya region was the most horrendous, even by the tragic standards of those times, as the Taliban nonchalantly swung northward after capturing Kabul in 1996.
The first ever attack on German troops by a suicide bomber in Kunduz town on the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border on May 19 would also have alerted leaders such as Dostum. Kunduz is an extremely sensitive area, with a sizable (possibly, majority) presence of Pashtun settlements. Besides the Pashtuns, Uzbek and Tajik communities live in the area. Former Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud (assassinated in 2001) tried in vain to reclaim the strategic town from the Taliban. As a stronghold of the Taliban, Kunduz posed a major challenge during the US invasion in 2001.
The Taliban are evidently adopting a new strategy. After registering their presence in a vast swath of land in the south almost up to the approaches to Kabul city, they are beginning to commit attacks in the north. From all accounts, the suicide bomber who attacked the German troops was a Taliban activist. The attack took place in the busy market center of Kunduz. Three German troops were killed; five were wounded seriously and were airlifted to Cologne for medical treatment, apart from seven Afghan civilians who were killed and 13 wounded.
Germany reassessing Veterans like Dostum will be apprehensive how long the few hundred young German male and female conscripts (Germany doesn't have professional soldiers) scattered on a difficult terrain from Kunduz in the east almost up to the sand dunes of Faryab in the west, stretched along the Afghanistan-Uzbekistan border, will be able to hold if the Taliban make a determined comeback.
The Germans have been shell-shocked by the Kunduz attack. A furious debate has begun in Germany about the Afghan mission, which has never been popular in public opinion. Will Germany stay the course? The Bundestag (parliament) will debate whether to extend the separate military mandates in Afghanistan: Germany's participation in the International Security Assistance Force, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led forces mandated by the United Nations Security Council, the deployment of six German Tornado reconnaissance aircraft, and the involvement of up to 100 German special forces in the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom.
Der Spiegel assessed that Berlin is mulling its role, and might well decide to withdraw from Operation Enduring Freedom. The point is, there is no possibility in sight for increasing Germany's troop levels if the situation were to deteriorate on the ground in northern Afghanistan.
The tensions in the northern region are building at a time when relations between Uzbekistan and Western powers remain frozen. The Amu Darya region has traditionally been within the sphere of influence of Uzbekistan. Tashkent has a major role to play if the security of northern Afghanistan reaches a flashpoint.
Beyond this factor lies the geopolitics of the "new cold war". Certainly, Russian policies in the Central Asian region have shifted gear in recent months in response to the US decision regarding missile-defense deployments in Russia's neighboring regions. (Chinese criticism of the US missile-defense deployments has also become frequent and focused.)
There are renewed calls in Kyrgyzstan for the vacation of the US airbase in Manas. Kyrgyzstan is hosting the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in August. An SCO counter-terrorism exercise is under way in Kyrgyzstan.
Growing Russian involvement More important, the summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is scheduled for next month. Russia visualizes the CSTO as the primary vehicle of its strategy toward Central Asia's security. The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan is certain to figure on the agenda of the CSTO summit.
NATO activities in Afghanistan are under close Russian scrutiny. Moscow has openly begun voicing criticism of the US-led NATO policies toward Central Asia. CSTO secretary general Nikolai Bordyuzha said while on a visit to Bishkek last week that NATO has been pursuing a "policy of projecting and consolidating its military-political presence in the Caucasus and in Central Asia". He spoke of "external challenges and risks that undermine stability in the post-Soviet space", which are emanating out of the "growing activities of extra-regional structures, primarily NATO, the European Union and third countries".
Bordyuzha singled out Washington's "Greater Central Asia" policy, which envisages Afghanistan as the hub of the US strategy toward Central Asia. He criticized this as an attempt to drive a geopolitical wedge between regional states on the one hand and Russia and the CSTO on the other. Bordyuzha said, "This is an attempt to reorient the Central Asian states towards cooperation with the United States in a new format, encompassing, besides the Central Asian states, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in the future, India."
Russian Foreign Minister Segei Lavrov has voiced similar apprehensions. "NATO is continuing to follow its expansionist policy and is moving its military infrastructure closer to our territory," Lavrov said in an interview recently with German television.
Without doubt, Moscow had the worrisome security situation in northern Afghanistan in mind when a delegation of the CSTO visited Kabul in March. The visit caused great annoyance in Washington. The US doesn't want Russia to come anywhere near Kabul. Washington continues to ignore Russia's three-year-old proposal to have formal CSTO-NATO coordination on Afghanistan. But Moscow is lately asserting its regional role.
The Russian Foreign Ministry's major foreign-policy document approved recently by President Vladimir Putin made a pointed reference to the imperative of "de-monopolization of the political settlement" in Afghanistan. It underlined the importance of the "enlistment of all of Afghanistan's neighbors without exception" in the Afghan settlement. Clearly, the reference was to the exclusive Washington-London axis that determines the contours of the Afghan "settlement".
In the run-up to the CSTO delegation's visit to Kabul, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman stated in Moscow on March 5, "In the light of increasing Taliban and al-Qaeda activities, President Karzai and the Afghan government have asked Russia to resume supplies of military equipment."
Russia and the Central Asian states traditionally depended on northern Afghanistan's experienced leaders such as Dostum and Massoud to ensure peace in the Amu Darya region. Moscow's understanding with Massoud dated to the early 1980s. That was also the time when Dostum underwent training in a Soviet military academy.
M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for more than 29 years, with postings including ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-98) and to Turkey (1998-2001).
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).