By NOOR KHAN Associated Press November 29, 2007
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Afghan and foreign troops fought against Taliban militants and called in airstrikes in southern Afghanistan, leaving 30 fighters dead, an Afghan police chief said Thursday. Four other militants were killed in a separate clash in the east.
The joint forces attacked militants hiding inside two compounds on Wednesday in the Zhari district of southern Kandahar province, said provincial police chief Sayed Agha Saqib.
Troops detained 12 other militants, including group commanders fighting Afghan and foreign forces in the area, Saqib said. Five of the men detained were wounded during the clash.
In eastern in Khost province, meanwhile, gunmen on motorbikes shot to death a school principal on Wednesday, said Wazir Pacha, spokesman for the provincial police.
Schools and teachers are frequently targeted by militants for having un-Islamic curricula or for educating girls.
This has been the deadliest year yet in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, with more than 6,100 people killed _ including over 800 civilians _ in militant attacks and military operations, according to an AP tally of figures from Afghan and western officials.
The latest violence came two days after NATO airstrikes targeting Taliban fighters mistakenly killed 14 members of an Afghan road construction crew in mountainous Nuristan province, Afghan officials said. NATO and Afghan authorities are investigating the incident.
Afghan officials said the bombs Monday night hit two tents housing Afghan engineers and laborers contracted by the U.S. military to build a road. They blamed faulty intelligence for the mistake.
The alliance has called into question that version of the events _ but has stopped short of denying it.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force said its warplanes dropped two bombs targeting Taliban fighters in Nuristan on Monday night, and there was a "strong indication" that a Taliban leader in Nuristan province, Abdullah Jan, was killed in the operation.
"We do not believe at this stage, with the details that we have, that there were a large number of civilian casualties as has been reported, but as I say, this is under investigation," said Maj. Gen. Garry Robison, ISAF's deputy commander for stability.
The incident is the first apparent major blunder by foreign troops in months. It follows sharp criticism earlier this year of mass civilian casualties caused by U.S. and NATO operations. The civilian tolls have undermined foreign troops' reputation among Afghans and hurt the government of Western-backed President Hamid Karzai.
In other violence on Wednesday:
_ In Ghazni province, Taliban insurgents ambushed police in Khogyani district, and the ensuing clash killed one policeman and four suspected militants, said deputy provincial police chief Mohammad Zaman.
_ Militants in Paktia province attacked trucks carrying supplies for foreign troops, killing one driver, said Din Mohammad Darwesh, spokesman for the provincial governor.
_ In neighboring Paktika province, a roadside bomb hit Afghan troops, leaving one soldier dead and three wounded, Darwesh said.
Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul and Paul Ames in Brussels contributed to this report.
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Taliban not 'credible threat': junior foreign minister
Thu Nov 29, 4:19 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - The Taliban does not pose a real threat to the government of Afghanistan and is far from being a resurgent force, junior foreign minister Mark Malloch-Brown said in a letter published on Thursday.
In the letter to The Independent newspaper, the former UN deputy secretary-general dismissed the findings of a European think-tank report last week which said that the country risks becoming a divided state.
"The Taliban do not pose a credible threat to the democratic Afghan government," Malloch-Brown wrote.
"The Taliban do not control a single province or have the ability to hold territory, showing they are far from being a resurgent force."
He continued: "Much progress has been made since 2001, but we recognise that many challenges remain."
The Senlis Council wrote in a report last week that Afghanistan is in "crisis" and risks becoming a divided state, as Taliban insurgents now control vast areas of unchallenged territory, and called for the NATO-led force there to be doubled in size to 80,000.
The Taliban's regime was toppled in late 2001 by a US-led offensive, but they have stepped up their attacks recently.
There have been more than 130 suicide blasts in Afghanistan this year, most of them blamed on the Taliban movement.
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Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan Gas Pipeline Project In Trouble
All Headline News (AHN) November 29, 2007 7:50 a.m. EST
Siddique Islam - AHN South Asia Correspondent
Islamabad, Pakistan (AHN) - The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (Tap) gas pipeline project is unlikely to materialize due to Russian gas giant Gazprom's fresh agreement with Turkmenistan for increased Europe-bound gas supplies at higher rates.
Pakistan was weighing the new developments in the background of a just postponed ministerial meeting of the three countries and a revised agreement between the Russian company, Gazprom and Turkmenistan, the Dawn, a local newspaper, reported quoting government sources.
Under the revised understanding with Gazprom, Turkmenistan would increase gas deliveries to it to about 50 billion cubic meter (BCM).
Gazprom that delivers about one quarter of Europe's total gas needs would now pay US$130 per 1,000 cubic meters to Turkmenistan early next year and then $150 per 1,000 cubic meter by the end of the next year instead of current rates of $100 per 1,000 cubic meter, according to reports.
Turkmenistan and Gazprom have a 25-year gas supply agreement valid until 2028 but Ashgabat uses export projects like TAP to improve its price with Gazprom.
The world's 10th largest gas producer, Turkmenistan's total gas output currently is slightly higher than 60 BCM a year. Last year, its total exports stood at around 45 BCM.
Pakistan has planned to complete the project by 2012 under a energy security plan, but the deadline is becoming beyond imagination, an official said.
The 1,680 kilometers (1041.6 miles) TAP pipeline of 56-inch diameter needs at least 30 BCM of gas per year from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan.
The project cost has now been estimated at $5.3 billion. India had also been invited to join the project last year that started attending steering committee meetings as an observer.
"Further progress will depend on the robustness of the gas reserves data, certification of the reserves, extent of possible private interest, ability and willingness of Turkmenistan to fulfill its commitments to Gazprom and still supply Pakistan" the World Bank (WB) said according to the newspaper reports.
Challenges in the TAP project also include mitigation of the security risk in Afghanistan, improvement in India-Pakistan relations, and programs to minimize or phase out fuel subsidies in both countries and finally the ability of the pipeline options to withstand competition from liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the long run, the WB noted.
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Afghan agency rejects claims of prisoner abuse
Thu Nov 29, 3:27 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's intelligence agency has rejected allegations that prisoners transferred to its custody by NATO nations are ill-treated and tortured.
The agency said Wednesday it had looked into the charges in an Amnesty International report this month and found they were based on interviews with opponents of the government and on incorrect data.
"This report is baseless and not based on accurate information," Afghanistan National Directorate of Security (ANDS) spokesman Sayed Ansari told reporters.
London-based Amnesty said prisoners captured by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and transferred to Afghan custody faced whipping, beatings, exposure to extreme cold and food deprivation.
It urged ISAF nations to stop such transfers. Rights groups in Canada, one of the 37 countries in the military alliance, are trying to stop prisoners being handed to Afghan custody because of alleged torture and abuse.
Ansari said the attorney general's office, authorised to visit prisoners in ANDS custody, had "so far have not found any indications of prisoner abuse."
He said the International Committee of the Red Cross and Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission had visited the its holding cells and said they "appreciated the way prisoners are treated."
ISAF nations who handed the detainees over were able to visit the suspects in detention and "have never had any such complaints," the spokesman added.
The report was "based on interviews with people freed from ANDS custody who are in opposition and enmity with the Islamic government of Afghanistan," he said.
ISAF has also rejected the Amnesty charges, saying it had no evidence of systematic mistreatment and torture of its detainees once they were in the custody of Afghan authorities.
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School principal killed in eastern Afghanistan
By AMIR SHAH Associated Press November 29, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan - Violence in eastern Afghanistan killed eight people, including four Taliban who died in a clash and a school principal who was murdered by attackers on a motorbike, officials said Thursday.
The violence came two days after NATO airstrikes targeting Taliban fighters mistakenly killed 14 members of an Afghan road construction crew in mountainous Nuristan province. NATO and Afghan authorities are investigating the incident.
The school principal, Fazel Mir, was shot to death Wednesday morning in Khost province, said Wazir Pacha, spokesman for the provincial police.
Schools and teachers are frequently targeted by militants for having an un-Islamic curriculum or for educating girls.
In Ghazni province, meanwhile, Taliban insurgents ambushed police Wednesday in Khogyani district, and the ensuing clash killed one policeman and four suspected militants, said deputy provincial police chief Mohammad Zaman.
Also Wednesday, militants in Paktia province attacked trucks carrying supplies for foreign troops, killing one driver, said Din Mohammad Darwesh, spokesman for the provincial governor.
In neighboring Paktika province, a roadside bomb hit Afghan troops on Wednesday, leaving one soldier dead and three wounded, Darwesh said.
This has been the deadliest year yet since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, with more than 6,100 people killed _ including over 800 civilians _ in militant attacks and military operations, according to an AP tally of figures from Afghan and western officials.
Afghan officials said bombs Monday night hit two tents housing Afghan engineers and laborers contracted by the U.S. military to build a road, killing 14 workers. They blamed faulty intelligence for the mistake.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force said its warplanes dropped two bombs targeting Taliban fighters in Nuristan on Monday night, and there was a "strong indication" that a Taliban leader was killed in the operation.
In Washington, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell called the operation a "legitimate airstrike" believed to have killed Abdullah Jan, the Taliban commander of Nuristan.
The incident is the first apparent major blunder by foreign troops in months. It follows sharp criticism earlier this year of mass civilian casualties in operations by U.S. and NATO-led troops, which have undermined their reputation among Afghan civilians and hurt the government of Western-backed President Hamid Karzai.
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Nato probes Afghan 'bomb deaths'
Thursday, 29 November 2007 BBC News
Nato says it is investigating reports that its forces killed 12 road workers in Afghanistan's north-east on Monday.
A spokesman for the Nato-led Isaf force confirmed its planes had carried out air strikes in Nuristan province but said a Taleban leader was targeted.
"The situation is not clear at all," the spokesman, Carlos Branco, said. Earlier, the US military said the raid was based on "credible intelligence".
Provincial officials said the men were killed in their tents as they slept.
Nato and US military officials say they were targeting a local Taleban commander, Abdullah Jan, in Nuristan province, 180km (112 miles) north-east of the capital, Kabul.
"Isaf was engaged in Nurgaram and Du Ab [districts], and in those places we used air strikes," Brig Gen Branco told a news conference.
"We are carrying out the investigation and trying to get a clear picture."
The US military has said the bombs hit a site 1km (0.6 miles) from the road workers' camp.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said on Wednesday the Nato forces had "acted on credible intelligence from several sources" when they launched the strike.
"We believe that Abdullah Jan, the western Nuristan Taleban commander, may have been killed in the air strike. We deem it, at this point, a legitimate air strike.
"There were no structures, vehicles or any other construction equipment within the vicinity of the impact area," said Mr Morrell.
The governor of Nuristan and the head of the Amerifa Construction Company said his workers had been killed in the incident, which took place late Monday.
"I don't think the Americans were targeting our people," said Amerifa director Sayed Nurullah Jalili.
"I'm sure it's the enemy of the Afghans who gave the Americans the wrong information."
Governor Nuristani told AFP news agency: "We had reports that rebels were there.
"There was an air strike by coalition forces but later we found out that 12 people, all local road workers, were killed.
"The road workers were in a tent which was hit by one bomb. All died," he said.
Nato has come under increasing pressure over Afghan civilian casualties.
Last week, Nato head Jaap de Hoop Scheffer had said the organisation was doing all it could to avoid Afghan civilian casualties.
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A 'surge' for Afghanistan?
By Gordon Lubold The Christian Science Monitor November 29, 2007
Kabul, Afghanistan - The top general of the Marine Corps is pushing hard to deploy marines to Afghanistan as he looks to draw down his forces in Iraq, but his proposal, which is under discussion at the Pentagon this week, faces deep resistance from other military leaders.
Commandant Gen. James Conway's plan, if approved, would deploy a large contingent of marines to Afghanistan, perhaps as early as next year. The reinforcements would be used to fight the Taliban, which US officials concede is now defending its territory more effectively against allied and Afghan forces.
Within the Pentagon, General Conway's proposal has led to speculation about which, if any, American forces would be best suited to provide reinforcements for a mission that, most agree, has far more political appeal than the one in Iraq. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has already recommended against the proposal, at least for now, a military official said Tuesday.
That leaves the decision up to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
"It came down to an issue of timing," says the official, who didn't want to be named because of the sensitivity of the recommendation. "The chairman didn't feel that this was the right time."
Conway says that marines, who have been largely responsible for calming Anbar Province in Iraq, can either return home or "stay plugged into the fight" by essentially redeploying to Afghanistan. The general returned Monday from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, where he visited with marines and stressed that the Corps is not out to snatch a senior command billet in Afghanistan, nor is it trying to get out of Iraq "while the getting is good."
Critics of the plan worry that it would leave too much risk for the Army in Iraq, but Conway argues that the Corps would assume more risk in Afghanistan than it has now in Anbar Province, where violence has abated considerably.
"The trend lines tell us that it may be time to increase the force posture in Afghanistan," Conway says, in his first public comments on the matter since the proposal was leaked to the press last month.
Ideally, he says, the international community would provide more help for the roughly 50,000 coalition forces there now – about half of them American troops, mostly from the Army. About 300 marines are currently stationed in Afghanistan.
"But if it requires additional US forces," Conway says, "then it goes back to our suggestion that maybe we need more marines in there with a more kinetic bent."
Adm. William Fallon, head of US Central Command, which oversees operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, is said to be "very strong" on the Conway option, says another senior military official, who asked not to be named, adding that the whole mix of forces must be looked at before a decision can be made.
"We're at the taking-a-hard-look-at-it stage," says this official. "The positive side of the Marines looking at this for a deployment is it would be a good mix of combat power and training and equip missions."
Secretary Gates's focus so far has been to seek more help from the international community to provide trainers and other forces to combat the resurgent Taliban.
Top Army and Air Force officials have expressed concern about the Conway plan, even as US officials on the ground in Afghanistan appear to welcome the idea.
The Corps would probably deploy a Marine Air Ground Task Force, a self-contained unit that brings with it its own headquarters, ground elements, logistics, and air-assault capabilities that may be especially suited to the scale of operations in Afghanistan, Conway says.
Gates has appeared to shoot down the idea in remarks over the past month. But sources say the Defense secretary hasn't yet been fully briefed on the matter.
Less secure in Afghanistan
Two years ago, the Pentagon was set to proclaim military success in Afghanistan and tie it up with a bow. But this year the security mission in Afghanistan has suffered from the US focus on Iraq and a heavy reliance on an international force.
NATO's command in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force, has had some victories on the ground there, working with the nascent Afghan Army and police force. But the US considers some allied nations to be "casualty averse," not expecting to be engaged in heavy combat operations back when they signed up for what they considered a training-and-peacekeeping mission. Suicide attacks in Afghanistan are on the rise, and US casualties, though relatively few compared with those in Iraq, have increased as well, according to American military officials on the ground there.
Conway, for one, is convinced that Afghanistan's security needs inevitably will require more American forces – and that the Corps, with its "expeditionary" focus, is well suited to the mission. Already, he has sent two Marine battalions to mountain warfare training in California to prepare for the missions in Afghanistan should the request come.
The Corps is already beginning to plan the drawdown of its forces in Anbar in Iraq, where the bulk of Marine forces are deployed.
So far, the calm in Anbar, which began before the surge of US forces this spring, has continued, and Marine officials believe the strategy there has worked. It seems unlikely that a large contingent of marines would stay in Anbar much longer if that peace continues. Unless marines are sent elsewhere in Iraq, that would leave Conway an opening to redeploy them to Afghanistan.
Such a deployment would also ease the Corps' deployment tempo, a goal Gates established for both the Army and Marine Corps upon taking office in January.
The decision about which forces, if any, to send to Afghanistan has a political subtext. If the White House were to send more US forces into a country most Americans thought was already secure, Democrats would be sure to exploit the security retrogression during an election year.
Such a decision, too, would have reverberations within the Pentagon, since the US force that would return to Afghanistan would carry with it a political prize. While much of the American public wants US forces out of Iraq, many see Afghanistan as the more righteous mission, because the origins of the 9/11 attacks can be traced there.
"Marines may be jockeying for the longer-term and maybe more popular role," says Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington.
If more American forces are needed in Afghanistan, then the Pentagon must look at the "entire pool" of forces before it decides that what is best for the Marine Corps is also best for its policy in Afghanistan, says Mr. Cordesman.
Institutional memory lost?
Michael O'Hanlon, a senior analyst at the Brookings Institution, another think tank in Washington, is not necessarily opposed to Conway's idea, but he worries that taking marines out of Anbar, where they have been effective, could rob the US of vital knowledge about the province.
"The Marines know more about that province than the Army does," he says.
Marines are already being asked to help with the fight in Afghanistan. Last month, Corps officials announced that AV-8B Harrier jump jets – attached to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed aboard an amphibious assault ship – flew more than a dozen sorties over Afghanistan. The jets conducted reconnaissance, escorted ground convoys, and dropped precision-guided munitions on enemy targets, according to Corps officials.
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Afghan counterinsurgency by the book
By Fawzia Sheikh Asia Times Online November 29, 2007
KABUL - The Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Academy is a work in progress - the clamor of construction, the bulldozing of garbage and the sparse staff are all clear signs.
Built on a former Canadian military base near the bullet-ridden palace of Afghanistan's former royal family, the COIN Academy, as it is known, is on the verge of acquiring a dining facility, a lecture hall and other services.
"The academy is still in survival mode," US Army Major Luke
Meyers, the academy's operations chief, told Inter Press Service (IPS). "We're trying to build this as fast as we can but it's taking time. We're six years behind really, to be honest. We're glad we've made this step at least."
Following pressure from top American military officials, the COIN Academy opened in April nearly six years after the invasion of Afghanistan while a counterpart school in Iraq was established in 2005. Afghanistan's facility recently shifted to its new location on the outskirts of Kabul.
The nature of the fight in Afghanistan is described as a counterinsurgency, the kind of conflict American soldiers have not faced since the war in Vietnam. This brand of warfare is defined as the combined "military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological, and civic actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency", according to a manual on the subject issued by the US military last year.
Political power is the central issue in insurgencies and counterinsurgencies; each side wants civilians to accept its governance or authority as legitimate, the manual states. The document goes on to say that counterinsurgency is a complex form of warfare that seeks the population's support by offering protection and services like water and medical care, among other things.
The school aims to teach counterinsurgency practices to newly arrived Western trainers sent to embed with the Afghan security forces, as well as to coalition forces and to senior members of the Afghan military, police and intelligence services.
But is it a useful effort at this stage in the war? Policy makers interviewed in Washington seem to think so.
"I guess it would fall under the heading of better later than never," said US Congressman Adam Smith, a Washington state Democrat and member and chairman of a congressional subcommittee on terrorism, unconventional threats and capabilities.
Smith rejects the notion that the academy's creation suggests that the Bush administration is paying more attention to the war in Afghanistan. "We're not increasing troop levels there. We are still behind the game in terms of providing the money, operating infrastructure, support. So however much they want to pay attention to Afghanistan ... 80% of our military assets are still committed to Iraq," he told IPS.
Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think-tank, said the COIN Academy must succeed. Dismissing the idea Iraq is the central front in the war against terrorism, he said, "This is where the attacks came from. This is where al-Qaeda central has reconstituted itself. I've rarely ever seen such a botched opportunity. Now, hopefully, it's not too late."
He said operating the school, however, should be part of a multi-faceted counterinsurgency approach that calls for the addition of 20,000 extra troops redirected from Iraq, a re-evaluated counter-narcotics strategy, better-funded and managed reconstruction goals and increased US pressure on Pakistan to be a more reliable partner in fighting insurgents.
In one indication Washington recognizes the significance of the international fight in Afghanistan, President George W Bush intends to redirect some funding earmarked for Afghan army training to police training. The police force has long been a second priority as the army's role in securing the country's borders and fighting insurgents took front and center.
Despite some positive signs, back at the COIN Academy, Meyers, the operations chief, laments his team's requisite "sales job of fighting for money and resourcing" while the US government is so focused on fueling the Iraq war machine.
The academy received US$1 million this year but is lobbying for an annual budget of $7-9 million to spend on paying instructors and for building infrastructure. "It's taking a while for the word to get out," Meyers said about the school. He added that he and his colleagues are still trying to gain the support of key players in the US government.
The COIN Academy shares lessons garnered on the battlefield with its Iraq counterpart and with military learning centers in the US. In another year, Meyers told IPS, his team hopes Afghan officers will join the staff.
The cornerstone of the academy is a five-day leaders' course that so far has taught 400 students. The curriculum includes information about the conflict's key participants (including countries and coalitions), advice on operating in Afghanistan, details about ethnic and tribal concerns in various regions and the history of attacks, violence and threats across the country, he said.
He said students are given a handbook in English, Dari and Pashtu to help carry out missions, and which can be taken onto the battlefield instead of a laptop computer.
During each course, academy staff bring in between 80 to 100 students and divide them into groups focusing on each of the country's five regions, explained Meyers. He said embedded Western trainers arrive in the country and spend time with Afghan army and police from the area to which they will be assigned.
"There's a benefit [to] them of living, eating and studying together," a practice not followed at the Iraq COIN Academy, he continued. "Most of the learning actually takes place outside of the classroom, whether its language, cultural, just general questions about Afghanistan."
Meyers related a story illustrating the advantages of Westerners and Afghans working together. In one of the earlier courses, he said, instructors presented the group with a particular scenario about one of the country's regions.
An American officer confidently replied: "Here's the answer. Problem solved. Class is over. But an Afghan officer disputed the response, telling his American counterpart he had not considered certain issues like the fact the mountains are in the east, the language is Dari, not Pashtu, and the region has electricity for only three hours a day.
"Everyone doesn't know everything. It's not just US-led. It takes time to understand what everyone can bring to the table," concluded Meyers, adding that most senior Afghan officers have operated in a counterinsurgency environment longer than any US soldier.
Fawzia Sheikh was recently embedded with US troops in Afghanistan. Interviews for this story were carried out in Afghanistan and the US.
(Inter Press Service)
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Mines kill, wound 62 Afghans monthly
Xinhua / November 29, 2007
Mines and unexploded ordnance left over from the past nearly three decades of wars and civil strife kill or wound more than 60 people in war-torn Afghanistan monthly, said a statement of the European Commission received in Kabul Thursday.
"On average 62 Afghans are killed or injured every month by anti-personnel mines," the European Commission delegation to Afghanistan said in the statement.
Afghanistan is one of the heavily mined countries in the world. More than 12 million mines had been planted during nearly 30 years of war, foreign occupation and factional fighting and of these, 5 million mines have been defused or destroyed, according to officials.
"More than four million Afghans are living in one of the 2,374 mined communities and are struggling to cope with the legacy of Afghanistan's brutal war," Afghan foreign ministry said in a statement issued Wednesday.
The post-war Afghanistan, according to its foreign ministry, has destroyed more than 500,000 stockpiled anti-personnel mines in the last four years and is committed to destroy all its anti-personnel mines by 2013.
The EC has pledged another 600 million Euros (about 891.12 million U.S. dollars) to continue supporting Afghanistan reconstruction during the years 2007-2010, the EC statement said.
As a major contributor in the rebuilding of the post-Taliban Afghanistan, the European Commission pledged one billion Euros for the period 2002-2006 and of these, 80 percent has already been disbursed.
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Red Crescent calls for closer cooperation with UN, donors
KABUL, 29 November 2007 (IRIN) - The growing humanitarian needs of Afghans must come ahead of political and strategic priorities and the UN and other international donors ought to "better recognise" the pivotal role of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) when dealing with humanitarian emergencies in Afghanistan, Fatima Gailani, president of the ARCS, told IRIN on 29 November.
Lack of resources, funding and professional capacity has complicated ARCS's ability to respond effectively to overwhelming humanitarian needs across the country.
"Afghanistan's humanitarian response capacity has remained very weak and vulnerable despite large amounts of aid money spent by various donors," Gailani said.
Established in the 1940s, the ARCS has about 37,000 volunteers country-wide and is involved in different humanitarian operations, including health services, landmine awareness, disaster response and relief activities.
The ARCS acknowledges support and assistance from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the past 15 years, but criticises the UN for lack of "interest, coordination and support".
"In the last three years, the UN has not approached the ARCS to see if there are things which we do better together," Gailani said.
UNAMA ready to work with ARCS
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is ready to work with national non-government organisations (NGOs), including ARCS, particularly in areas where the UN has access problems, said Adrian Edwards, a UNAMA spokesman.
UN agencies do not have access to large swaths of southern and southeastern Afghanistan due to insecurity problems.
However, the UN prefers to work with organisations, which "do the best job" and ensure accountability, the UN spokesman said. "Funding is not so much the issue, but capacity to deliver programmes on the ground."
Gailani said UN agencies should work closely with the ARCS on long-term capacity building and ease off on reliance on short-term arrangements. "The ARCS is a national institution and will last a long time, while NGOs come and go," she said.
Afghanistan is considered the fifth least developed country in the world and millions of its estimated 24.5 million people suffer from protracted food insecurity, lack of access to health services and a variety of other deprivations.
Six years after an international intervention, and despite the spending of large sums of aid money, the suffering and needs of many vulnerable Afghans are yet to be addressed, aid agencies say.
"People are asking what the UN and other donors are doing here," said Fatima Gailani, adding that inaccessibility and security concerns alone cannot justify the shortcomings.
UN officials, however, say more assistance is the key to tackling the issue.
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Unbeaten Afghanistan in ACC U-15 Elite Cup semis
KABUL, Nov 29 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Maintaining their unbeaten run, Afghanistan Thursday inflicted a crushing defeat on Kuwait in a match of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Under-15 Elite Cup in Nepal's capital of Kathmandu.
The national team emerged Group-B leader by registering an easy victory over the opposition in the last outing, Afghan Manager Bashir Khan told Pajhwok Afghan News over the telephone from Kathmandu.
Batting first, Kuwait was skittled out for a meagre 60 in the 20th over - thanks to aggressive bowling spells from Hamid and Matiullah who captured three wickets apiece. Muhammad Hafiz also bowled intelligently, claiming two scalps, the manager said.
Afghanistan reached the target - hands down - in the 11th over for the loss of three wickets only. Muhammad Anwar rattled up 30 to guide his squad to a convincing triumph that saw them go marching into the semi-final of the competition. Hameed won the Man of the Match award.
The 10 days ACC Under-15 Elite Cup (2007), scheduled to conclude on December 4, features Afghanistan, Nepal, the UAE, Malaysia, Kuwait, Singapore, Hong Kong, Oman and Bhutan.
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Afghanistan’s Judiciary Rebuilding Under New Supreme Court
Training and monitoring efforts can help strengthen the rule of law
By Stephen Kaufman USINFO Staff Writer November 28, 2007
Washington -- A fresh team of Supreme Court justices appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2006 is determined to build up the professionalism of the country’s judiciary, which has suffered from Afghanistan’s 30 years of war, destruction and instability.
"People saw the change in leadership of the Supreme Court, so people are expecting a lot," said Afghan Supreme Court Chief Justice Abdul Salam Azimi. Azimi spoke with USINFO November 27 during a five-day visit to Washington where he and other Afghan judicial officials met with U.S. lawmakers, judges and administration officials.
Afghanistan is dealing with a judicial system in disarray, neglected like many of its other institutions until very recently. With continued corruption and many poorly trained judges remaining in their positions, Azimi places his most immediate hopes on internationally funded rule-of-law training efforts for the judges.
One of the donors, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), reports that since the Taliban government was removed, more than 600 sitting judge (more than 50 percent of Afghanistan’s judiciary) have been trained. An additional 350 judge candidates have been trained or are currently in training. As part of USAID’s Afghanistan Rule of Law Project, the agency also provided funding for the redesign of the country’s law school curriculum.
"We are working on how to upgrade the knowledge of our citizens … and identify who can stay and continue" as judges, as well as those who should be removed, Azimi said.
However, a large-scale purge of unqualified judges is not practical, he explained, because there are few qualified candidates to replace them. "What is necessary immediately, and one of the greatest challenges, is to upgrade the knowledge of those who are supposed to stay and remain in the system," Azimi said, because Afghanistan needs them despite their inadequacies.
Afghanistan also hopes to create a new generation of judges, but this will be a longer term project, even with international donor support, since a current high school graduate is still decades away from becoming qualified. The country is working to rebuild a vast range of professions, Azimi said, "not just judges."
Supreme Court justices play a key role in selecting new judges, a task that requires considerable time over and above the large number of legal cases demanding their attention. To prevent nepotism and corruption in the process, committees were created to screen and select potential judges based on applicants' education and background, and each committee must include a member of the Supreme Court.
In addition, each justice has been assigned to monitor the lower courts in one of the country’s eight judicial zones. The justices travel regularly from Kabul to their respective zones, Azimi said. Their involvement sends the message that the central government is paying attention to the issues in the provinces and also encourages local judges to ensure that their behavior meets ethical and legal standards.
Azimi said one of the most important results from the new Supreme Court’s yearlong tenure is the completion of a five-year strategic plan designed for foreign donors, listing all of the judiciary’s needs and setting cost estimates and priorities. Prior to this, despite the availability of international donors, "We didn’t tell them what we need. We didn’t submit to them an established plan," he said.
To help increase the rule of law and end corruption, Afghanistan is seeking $360 million for its judiciary. But the chief justice stressed it is not right for the country to simply expect aid, since the donors are also "expecting assurances that we are functioning correctly" and using the money properly.
"It is a very critical time. There are very sensitive issues and we lost everything and we are supposed to work a lot," he said, calling on the Afghan people to "feel they are responsible to build their country and to do their job for their country in a positive way."
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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Juvenile correctional facility inaugurated in Kabul
KABUL, Nov 27 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A juvenile correctional facility, constructed at the cost of $490,000, was inaugurated in Kabul on Tuesday.
The two-storey building having separate dormitories for boys and girls was constructed in three years with financial support from Italy, officials said.
Justice Minister Sarwar Danish said a child under 12, who committed a crime, would not be punished in accordance with the relevant law. Those aged between 12 and 18 would be kept in the juvenile correctional facility if they committed offences, he added.
Danish revealed up to 140 juvenile offenders, currently living in a rented house in the Darul-Aman area of Kabul, would be transferred to the new building. The children have been divided into groups.
Those who can go home at night are called open group and those staying at the centre day and night are included in the closed group.
Miss Raza Ali, first secretary to the Italian ambassador in Kabul, attended the inaugural ceremony. She said: "Children at the centre should not be punished; they are the future of society and have every right to be properly guided."
According to figures provided by the Justice Ministry, 950 children are being kept in juvenile centres across the country. The juvenile offenders are imparted education and vocational trainings.
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WB launches initiative to reduce AIDS stigma
WASHINGTON, DC, Nov 27 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The World Bank, in collaboration with the UN and private-sector partners, has launched an initiative to identify and fund innovative approaches to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV and AIDS.
Aimed at dealing with the issue, the Development Marketplace for the South Asia region would cover Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the World Bank said on Tuesday.
Stigma and discrimination seriously undermines efforts to fight HIV and AIDS, said Praful Patel, World Bank Vice President for the South Asia region. It also marginalises people at risk and living with the disease contributing further to their social isolation and rejection.
Patel added: This competition offers a unique opportunity to channel small grants directly to community organisations and NGOs to implement imaginative approaches that will help change the attitudes and practices that undermine effective programmes.
Titled Tackling HIV and AIDS Stigma and Discrimination: From Insights to Action, the Development Marketplace competition is reaching out to communities across South Asia seeking proposals for local, small-scale projects with the potential to be scaled up and replicated.
Mailed to Pajhwok Afghan News, a press statement from the World Bank said the winners would be selected by an international jury of the Bank and independent HIV and AIDS experts at the Development Marketplace event on May 15, 2008 in the Indian city of Mumbai.
According to the press release, the HIV epidemic in South Asia is mainly driven by high risk practices such as sex work, injecting drug use and unprotected sex between men.
Many of the people most at risk for HIV around the world deal with stigma on a regular basis, posing challenges to achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support," said UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot.
"It is encouraging to see innovative steps being taken towards addressing these issues in South Asia, where stigma and discrimination remain serious problems.
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Special Report from Musa Qala
Institute for War & Peace Reporting November 27, 2007 Introduction
In early November, a team of Afghan journalists went to Musa Qala at the invitation of the Taleban. It was the first time since the insurgents took over the town in February that the media had been allowed in. IWPR’s reporters came back with different, sometimes conflicting impressions.
This package of stories and the accompanying photoessay were produced by two IWPR-trained reporters who risked their lives to bring back a snapshot of life under the new Taleban regime.
Musa Qala: The Shape of Things to Come?
The Taleban who control this northern district are confident that they will extend their reach to the rest of Helmand over the coming winter.
By Aziz Ahmad Tassal in Musa Qala (ARR No. 275, 27-Nov-07)
Late afternoon was sliding into evening in a corner of Musa Qala, and I was still watching dozens of military vehicles parade past me.
Green, grey and white, they looked exactly like the Afghan government’s police and security vehicles. The major difference was that here it was the Taleban’s footsoldiers with fierce, frightening demeanours who sat behind the wheel.
They wore dishevelled turbans, mostly black, and their feet dangled over the sides of the truck beds. In their hands they held Kalashnikovs, machine guns, even rocket launchers.
One of the Taleban told me that they had captured most of the vehicles from the government.
I saw their commander walking through town, unarmed, as if he did not want to attract attention. In this he was quite unlike the British soldiers in Helmand, whom you never see without weapons.
He answered my questions readily, and even told me his name, Enqiadi. He allowed me to take his photograph, although he covered his face with his dark red scarf when he was in front of the camera.
“Five districts of Helmand are totally under the Taleban,” he said. “The rest of them, except for Lashkar Gah, are also Taleban territory, except for the district centres, where the British and Afghan forces have small islands of control.”
Helmand has 13 districts, and even the government acknowledges that at least four are held by the insurgents. Movement into and out of these districts has to be coordinated with the Taleban.
This has restricted the flow of assistance into these areas, since the Taleban do not allow foreign organisations on “their” territory. In September, when the government wanted to start a polio vaccination programme, it had to get permission from the Taleban to work in their areas.
“We want to help the people ourselves,” said Enqiadi. “We only let the vaccination programme operate because it was for the children. Other than that, NGOs are not welcome here.”
The Taleban’s concern for children does not extend to the opening of schools. Except for some private classes, no schools are operating in Musa Qala.
“It’s because the curriculum has changed,” said Enqiadi. “If they would use the old curriculum, we would not try to stop them.”
The Taleban had their own ideas about education when they were in control. Even children’s reading books had to be in line with their philosophy - “A” is for Allah, for example, and “J” for jihad.
Taleban control also means that the Kajaki dam project, southeast of Musa Qala, been delayed. The United States has been trying to reconstruct the dam to improve hydroelectricity provision for the province.
Enqiadi pointed to the road leading to Kajaki. “This road is being built by the Americans,” he said. “But we will never let them do it.”
The commander seemed confident that the Taleban could do what they want.
“Last year we used guerrilla attacks,” he said. “This year we will organise frontal assaults. Our lines are so strong that the foreigners will never break them. The foreigners say they are going to launch a major operation in Musa Qala. We are ready for that. In Musa Qala alone, we have 2,050 fully armed fighters. It will be very easy for us to resist the attack. We want to take the whole province this winter,”
The government does not seem to know what to do about the Taleban and their growing strength.
Helmand’s chief of police Hossein Andiwal confirmed that a large part of Helmand has been under the Taleban for a long time.
“We pulled out of those areas in order to ensure people’s safety. When we were there, the Taleban were going into people’s houses and killing them - beheading them for working with the government. But we hope to recapture those areas as soon as possible,” he said.
“What the Taleban is doing is inhuman. They are terrorising the population.”
Andiwal hinted at a foreign presence among the Taleban, but would not go into specifics.
“The Taleban are acting for other people,” he said. “Everything they do is for the benefit of outsiders. I wish they were really working for their own people, and for Islam, the way they say they are.”
But Enqiadi rejected any suggestion that the Taleban were acting on behalf of other countries.
“We are not helped by anybody,” he said. “We are independent. Pakistan does not work with us, and there are no foreign al-Qaeda here. That’s just anti-Taleban propaganda.”
Enqiadi also dismissed as propaganda the body counts released by the government and the international forces. Every time there is a major battle, officials say their forces killed numerous Taleban fighters, while the insurgents claim the dead were all civilians.
“The government is always shouting that it kills lots of Taleban in its operations, but all of them are civilians,” he said.
Enqiadi said he and the rest of the Taleban are fully committed to the armed struggle.
“We have fought these invaders many, many times. It is our job,” he said. “Our jihad continues.”
Aziz Ahmad Tassal is an IWPR reporter in Helmand.
The atmosphere is subdued as many residents have left town and local business has declined.
By Aziz Ahmad Shafe in Musa Qala (ARR No. 275, 27-Nov-07)
The hospital in central Musa Qala is padlocked, and the district government office has been completely demolished by Taleban militants. The bazaar is quiet, with none of its former bustle.
Foreign air strikes have also done a lot of damage – many houses lie in ruins, and there are big holes in surrounding fields.
Hajji Nazar Mohammad, an elder in the Musa Qala district, said many people had fled the district in fear.
“More than 75 per cent of the residents have gone,” he said. “The only people left are those who couldn’t afford to go. We are in a very bad economic situation.”
One shopkeeper, who did not want to be named, said that his business had fallen by 80 per cent.
“I am lucky, though,” he said. “Most of the other shops have closed completely.”
The shopkeeper seemed nervous, and kept saying he did not want the Taleban to see him talking to me. He was not the only one. A lot of people refused to talk out of fear of the insurgents.
I was accompanied by an armed Taleban guard, who I think was recording my interviews. So no one was saying anything against the insurgents.
Some people complained about a lack of water, and said their gardens and crops had dried up. I saw many gardens in which all the flowers were dead, but I suspected that the owners had left town.
There are no schools open in the district, although some young boys are receiving a religious education in mosques.
The Taleban control the district the same way they did when they were in power in Afghanistan. The only difference is now there are no men from the committee for “the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice” patrolling the streets.
“We do not punish people for their hair and beards right now,” explained the Taleban district governor. “But once we take over the country, we will treat people according to the orders of our supreme leader Mullah Omar.”
The governor does not have his own office, and I met him at someone’s house.
The insurgents have their own FM radio station covering Musa Qala district. Like other Taleban institutions, the station does not operate out of a particular office. The mobile radio station is on the air from seven in the morning until midday and then from three to seven in the evening.
The station, which has just two members of staff, even takes commercial advertisements.
One thing the Taleban have done is establish security in Musa Qala. When it is time to go and pray, shopkeepers can leave their doors open. No one would dare steal anything.
People are pleased that the Taleban have brought security, but at night they fear air strikes by the international forces.
That is one of the reasons why the militants do not maintain permanent offices and meet in secret locations.
The Afghan authorities claim that there are foreign Taleban in Musa Qala, but in the 24 hours that I was there I could not find any, although I made great efforts.
Local residents and Taleban members deny that there are foreigners among them. There are men from other areas of Afghanistan, though – southern areas like Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul, and even from as far afield as Ghor and Faryab in the north.
The town’s residents seemed unconcerned about the presence of these Afghan outsiders. All they want is for the schools to open, for the Taleban to allow health workers into the area, and reconstruction work to get under way.
But Taleban officials say they will not allow international projects in areas under their control. The international community is not implementing real projects, they say.
I left the district with the help of the Taleban militants. But I was really afraid on the way back. Family members told me the Afghan police had come round asking for me. Then I learned that two other reporters had been arrested for travelling to Musa Qala. (See Police Target Journalists After Taleban Trip, ARR No. 272, 8-Nov-07.)
So I did not go home. Coming back had turned out to be more dangerous than going into Taleban country.
Aziz Ahmad Shafe is a journalist based in Helmand.
Winning Hearts and Minds
The Taleban have avoided the worst excesses of the past in a bid to win popular support.
By Aziz Ahmad Tassal in Musa Qala (ARR No. 275, 27-Nov-07)
“We don’t want foreigners here! We do not want kafir [unbelievers]. Do you hear me?”
I was not trying to interview this man, whose name was Abdul Raziq - he simply forced himself in front of the microphone.
“All Muslims reject the current government!” he shouted. “But we watch the Taleban closely, too. If they do anything we don’t like, we will stand up to them.”
Musa Qala has been a world apart ever since the Taleban took control of it in February. The government does not venture in, while the British troops deployed in Helmand province restrict themselves to air strikes on the perimeter of the district.
The area was the scene of intense fighting between NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and the Taleban through the late summer and early autumn of 2006. In October that year, the British-led forces withdrew from the district after reaching an agreement with tribal elders designed to keep the Taleban out of the district centre.
But that agreement broke down in early February 2007, after an ISAF air strike killed the brother of a powerful commander. The Taleban swept in and established their own regime, complete with district governor, police chief and Sharia courts.
Reporters have stayed clear of the area since then. The Taleban’s attitude towards journalists whose reporting they dislike is too familiar for comfort.
But when a group of us received an invitation from the Taleban to see Musa Qala, it was too tempting to resist. For the first time, I could speak to these people directly; try to find out what they were thinking and feeling.
The local Taleban administrators told us that everybody supports them and that they face little or no resistance.
“We are winning people’s hearts and minds day by day,” said the Taleban district governor, who is called Haqani.. “That is why people cooperate with the Taleban. We are fighting not only in Helmand, but all over Afghanistan.”
The Taleban took over Musa Qala without a struggle, and many reports in the past nine months have indicated that residents are happier under the fundamentalist regime than before, when the area was a battle zone, their homes were under constant threat of aerial bombardment, and they were ruled by a weak and often corrupt local government.
“When the Taleban came, they brought security,” said Amruddin Kaka, an elderly resident of Musa Qala. “When the Afghan government was here, they did not care about anyone. They did not respect people’s property. But the Taleban help people solve their problems.”
The problems are numerous. The Afghan government contributes nothing to Musa Qala, said Amruddin.
“We have no water, no hospitals, no schools,” the old man grumbled. “One litre of fuel costs 40 afghani [80 cents]. People out in the rural areas water their farmlands using wells. If the government wanted to help, why didn’t they do anything before the Taleban came? God will help us. We don’t care about anyone else.”
When the Taleban hoisted their flag over the district centre in February, the population braced for the worst.
Most recalled the years when the Taleban were in power in Afghanistan with fear and a certain amount of distaste - men beaten for having beards too short or hair too long, women restricted to the home, and music, photography, even kite-flying banned.
But this time, the Taleban have not imposed such a strict regime on the population. The main reason for this apparent forbearance was that they saw no need to use harsh measures when most of the population fell right into line without a struggle.
“All of the residents in this district are Taleban,” said one Taleban official, who did not want to be named. “They do not need any reforms. Everybody here wants the Taleban law to be implemented.”
“We are not as strict as we were during the first Taleban regime,” added Abdul Rahman, who leads a group of 50 fighters. “When we came into the district nine months ago, we gave the residents two months to change their lives, grow their beards and cut their hair. We told them they should stop listening to music. All of the residents agreed without our having to force them. Now there are no music parties or other illegal events. People do not play music during their wedding parties. If they do, they may be punished.”
One reason that residents have accepted the restrictions may be that they are still angry and bruised after a series of bombings left large parts of Musa Qala in ruins.
Standing on a pile of rubble that used to be the local mosque, I met a man named Qari Abdul Halim, who seemed very angry.
“We do not want anyone to come in here to do ‘reconstruction’,” he spat. “Look at this mosque. We now have to pray on bare ground, with no shelter. Is this reconstruction, that they should destroy the house of God? We don’t want that kind of reconstruction. It is just another form of war.”
There is a lot of money in Musa Qala now, generated by drugs. The district has an open bazaar where opium is bought and sold. The bitter smell can be sensed from far away.
I saw two men in the middle of the bazaar who were loading their Land Cruiser with four-kilogram bags of opium.
“What can the people of Musa Qala do other than deal in opium?” said one of them, who did not want to be named. “There is nothing else here. The opium trade is the only economic activity that has improved people’s lives a little bit. People are very poor now, but they will become rich after a few years in this business.”
The money being made has attracted merchants eager to sell their wares to the new narco-elite.
One resident of Greshk district, who did not want to be named, said he had shifted his mobile phone business to Musa Qala because he could make a lot more money.
“I make twice as much here,” he said. “In Greshk, I never sold expensive phones that cost more than 5,000 afghani [100 US dollars]. But here in Musa Qala, I can sell phones every day that cost as much as 10,000 afghani.”
It was difficult to interview people in Musa Qala amid the noise of motorcycles and the bustle of the market. I had a hard time asking people about their problems. Everyone was staring at me.
But one man, named Sarfaraz, agreed to be interviewed.
“We’ve received no assistance from the foreigners other than bombs,” he said. “I had a shop worth more than three million Pakistani rupees [50,000 dollars], but it was destroyed in the bombing. Many of my neighbours also had shops worth 1.5 to 2 million rupees. But it has all gone.”
Governor Haqani agreed.
“The local residents are happy with the current Taleban because they have been oppressed by the foreigners and the Afghan government,” he said. “One of the reasons behind our success is that ordinary people started supporting us. We have not received any foreign assistance.”
Haqani told me that the situation in Musa Qala had stabilised, and that security was good.
“We have an active court, and a judge,” he said. “We punish those who commit crimes. If someone steals, his hand is cut off. Murderers are subject to ‘qisas” [where a victim’s relatives can forgive the criminal or take revenge]. So far we have not had one case of theft. If we do, the thief will be punished accordingly.”
Aziz Ahmad Tassal is an IWPR reporter in Helmand.
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