By Tahir Qadiry
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan, May 31 (Reuters) - Under tight security by NATO and Afghan forces, hundreds of people protested on Thursday in Afghanistan's northern town of Shiberghan, scene of a bloody protest this week against a provincial governor.
The protesters demanded the removal and trial of Governor Juma Khan Hamdard, who they accuse of being incompetent and a bigoted ethnic Pashtun.
Protesters said Hamdard should be tried for the deaths of those killed in Monday's demonstration. Witnesses said 13 died when police fired shots into the crowd, while the government said six were killed.
A spokesman for the governor, Rohullah Samun, said the protests were part of an armed uprising provoked by General Abdul Rashid Dostum against provincial and central authorities.
"Dostum has actually started distributing arms to people and bracing for violence," Samun said.
Kanjena Kargar, an official for Dostum's faction, dismissed Samun's comments.
Business had come to a halt in the town and the situation was tense, Samun said.
NATO-led peacekeepers and Afghan forces were deployed to prevent the protest from turning violent, said Khalil Aminzada, police chief of Jowzjan, of which Shiberghan is the capital.
Dostum is an ethnic Uzbek and has been involved in a series of coups and regime changes during the nearly three decades of conflict in Afghanistan.
He is also a member of a newly established party that seeks to shrink Karzai's power. The party, the National Front, consists of key members of Karzai's government.
A pro-federalist and a former communist, the burly Dostum for years considered northern areas his fiefdom. He was among the factions that helped U.S.-led forces to overthrow the Taliban government in 2001 and was a strong commander in the north until recent years.
Dostum's powers have been reduced, though he officially has a symbolic role as a military aide for Karzai.
The interior ministry has accused Dostum of provoking the protesters who were largely ethnic Uzbeks.
(With additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin)
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Afghan protesters push for their demand to remove provincial governor
Xinhua / May 31, 2007
Afghan protesters once again on Thursday assembled in front of Governor House in Shubarghan, the capital of northern Jauzjan province, calling for the removal of provincial governor Juma Khan Hamdard, a local official said.
"A large number of protesters gathered in front of Governor House and demanding the removal of Hamdard," the official told Xinhua but refused to be identified.
In the violent protest began last Monday so far, according to locals, over one dozen people had been killed and three dozen others sustained injuries.
The protesters mostly ethnic Uzbek have accused the provincial governor who is a Pashtun, the major ethnic group in Afghanistan, of discrimination, calling on central government to replace him.
However, sources close to the governor accuse a former Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dustam of motivating the locals to protest against governor Hamdard.
Central government has already sent an investigation team to initiate a probe into the case.
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Afghans' anger over US bombings
By Alastair Leithead BBC News, Afghanistan Thursday, 31 May 2007
Each time the old woman breathed out you could hear a small groan of pain as she sat, her head in one hand, her other shoulder shattered by shrapnel and fixed in a coarse plaster.
Her son Mohammad and his wife Khwara sat next to her - they were mourning the death of their 18-year-old son and her brother.
Both were among 57 killed - almost half of them women and children - when American forces bombed their village in Shindand, western Afghanistan, and destroyed 100 homes.
"The bombardments were going on day and night," said Mohammad Zarif Achakzai, who had to flee their mud house in the Zerkoh Valley.
"Those who tried to get out somewhere safe were being bombed. They didn't care if it was women, children or old men."
Khwara explained how it started: "Americans came to the village without consulting any elders," she said.
"They just came into to the women's part of the house, so we women went to the elders, and we told them if you don't stop this, we women will stand against them."
Remembering what happened she began to get angry: "Death to America," she shouted. "Death to the America that killed my son."
The US special forces were in the valley looking for an arms cache. Shindand is not under Taleban control, but intelligence reports suggest some locals may have been gun-running for them.
Baryaly Noorzai was knocked out by a bomb, while he and his wife and child were fleeing their home.
He described how it was only after the villagers were angered by culturally insensitive house searches that they picked up guns and took on the American military machine.
"When the Americans came the people started fighting them back, and then the planes came and started bombing us.
"Even under the Russians we haven't witnessed bombardments like it before."
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) investigated the accounts and identified that at least 25 of those killed in Shindand were women and children.
But the commander of US operations for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Brig Gen Joseph Votel, denied these reports.
"We have no reports that confirm to us that non-combatants were injured or killed out in Shindand," he said, justifying the use of 2,000lb bombs against mud houses.
"If there are insurgents that are effectively engaging our forces and they happen to be coming from a building we would make every use we can of technology we have, and precision weapons, to eliminate the threat and minimise the effects of collateral damage."
And there have been a large number of civilians killed recently - more than 70 in three months according to the AIHRC commissioner, Nader Naderi.
"In all of these incidents it was the coalition forces or their special forces that were involved rather than NATO," he said.
He explained how much of a cultural taboo it is entering homes, or women's rooms, uninvited.
"If something like that happens then the honour of the family and of that man would be under question.
"It makes those men - who are very, very conservative - very upset and very angry, and they would be ready to do whatever they can do to stop it or to prevent it or to regain their honour that was lost."
There are two missions in Afghanistan: Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), which has 37,000 troops from 37 countries, including America, which is helping the Afghan government bring security, development and better governance.
But there is also the US-led coalition under the banner of Operation Enduring Freedom - a counter-terrorism mission outside Nato's mandate which involves mainly special forces.
They have been blamed for shootings and bombings and tension between the two missions is increasing.
One of the buildings damaged by the bombs in the Zerkoh Valley was a school, built just a few months earlier by Italian Nato troops.
President Karzai held a shura, or traditional gathering, in Shindand district to try and calm angry emotions after the bombing which had led to rioting in the streets.
"We know that the presence of foreign troops some times makes problems, but imagine if these troops were not in Afghanistan?" he asked in response to accusatory heckling from the crowd.
"Don't you think there will be a government in every street? Won't we go back to years of hunger, devastation and miseries? Foreign troops are like powerful drugs that cure a disease but have side effects as well."
For now Afghanistan needs, and largely welcomes, the presence of the international forces, but with every civilian killed, the divide widens.
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New protest against suspension of Afghan female MP
Wed May 30, 9:07 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - About 300 people marched through the Afghan capital Kabul Wednesday in the latest in a series of countrywide demonstrations against parliament's removal this month of an outspoken woman legislator.
Men and women, a handful of them hidden beneath blue burkas, shouted slogans in support of Malalai Joya and praised her criticism of fellow MPs who played a role in the 1992-1996 civil war that left 80,000 dead in Kabul alone.
Marchers chanted "Down with fundamentalists, down with criminals who are in parliament" as they marched past offices of the United Nations and government ministries.
"She is the only person who is fighting against the warlords -- these people who had killed Afghan people during their war," said one protestor, a bearded and elderly farmer named Shah Hussein, from the southern province of Kandahar.
The lower house of parliament suspended Joya, 28, on May 21 until parliament is dissolved before the 2010 parliamentary elections after she was shown in a television interview comparing parliament to a stable.
Human Rights Watch said days later that while parliament's rules forbid lawmakers from criticising one another, MPs had regularly done so without anyone else having been suspended.
Many seats of the parliament elected in 2005 are filled by former heroes of the anti-Soviet resistance accused of rights abuses and war crimes in the subsequent civil war. They are still powerful.
"Some people in parliament are against peace in Afghanistan," said a young teacher, Aria Aahmad. "She says things as they are."
A declaration distributed by organisers of the march said parliament's "unjust action" had caused "nationwide anger."
Joya, who was elected in her home province of Farah in the 2005 parliamentary polls, was "the rightful representative of her people and no person or organisation has the right to suspend her," it said.
There have been a series of small demonstrations in support of Joya in a handful of towns across the country.
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Taleban 'downed Nato helicopter'
Thursday, 31 May 2007 BBC News
Nato says one of its helicopters that crashed in the southern Afghan province of Helmand on Wednesday may have been shot down by the Taleban.
Seven people died in the crash, five of them US crew. Two military passengers - one British, one Canadian - also died.
Nato-led troops are fighting militants nearby. Dozens of Taleban were killed or injured, Afghan officials say.
Elsewhere, at least 16 policemen died in a Taleban ambush in southern Zabul province, the interior ministry said.
Fighting between Nato-led security forces and the Taleban has escalated in recent weeks - particularly in the south.
Nato is still investigating the cause of Wednesday's crash, but says it looks as if Taleban claims to have shot the Chinook down may well be correct.
"It was a hostile area where the helicopter went down," said Major John Thomas, a spokesman for Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).
"Initial indications are that enemy fire may have brought down the helicopter."
The nationality of the seventh passenger is still unclear.
The helicopter crashed at around 2100 (1630 GMT) in the Kajaki district of Helmand, Isaf said in a statement.
A rescue patrol was ambushed by "enemy fighters" and forced to call for an air strike to access the crash site, Isaf said.
Incidents of helicopters being shot down are relatively rare in the country, says the BBC's Alastair Leithead in Kabul.
About 30,000 alliance troops and another 10,000 US-led ones have been battling to boost the authority of President Hamid Karzai.
On Thursday, Isaf confirmed that fighting was going on against the Taleban in Sangin district, near Kajaki.
A statement said air strikes had been carried out against Taleban positions. It did not say whether there had been any casualties.
But the Afghan Defence Ministry said dozens of Taleban fighters had been killed or wounded.
Local people have disputed the government account, saying some of those killed were civilians rather than Taleban.
Sangin district police chief Ghulam Wali told the BBC the aim of the operation was to secure the road from the Shali area to Kajaki.
In the ambush in Zabul, six policemen were injured as well as those killed, officials said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Zmaray Bashary told the BBC that police had also inflicted heavy casualties on their attackers in a gun battle which had raged for 20 minutes.
He said the ambush took place in Shahjoy district, a Taleban stronghold, as the police convoy travelled from Zabul to Ghazni.
There was no way of independently verifying casualty figures in either incident.
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Over 50 British troops killed in Afghanistan in last 12 months
London, May 31, IRNA
One British soldier was among the seven NATO troops killed when a Chinook helicopter went down near Kajaki in Helmand province of southern Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) confirmed Thursday.
According to NATO, the helicopter in which five US crew and a Canadian military passenger were also killed may have been shot down by Taleban insurgents.
The latest British fatality brings the total number of UK troops to have died in Afghanistan since the 2001 war to 58. The number includes 51 who have been killed in the past 12 months, more than the 44 British fatalities suffered in Iraq during the same period.
According to MoD casualty figures, 136 UK military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan were also admitted to UK Field Hospitals and categorized as 'Wounded in Action', between January 2006 and the end of April this year.
Of these, some 36 were categorized as 'Seriously' or 'Very Seriously' Injured from all causes excluding disease. Another 357 were admitted to hospital for disease or non-battle injuries, while 384 aeromedically evacuated on medical grounds for whatever the reason.
The increase in casualties comes after Britain has greatly increased the number of troops deployed in Afghanistan to over 7,000, more than the number involved in operations in Iraq.
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Taliban ambush kills 16 police officers in S. Afghanistan
May 31, 2007
(Kyodo) _ Sixteen police officers were killed Thursday when their convoy was ambushed by a group of Taliban militants in southern Afghanistan, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.
The attack, the deadliest on Afghan police this year, occurred in the Shajoi district of Zabul Province, Zamaria Bashari said.
Afghan forces sent reinforcement to the scene but the militants fled, he said, adding 10 other police officers were wounded.
Meanwhile, dozens of militants were killed and wounded in a joint Afghan-NATO operation which started Thursday morning in the Shali area of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
The operation in Helmand started hours after seven soldiers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization were killed late Wednesday when their helicopter crashed.
The CH-47 Chinook helicopter went down near the Kajaki area of Helmand, killing the entire crew of five and two military passengers, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.
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3 Taliban militants detained in E. Afghanistan
Xinhua / May 31, 2007
The U.S-led coalition and Afghan forces captured three Taliban insurgents early Thursday in Khost province of eastern Afghanistan, a coalition statement said.
The forces raided a compound in Khost district in the province after receiving credible intelligence, which said the compound was housing known Taliban operatives, the statement said.
"Residents of the compound were discovered trying to hide Taliban identification cards as the forces approached," it added.
The detainees will be questioned as to their involvement in militant activities, the statement said.
No shots were fired and no one was injured in the operation.
About 13,000 coalition soldiers are being deployed in Afghanistan, mostly in the eastern region, to hunt down militants.
Due to rising Taliban-linked insurgency, over 1,700 persons, most of whom were Taliban militants, have been killed in Afghanistan this year.
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AFGHANISTAN: Dozens of girl students hospitalised in northeast
KABUL, 31 May 2007 (IRIN) - Forty students of a girls' high school in Takhar Province, northeastern Afghanistan, have been admitted to hospital after drinking water from a contaminated well, local authorities said.
"Twenty-five students have been hospitalised at Farkhar hospital and 15 have been sent to Taloqan [provincial capital] hospital where more facilities are available," Abdul Hakim Aziz, head of Takhar's health department, said on Wednesday.
In total 61 students reported sick on 28 May after the incident in Farkhar District. Some of the sick have been advised to rest at home, the governor of Takhar, Ghawsuddin Abubakar, told IRIN.
All the hospitalised students are in a stable condition.
It was unclear what caused the contamination. "We are looking into all possibilities," Abubakar said.
A spokesman for Afghanistan's Ministry of Education (MoE), Zuhoor Afghan said one of the water-wells might have been poisoned by chemicals leaking from a nearby antiseptic tank.
An MoE official, who declined to be identified, doubted the suggestion by some that Taliban insurgents were involved. The Taliban have torched and attacked many schools in the south and east of Afghanistan and oppose girls' education saying it is against Islamic principles, but it is not clear whether they can be linked to this incident.
"Local warlords and militias have a similar mentality to the Taliban and oppose women's education and work," the official said.
Investigation under way
Local police and the security department have launched an investigation into the incident, the governor of Takhar said.
Provincial officials say samples of contaminated water have been taken by a German-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), based in neighboring Kunduz Province, for examination.
More than 400 schools were attacked and 27 people killed from early 2004 to the end of 2006 in Afghanistan, UNICEF said.
According to UNICEF, in the past two months 10 school incidents in the country, which include torching, attacks and explosions, have been reported.
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Defeating Afghanistan's drug fix
By Nick Grono and Joanna Nathan, The Christian Science Monitor via Yahoo! News Thu May 31, 4:00 AM ET
Brussels and Kabul, afghanistan - It's spring in Afghanistan, and poppy farmers are smiling. Heavy rains this winter portend a bumper opium harvest. Afghanistan already produces nine times the total opium output of the rest of the world combined, and while last year's crop was the largest the country has ever produced, this year's crop is likely to be even bigger.
The exploding drug trade is both a symptom and a source of instability and corruption. It is not just a case of evil drug traffickers taking advantage of a good but ineffective government to facilitate terrorism and insurgency – as frequently portrayed. The traffickers and their agents are all too often corrupt government officials themselves, who forge alliances of convenience with insurgent groups, including the Taliban, to protect their businesses and distribution routes.
There are no quick solutions to tackling this growing plague. But that doesn't mean policymakers can't make progress in undercutting the drug trade. The challenge will be to keep them focused on smart courses of action that yield long-term results – and away from superficially "easy" policies that end up backfiring.
In fact, when it comes to controlling drug production in Afghanistan, it is much easier to say what won't work than what will. For example, large-scale forced eradication (for example, by aerial spraying of crops, as advocated by some US policymakers), will not work. It might cause a temporary dip in production – but it will also force prices higher, thereby increasing incentives to produce more the following year. Indeed, it will probably benefit the drug traffickers who have a stockpile to sell at inflated prices, while farmers whose livelihoods are destroyed could be driven into the arms of insurgent groups.
Another superficially attractive solution that has been getting increasing attention is that of legalizing, or "licensing," the production of opium for medicinal purposes.
But this option would solve a problem that does not exist and fail to address several that do.
The International Narcotics Control Board categorically asserts there is already an oversupply of opiates for medical purposes. But even if there was an unmet demand, Afghanistan is perhaps the world's least suitable place to meet it. Countries such as Turkey, India, and Australia are already licensed to supply opiate raw materials. These countries, with their effective law enforcement and an absence of widespread armed conflict, are much better placed to meet any such demand than conflict-ridden Afghanistan.
Simple economics would also make the scheme unappealing to Afghan farmers. The sole reason that opium fetches high prices is that it is illegal. Licensed opiates fetch a fraction of the price. Farmers would have no incentive to produce opium legally as long as there is a black market offering much higher profits for the illegal output. And the logistical challenges are immense. Licensed poppy crops would need to be carefully regulated. But who could realistically expect the fledgling Afghan government to implement this complex and bureaucratic process – particularly in the violent and lawless south, where opium production has exploded despite an absolute ban for the past six years?
Given the involvement of corrupt officials, efforts to tackle this scourge must start at the top. There are about 25 to 30 key traffickers running the trade in Afghanistan, according to a recent UN/ World Bank report. These figures should be targeted with asset seizures, and put on trial or extradited to the US or Europe. NATO should support efforts by Afghan counternarcotics forces to destroy labs and warehouses and interdict drug shipments. Regional linkages between Afghan, Pakistani, and Iranian trafficking networks also need to be addressed, and the international community should pressure Pakistan to arrest its traffickers and corrupt border security officials.
For the small farmers there must be comprehensive rural development to tackle some of the world's worst poverty. This should particularly target the areas that are not yet producing on a large scale, to help inoculate communities from the lure of traffickers. This means infrastructure such as roads, irrigation, and cold storage; providing seeds and fertilizer; training in marketing and distribution for other crops; and wider community development that offers schools, healthcare, and security. Once there are sustainable alternatives to poppy, manual eradication becomes easier.
Of course, it is always going to be difficult to make major inroads into drug production in Afghanistan without addressing the international demand for illicit drugs. The most realistic medium-term aim is to clean up the government so that officials linked to drugs do not undermine the spread of the rule of law and turn the country into a narco-state.
It will take many years of effective, coordinated, government action, backed up with sustained international support, to undercut the drug trade. Ostensibly quick and superficially easy solutions are merely a distraction from the real work needed to defeat Afghanistan's drug fix.
• Nick Grono is the vice president for advocacy and operations at the International Crisis Group in Brussels. Joanna Nathan is a Crisis Group senior analyst based in Kabul.
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Retiring envoy comments on Afghanistan
By BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON - The retiring U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, in a farewell assessment, said Thursday he did not know how long U.S. troops ought to remain in the South Asian country.
But on his last day in the foreign service, and after two years in a post his father also once held in Kabul, Ronald Neumann said helping Afghanistan to develop its first democratic government was "a long-term process."
"There is corruption of society at all levels," he said, but there are several positive developments, including growth of the Afghan army and the judicial system and the building of roads.
"It is a weak state and not a strong Taliban that is causing us problems," he said.
A U.S.-led NATO coalition remains in the country, grappling with insurgents, more than five years after U.S. forces helped overthrow the Taliban.
Five U.S. soldiers were among the victims Thursday in the downing of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter in southern Helmand province, raising the U.S. death toll for U.S. forces in the country to about 400.
"I am sorry for the loss of life," Neumann said, after a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
"But I don't consider it significant from a strategic point of view," he said of the attack, noting that they have become less frequent.
Neumann said he did not know who shot down the helicopter, and urged the United States to keep troops in Afghanistan.
"We cannot afford the destruction of Afghanistan and the rebirth of radicalism," he said.
"It is a very long-term process and we have to dedicate ourselves to that," he said.
Neumann said he did not know how long U.S. troops would be needed. But, he said, "I hope the country will recognize that the price we are paying in blood and treasure is justified."
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Guantanamo prisoner had U.S. military training
By Jane Sutton
MIAMI (Reuters) - The Guantanamo prisoner who died in his cell this week was a Saudi army veteran who trained with U.S. soldiers in his homeland before going to fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan, military records indicated on Thursday.
He died of apparent suicide on Wednesday at the prison camp for foreign terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Saudi Arabian government identified him as Abdul-Rahman bin Ma'ada bin Dhafer al Aameri and said it had begun procedures to bring home his body.
"A team of Saudi specialists has started, upon an invitation from the American side, a visit to the Guantanamo detention (center) to review the conditions on the Saudi detainees and intensify the effort to repatriate them as soon as possible," the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.
A guard found the man lifeless in his cell and camp officials were unable to revive him, said a spokesman for the U.S. military's Southern Command, Jose Ruiz.
He is the fourth detainee to die of apparent suicide at the camp, which holds about 380 captives. Another 395 have been released or transferred to other governments since the camp opened in January 2002.
Two other Saudis and a Yemeni simultaneously hanged themselves with clothing and bedding in their cells last June 10. All four deaths are under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
The latest death did not appear to be part of a coordinated effort, as there were no other suicide attempts at the camp on Wednesday, Ruiz said.
U.S. military documents give a slightly different spelling of his name, a common occurrence when Arabic names are transliterated into English.
According to records previously released by the U.S. military, al Aameri told his captors he had been trained by Americans during the nine years and four months he served in the Saudi army.
ANSWERS JIHAD CALL
He said went to Afghanistan six months after leaving the army because he felt it was his duty to fight jihad, or holy war, when asked by a Muslim government, in this case the Taliban . But he denied he intended to fight Americans.
"Had his desire been to fight and kill Americans, he could have done that while he was side by side with them in Saudi Arabia," he said through a U.S. military officer assigned as his representative before an administrative panel that classified him as an "unlawful enemy combatant."
Al Aameri said he had seen Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda figures from a distance in Afghanistan and admitted carrying an AK-47 automatic assault rifle at the rear of the battle lines in Tora Bora while trying to flee to Pakistan.
The Southern Command spokesman said the dead man "was considered to be enough risk to warrant detaining him in Camp 5," one of two maximum-security buildings at Guantanamo.
Detainees there live in one-man cells with long narrow windows, bare concrete walls and built-in slabs topped with a mattress.
Human rights groups have long condemned the United States for holding prisoners indefinitely at Guantanamo, and cited Wednesday's death as an indication captives are being driven to despair by isolation and sensory deprivation in the maximum-security camps and uncertainty over their fates.
"This is inconsistent with American values and must stop immediately," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The U.S. military said the Guantanamo prisoners are terrorists who must be locked up to safeguard Americans.
"We regret any loss of life at the camp and we're going to do whatever we can to prevent something like this from happening again," Ruiz said.
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Canadian Military photographer killed in Afghanistan believed he had a safe job
By Chris Morris
CFB GAGETOWN (CP) - A Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan when a helicopter was apparently shot down thought his work as a military photographer was one of the safest jobs in a war zone, his commander at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown said Thursday.
Col. Ryan Jestin said he spoke to Master Cpl. Darrell Jason Priede about two weeks ago in Afghanistan, where the 30-year-old combat photographer had been stationed for about one month.
"He told me he thought he had one of the safest jobs in Afghanistan," Jestin told reporters at the New Brunswick base. "So, there you go."
The military cameraman, born in Burlington, Ont., and raised in British Columbia, died along with five Americans and a Briton when the CH-47 Chinook they were flying in was apparently shot down Wednesday west of Kandahar.
There were no survivors.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for bringing the chopper down. A NATO spokesman said initial indications were that enemy fire caused the crash.
Roxanne Priede, in an interview from her home in Grand Forks, B.C., said her son was eager to capture images of Canada's mission in Afghanistan.
"He really wanted to do something that would show more of what the military stood for," Priede said.
"When he called us and told us he had actually applied to go over to Afghanistan, he said he wanted to bring home the news of good stuff that was going on over there - the good things Canadians were doing over there."
Master Cpl. Priede was married and lived with his wife, Angela, near CFB Gagetown.
His mother said he had volunteered to serve in Afghanistan.
"We're very proud of him," she said, choking back tears and pausing to regain her composure.
"Our son was exemplary ... He didn't have one black mark in the military ... He enjoyed what he did because he always wanted to capture as much good as possible."
Jestin said Priede was highly regarded for his camera work within the military, where he worked for various in-house publications, including Army News and Combat Camera.
The commander said he will always remember a photograph taken of Priede holding the "holy grail" of trophies, the Stanley Cup, when it arrived for a brief visit to Afghanistan several weeks ago.
"That's the image that will stay with me," Jestin said. "That sort of pride and that sort of home-grown Canadian boy we're all going to miss."
Sgt. Kyle Richards, one of Priede's friends, said the photographer enjoyed shooting action scenes.
"He loved to shoot and he loved to see action," Richards said in an interview at the base, adding that his friend had a great sense of humour.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Opposition Leader Stephane Dion sent condolences to the Priede family on Thursday.
Harper said Priede died while working with allies to fulfill Canada's international commitment to bring security, democracy and self-sufficiency to the Afghan people.
"This crash occurred near the site of a hydroelectric dam that is being repaired so it can provide electricity to the southern city of Kandahar," Harper said in a statement.
"The progress achieved in Afghanistan would not have been possible without men and women like Master Cpl. Priede, who put themselves on the line every day."
Dion said the tragedy demonstrates the challenges faced by the Canadian Forces.
"The Liberal Party, like all Canadians, remains steadfast in our support for the women and men of the Canadian Forces stationed in Afghanistan as they put their lives on the line to provide us with a safe and secure world," Dion said.
Priede said her son entered the military as a gunner in 1996 and later served as a peacekeeper in Bosnia.
On his second tour in the Balkans, he applied to become a military photographer.
Priede said she last spoke to her son on Sunday via webcam.
"He was always up, always fantastic, always looking to the good of everything.
"Like I say, only the good die young. It's just beyond me."
The latest death brings to 56 the number of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2002.
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Afghan delegation in Pakistan to prepare grand jirga
By IANS Thursday May 31, 08:20 PM
Islamabad, May 31 (DPA) An Afghan delegation arrived in Pakistan Thursday to prepare a scheduled meeting in August of a grand jirga, or council of elders. It is hoped this will help bring peace in Afghanistan by restricting cross-border infiltration by militants.
The sides will hold the third meeting Friday, of the Pakistani-Afghan joint jirga commission in the town of Nathia Gali north of Islamabad.
The chairman of the Afghan Jirga Commission, Pir Syed Gilani, will meet Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao at the talks.
Each country will send around 350 people to the proposed grand jirga to be held in the Afghan capital Kabul in the first week of August.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai agreed on trying the jirga format at a meeting hosted by US President George W Bush in the White House in September 2006.
Co-opting local Pashtun tribes that straddle the mountain border region is seen as a viable means of curbing cross-border raids by Taliban and al-Qaeda militants sheltering in Pakistan's tribal areas.
The joint jirga commission had its first meeting in Islamabad in March and the second meeting in Kabul in early May.
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Pakistan: EU Envoy Says Unrest Hampers Fight Against Taliban
May 31, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Francesc Vendrell, the European Union's special representative for Afghanistan, says unrest in Pakistan's tribal areas makes it much more difficult to stop Taliban infiltration into Afghanistan. The unrest, he says, undermines deals Pakistan made last year with its tribal authorities obliging them to prevent the Taliban from crossing the border between the two countries. Vendrell spoke with RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas.
RFE/RL: As EU envoy for Afghanistan, are you worried by the recent unrest in Pakistan's tribal, Pashtun-populated areas and what is seen by many as an encroaching "Talibanization" of the country?
Francesc Vendrell: Well, it's obviously a matter of concern. It's been a matter of concern for quite some time. The media now cover it more than they did before. There is reason to worry that the traditional authorities in the tribal areas, namely the maliks [tribal leaders] and political agents [representatives of the Pakistani government] have become very ineffective, and indeed the maliks -- the tribal chiefs -- many of them have had to flee the tribal areas for their own security. And several, quite a number in fact -- scores of them, in fact -- have been killed. Now, I know that the Pakistani government wants to restore the traditional authority of the maliks and the political agents, but I think this is going to take a long time -- and in the meantime one has to tackle the problem of extremism, which is affecting both sides of the Durand Line [the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan].
RFE/RL: What does this mean for efforts to seal off Afghanistan from Pakistan?
Vendrell: I don't think that one can be realistic in terms of sealing Afghanistan from Pakistan. This is a 2,600 or 2,400 [kilometer] border, and you're not going to be able to seal it. What we want and what we're asking Pakistan, and what Pakistan has said that they would, and [what] they are doing, is to ensure that there is as little infiltration as possible, and that there are no meetings of Taliban leaders in places like Quetta, where apparently they have been able to meet in the past.
RFE/RL: But how can Pakistan prevent infiltration when it has no political authority in the tribal areas?
Vendrell: This is the problem. It is going to take a long time for them to restore their authority. So, there will be some infiltration -- of course there are ways of coping with it, like air surveillance -- but, inevitably, it is going to take time [to stop the infiltration].
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Afghan refugees sing Hekmatyar's tune
By Omid Marzban Jun 1, 2007 Asia Times Online, Hong Kong
Two years after the Pakistani government banned it from publication, Shahaadat Daily newspaper, funded by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (Islamic Party of Afghanistan), is again available on the streets of Peshawar.
The daily has published articles that denounce the Afghan government and its major supporter, the United States. Shahaadat is the second newspaper, after Tanweer, that publishes articles supporting Hekmatyar's declaration of jihad
against the Afghan government and Western troops in Afghanistan.
Shahaadat prints new statements from Hekmatyar and serves as a vehicle for the leader's propaganda. Both Shahaadat and Tanweer are supported from Hezb-e-Islami's stronghold, the Shamshatoo refugee camp, which holds between 15,000 and 20,000 people.
According to Waheed Mujda, an Afghan analyst and a former member of Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan, who lived in Shamshatoo during the 1990s, "Shahaadat restarted publication when Gulbuddin Hekmatyar ordered his followers to reinforce Islamic law and to strengthen Hezb-e-Islami activities inside Shamshatoo refugee camp."  About 25 kilometers southeast of Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Shamshatoo remains a bastion of support for Hekmatyar.
Shamshatoo is a dusty and dry piece of land, surrounded by almost 2-meter-high clay walls. Inside the camp reside about 2,000 Afghan refugees. Almost all of them consider Hekmatyar a hero. "Engineer Hekmatyar is a hero. His declaration of jihad against Americans shows that he is a servant of Islam," said a resident of the camp and a financial officer for the camp's administration, who went by the alias Haji Abdul Qahar. 
Speaking to The Jamestown Foundation inside the camp, Qahar said, "Whoever lives or has lived in the camp is a supporter of Engineer Hekmatyar and a member of Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan, because this camp belongs to Hezb-e-Islami."
Qahar, who was planning to visit Saudi Arabia a few days after his interview, apparently for umra ("little pilgrimage"), said, "Whoever once became a member of Hezb-e-Islami will never quit following Hekmatyar, because only those who become Hezb-e-Islami members believe in Hekmatyar's ideology with all their hearts."
Hekmatyar did not return to Shamshatoo refugee camp after the pro-Pakistani Taliban rejected negotiations with him and refused to give him a role in their regime in 1996, but his thoughts are still alive with the residents of Shamshatoo and his statements continue to have a strong effect on the Afghan refugees living in the camp. 
"I remember how Hekmatyar was speaking here in the mosque," said resident Ezatullah Menhaj, 29. "Hekmatyar's words and his loyalty to Islam taught me to be a good Muslim. Wherever he is, I pray for his safety."  Menhaj attended a school funded by Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan in the 1990s. His comments demonstrate Hekmatyar's ability to influence the residents of Shamshatoo. "In one of Hekmatyar Sahib's statements [published] in Tanweer, I read that he said killing one American soldier is more rewarded by God than killing 10 Afghan soldiers," Menhaj explained.
Asked whether he agreed with that statement, Menhaj said, "Yes, I do, because they [Americans] have come all the way from their country to occupy our country and joining in jihad against these infidels is farz [obligation] for us." In the August 10, 2006, issue of Tanweer, for example, Hekmatyar pledged to fight foreign troops in Afghanistan until "the last drop of blood moves in my body".
The Shamshatoo refugee camp has its own leadership and its own conservative Islamic rules. Watching television, listening to music, dressing in Western-style clothes and shaving facial hair are prohibited by the camp leader, Tooran Amanullah Khogman, who is extremely loyal to Hekmatyar. 
Khogman is a former commander of Hezb-e-Islami, and he led party militants during the early 1990s in Charaasyab, south of Kabul.  Nevertheless, there is a girls' school in the camp, and even those who once allegedly poured acid on schoolgirls in Afghanistan now send their daughters to this school.
History of the camp
Shamshatoo is a Pashto word meaning "little male tortoise".
"The place is called by the name of the animal because before the influence of refugees in the area, there were a lot of tortoises living there," explained Waheed Mujda, who was one of the first residents of the refugee camp. 
The piece of land, once also called Woch Nahr, which means "dried stream", was given to Hekmatyar and Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan by the Pakistani government in 1979 when the anti-communist party was gaining strength in Afghanistan. A dried steam still exists in the camp.
Hekmatyar, who fled Kabul in 1974 after spending almost a year in prison because of his membership in the Muslim Youths Movement, was given shelter inside Pakistan and was later recruited by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence as an anti-Afghan-government element.
He started his political and military activities in a small building in the Faqir Abad district of Peshawar. Later, because of a huge influx of Afghan refugees into NWFP, and also because of security threats, the Pakistani government decided to move the bases of Afghan jihadist groups to the outskirts of the city.
As part of this plan, the Jalozai refugee camp was given to Abdul Rasool Sayyaf, an anti-communist leader who later formed the party Ittehad-e-Islami, and Shamshatoo refugee camp was given to Hekmatyar. Waheed Mujda explained that the first building in Shamshatoo was a mosque: "Like any other Afghan jihadi party at that time, Hezb-e-Islami established its base in Shamshatoo by building a mosque there."
Besides its military and political activities and despite its involvement in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Hezb-e-Islami granted social services - such as health care and educational facilities - to Afghan refugees in Shamshatoo. This social-support network, which helped to make Hezb-e-Islami the biggest and the most influential party among jihadist groups in Afghanistan, aimed to attract more and more Afghans to the organization. Other activities, such as Hekmatyar's speeches to refugees and his regular publications, which were mainly based in Shamshatoo, played a significant role in making him a hero among the camp's residents.
Today, Hekmatyar's whereabouts are unknown. Nevertheless, his statements, newspapers and audio cassettes are still available in Shamshatoo and the surrounding area.
Despite his having gone underground, Waheed Mujda claims that Hekmatyar recently ordered his men to restore humanitarian services in the camp, including the funding of schools.  According to individuals from the camp, Hekmatyar maintains a leadership role through his representatives in Shamshatoo.
Just as he did during the jihad against the Soviets and their appointed government in Kabul, Hekmatyar continues to exploit two key assets: providing humanitarian aid to the people and garnering positive publicity. For more than two decades, Shamshatoo has played a key role in this strategy.
Furthermore, the camp demonstrates Hekmatyar's entrenched support in not only Afghanistan but also Pakistan. It is unclear whether Hekmatyar still recruits fighters from Shamshatoo, but his popularity in the camp and the region displays his capabilities.
It is also unclear whether Hekmatyar still receives support from state clients. The fact that Shamshatoo's finance officer, Haji Qahar, is able to make trips to Saudi Arabia, coupled with the nearly free rein of Hezb-e-Islami activists in Pakistani territory, raises further questions about the origins of Hekmatyar's bases of support.
Omid Marzban has worked for Good Morning Afghanistan Radio Station and Radio Free Europe. He is based in Afghanistan.
1. Author interview, Waheed Mujda, May 8, 2007.
2. Author interview, Haji Abdul Qahar, Shamshatoo refugee camp, Pakistan, April 2007.
3. For a profile of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, see Terrorism Monitor, September 21, 2006.
4. Author interview, Ezatullah Menhaj, Shamshatoo refugee camp, Pakistan, April 2007.
5. Author interviews, Shamshatoo refugee camp, Pakistan, April 2007.
7. Author Interview, Waheed Mujda, May 8, 2007.
(This article first appeared in The Jamestown Foundation. Used with permission.)
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Afghanistan, Pakistan pledge cooperation
By DAVID RISING Associated Press Wed May 30, 3:36 PM ET
POTSDAM, Germany - Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed Wednesday to increase cooperation after meeting with Group of Eight foreign ministers amid concerns that enmity between the neighbors is helping the Taliban inflict mounting losses on NATO troops and Afghan civilians.
The two nations' foreign ministers said in a joint statement that they "renewed their governments' commitment to strengthen cooperation and dialogue between their countries and governments at all levels."
They promised more cooperation in the fields of security, refugees, economic development and contacts between civil societies.
"We have to address the cross-border movement of activities of terrorist groups," Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said on the sidelines of the conference. "Without Pakistan's cooperation it is not possible to have any success against terrorist activities and I am happy to report to you that Pakistan tells us they will work with us."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country holds the G-8 presidency, welcomed the agreement. Steinmeier helped broker the meeting with Spanta and Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri during a trip to both countries this month.
"It is indispensable for improving the security situation in the area that Afghanistan and Pakistan cooperate better ... in protecting the borders," Steinmeier said.
Kasuri said Pakistan and Afghanistan had many shared interests and that "we have a vital interest in seeing that peace and stability return to Afghanistan."
"History has taught us that whenever Afghanistan is in trouble, it's only a matter of time before trouble spills over to our side," he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf have repeatedly accused each other of responsibility for a resurgence by radical Taliban fighters.
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.
The G-8 members — Britain, France, Japan, Italy, Russia, Canada, Germany and the United States — joined Afghanistan and Pakistan in expressing reinforced commitment to the fight against "all dimensions of terrorism" and "stressed the vital importance of security for long-term reconstruction and development in the region and in Afghanistan in particular."
The statement came out of one of several ministerial-level meetings before the group's main summit June 6-8 in the northern resort town of Heiligendamm.
The foreign ministers also committed to "continue supporting moderation, fighting all forms of extremism and terrorism including its financial, training and ideological centers through mutually agreed and coordinated action."
Beyond the talks with the Pakistani and Afghan officials, the foreign ministers discussed Iran, Kosovo, Sudan's Darfur region and the Middle East.
The United States and key European countries are trying to narrow differences with Russia over the future of Kosovo, which has been administered by the U.N. since a 1999 war between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian rebels.
The U.N. Security Council has been divided over the issue; the United States and key European countries support Kosovo's independence, and Russia, traditionally a Serbian ally, opposes it.
They emerged from the talks seemingly no closer to a solution, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying "our positions are diametrically opposed and for the moment I don't see any chance of the positions moving closer to one another."
Lavrov and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also traded barbs over American plans to erect parts of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, with Lavrov calling the plan a threat to Russia and adding that "the arms race is starting again."
Rice noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had said Russia's own strategic defenses could easily overpower the U.S. system.
"We quite agree," she said.
"I hope that nobody has to actually prove that Condi is right about that," Lavrov quipped back.
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Afghanistan: Italian Ambassador Meets Charity Worker In Jail
Rome, 31 May (AKI) - Italy's ambassador to Kabul Ettore Sequi on Thursday met an official of the Italian charity Emergency who is in jail over alleged links with Taliban insurgents, a foreign ministry spokesman said. The spokesman, Pasquale Ferrara, said Italy is putting pressure on Afghan authorities "to formalise potential charges in a detention we believe has lasted too long." Italian foreign minister Massimo D'Alema has said Ramatullah Hanefi, who has been in jail for over two months, should be either charged or released.
The medical charity Emergency pulled out its staff last month in protest at the continued detention of its local leader Hanefi. Hanefi has been held since shortly after he successfully mediated for the release of kidnapped Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo in March.
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A second provincial governor donates land to injured deminers
United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS)
Kabul, 31 May 2007 – H.E. Mr. Mohammad Housain Anwary, the Governor of the province of Herat, has donated land to 87 deminers who were the victims of mine accidents. Governor Anwary, who signed the official documents yesterday, said that he wanted to honor the important work of the deminers in Afghanistan.
"Demining is really a continuation of Jihad," he said. "Jihad doesn't only mean fighting and having weapons. It means supporting human beings, stability and development."
The 87 deminers were all wounded in the Herat region during mine clearance activities. They have since returned to their homes, but most are unemployed and face challenging living conditions. The deminers and their families will be able to use the land to build new homes and generate needed income through farming or raising livestock.
"These deminers are really worthy of appreciation. Demining is the best support to the country," said Mohammad Sediq, the Chief of Operations of the United Nations Mine Action Center for Afghanistan (UNMACA), which oversees mine action on behalf of the Government of Afghanistan. "It is our duty to look after them, especially ones who have become the victims of mines. We thank Governor Anwary, and we hope this action will be followed by other government authorities as a positive example throughout the country."
Just two weeks ago, H.E. Mr. Rahmatullah Rahmat, the Governor of the province of Paktia, donated land to 26 deminers who were the victims of mine accidents in Paktia.
The Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan (MAPA), an umbrella organization comprised of implementing partners that are coordinated by UNMACA, has cleared more than one billion square meters throughout Afghanistan since 1989 – destroying more than 323,000 antipersonnel mines, more than 18,500 anti-tank mines and almost seven million pieces of unexploded ordnance. Afghanistan became a State Party to the Ottawa Convention in March 2003 and committed to clearing all minefields in the country by 2013.
Ahmad Jan Nawzadi
Public Information Officer
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