Mon Oct 1, 5:37 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - US-led coalition troops and Afghan forces killed more than 20 Taliban rebels in insurgency-hit southern Afghanistan while militants kidnapped three Afghan drivers near Kabul, officials said.
The troops launched an offensive based on "credible intelligence sources" against a suspected militant hideout in the southern Reg district of volatile Helmand province bordering Pakistan, the US-led coalition said in a statement.
"During the course of operations, the combined force came under attack by anti-coalition militants using automatic and small-arms weapons," the statement said.
"Precision munitions and small-arms fire were used to suppress the attacks, killing more than 20 combatants."
There were no indications of civilian casualties, the statement said.
Helmand, which is also the world's top opium-producing region, has seen some of the heaviest Taliban-led violence in recent months.
Two more Taliban rebels were killed and seven others captured, one of them injured, in the neighbouring province of Zabul, the coalition said in a separate statement.
Following a brief exchange of fire in a rebel compound, the troops found "significant numbers" of weapons and ammunition, the statement said.
Meanwhile, Taliban fighters attacked a civilian convoy of trucks supplying foreign forces and kidnapped three drivers in the central province of Wardak, near Kabul, a local police official said.
A purported Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the operation and said the drivers were seized because "they are helping the invading forces."
Taliban rebels in Wardak held four Red Cross workers, two of them foreigners, for three nights last week after capturing them "by mistake." They were freed on Saturday.
Taliban-linked violence has increased to a record level this year since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. More than 5,000 people -- mostly rebels -- have died in attacks this year compared with 4,000 last year.
The Islamic extremist Taliban movement was ousted from government by US-led forces in late 2001 but has since regrouped to launch a major insurgency, mainly in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
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Taliban ambush Afghan government convoy and kill 11
GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents ambushed an Afghan government convoy and killed 11 policemen, a provincial official said on Monday.
The attack happened on Sunday in Ghazni province to the southwest of Kabul, the official said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
Violence has surged in the past 20 months in Afghanistan, the bloodiest period since U.S.-led troops and Afghan forces overthrew Taliban's government in 2001.
Nearly 8,000 people have been killed during that period.
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Afghan boy with US dollars hanged
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Taliban militants hanged a teenager in southern Afghanistan because he had U.S. money in his pocket, and they stuffed five $1 bills in his mouth as a warning to others not to use dollars, police said Monday. Taliban militants elsewhere killed eight police.
The 15-year-old boy was hanged from a tree on Sunday in Helmand, the most violent province in the country and the world's No. 1 poppy-growing region.
"The Taliban warned villagers that they would face the same punishment if they were caught with dollars," said Wali Mohammad, the district police chief in Sangin.
Dollars are commonly used in Afghanistan alongside the afghani, the local currency, although the U.S. currency is more commonly seen in larger cities where international organizations are found.
Militants often justify their attacks and executions as a response to U.S. meddling in Afghan affairs.
In Sangin on Saturday, the Taliban shot and killed another man who had sought farm assistance and seeds from an international aid program, Mohammad said. The militants accused him of being a spy.
Taliban insurgents in Ghazni province, meanwhile, ambushed a police convoy Sunday, killing eight officers, said Abdul Khaliq Nikmal, spokesman for the provincial governor.
He said Afghan authorities have sent police reinforcements to the area and are meeting with U.S. military officials to plan a counterattack.
Violence has surged in Afghanistan in recent months. Last week alone violence killed more than 270 dead, including 165 militants killed in two large battles in the south and 30 people killed in a suicide bombing on an army bus in Kabul.
President Hamid Karzai said he would be willing to meet personally with Taliban leader Mullah Omar and factional warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hezb-i-Islami, in exchange for peace.
On Sunday, Karzai's spokesman, said there is "serious debate" among some Taliban fighters about laying down arms.
But the Taliban said international troops must first leave the country before any talks are held, a position mirrored by Hezb-i-Islami in an announcement Monday.
"Negotiations with Karzai have no worth in the presence of American forces," said Haroon Zarghun, a purported spokesman for Hezb-i-Islami.
"Karzai has, in fact, no authority in the presence of American troops. Talks would be waste of time in such a situation," he told The Associated Press by telephone. "If the United States announces to leave Afghanistan, then we will be ready to hold talks."
Insurgency-related violence has killed more than 4,600 people so far this year, most of them insurgents, according to an AP tally of figures from Afghan and Western officials.
In Helmand's Reg district, Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces, acting on intelligence reports, were pursuing militants hiding out in the area when they came under attack, the coalition said. The troops called in airstrikes and fought the militants in a gunbattle.
More than 20 militants were killed, but there were no reports of civilians hurt. It was not possible to verify the death toll independently.
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US offers $200,000 to catch Taliban
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Mon Oct 1, 6:35 AM ET
BAGRAM, Afghanistan - The U.S. military has launched a new "Most Wanted" campaign offering rewards of up to $200,000 for information leading to the capture of 12 Taliban and al-Qaida leaders.
Posters and billboards are being put up around eastern Afghanistan with the names and pictures of the 12, with reward amounts ranging from $20,000 to $200,000.
"We're trying to get more visibility on these guys like the FBI did with the mob," said Lt. Col. Rob Pollock, a U.S. officer at the main American base in Bagram. "They operate the same way the mob did, they stay in hiding."
The list does not include internationally known names who already have large price tags on their heads like al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden — who has evaded U.S. capture since 2001 despite a $25 million bounty — or Taliban leader Mullah Omar with a $10 million reward.
Instead the list is filled with local insurgent cell leaders responsible for roadside and suicide bomb attacks.
"We want the people in that area to know who this guy is and know he's a bad guy, and when they spot him to turn that guy in," said Maj. Chris Belcher, a U.S. spokesman.
The program, in the works for weeks, comes despite peace overtures from President Hamid Karzai, who on Sunday said he would be willing to meet with Omar if it would help bring peace.
The posters and billboards will be put up by Afghan soldiers and police in areas where the military suspects the men are operating, said Belcher. Some on the list are also suspected to operate in Pakistan's tribal regions, where the U.S. military does not have the authority to operate.
The U.S. says it has killed around 50 mostly mid-level insurgent leaders over the past year, a strategy the military is continuing to push with the Most Wanted rewards program.
The highest-ranking leader killed this year was Mullah Dadullah Lang, a one-legged militant who orchestrated a rash of Taliban suicide attacks and beheadings. He died of gunshot wounds in a U.S.-led coalition operation in Helmand in May.
"You disrupt the network when you take out the leadership. It has an effect," said Belcher. "Those mid and high-level leaders are coordinating the action across Afghanistan. By taking them out there's at least a temporary disruption in the ability of the subordinates to continue coordinated operations."
Among the 12 men on the Most Wanted list, the U.S. is offering the $200,000 reward for five of them, including:
• Abu Laith al-Libi: An al-Qaida training camp leader who has appeared in many Internet videos and who the U.S. says was likely behind the February bombing at the U.S. base at Bagram during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney.
• Saraj Haqqani: Son of longtime warlord Jalalludin Haqqani and believed to have connections with al-Qaida.
• Tahir Yuldash: The leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and an al-Qaida operational commander.
Pollock said the U.S. is offering up to $10,000 to Afghans who turn in any foreign fighter, such as militants from Arab countries or Chechnya, Turkey, or Uzbekistan. The U.S. has also been paying money to Afghans who tell authorities about roadside bombs that have been planted.
"This is not necessarily a new program, we're just putting a lot more energy into it now," Pollock said.
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Get out of Afghanistan, says France's million-selling spy writer
by Hugh Schofield Sun Sep 30, 10:26 PM ET
PARIS (AFP) - France's top-selling spy writer has some trenchant advice for Western forces fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan: get out while you can.
"The Taliban have perfected a system," says Gerard de Villiers. "They launch an attack from a village, the allies send in the planes, and inevitably there's a big civilian body-count. Then the Taliban come back for the orphans -- and train them up to be suicide-bombers.
"I have a huge amount of sympathy, for the British especially. They're fighting in atrocious conditions and they're taking a lot of risks. But let's face it -- it's all going nowhere.... Outsiders will never control Afghanistan."
Fiction-writer he may be, but De Villiers is more qualified than most to pronounce on NATO's dilemma. His latest book -- like all its predecessors -- is built around a solid core of expert information, gleaned during a field-trip to Afghanistan in May and from sources inside French intelligence.
The story of two agents posing as aid workers who are seized by Islamists, "Hostage of the Taliban" stars De Villiers' aristocratic Austrian hero, Malko Linge (pronounced 'linger'), an espionage free-lance who -- as he always does -- comes to the aid of a beleaguered CIA.
"The Americans have one big problem in life -- that they are Americans," says De Villiers in an interview at his palatial flat overlooking the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The walls are decorated with a selection of weaponry and erotic art.
"When I was in Afghanistan I had contacts with the Taliban that I could not possibly have had if I had been American. The Americans often have to subcontract their problems out to other services, so what Linge does is not so far-fetched."
Staggeringly, this is the 171st novel in the S.A.S. series -- so-called after Linge's honorific "Son Altesse Serenissime" (His Most Serene Highness) -- which De Villiers has produced at a rate of four a year since he gave up his career as a foreign correspondent in 1965.
Instantly recognisable in their gun-and-girl covers, the books are massively popular in France as well as in Germany, Russia, Turkey and Japan. De Villiers, now 78, claims to have sold an extraordinary 150 million books over his career -- with every year a million more added to the total in France alone.
Critical acclaim, however, has not been as forthcoming. For France's literary establishment, De Villiers -- who has marked right-wing views -- is a non-person, and many book-shops refuse to stock his output. Stations and airports are the main sales points.
The S.A.S. books are certainly not works of art -- plots are formulaic, characters one-dimensional, sex graphic -- but what they lack in style and imagination they more than make up for in geopolitical authenticity.
Not even De Villiers' enemies deny that his information is second to none, and each book in the series is built around a real-life world crisis.
This year began with "Polonium" -- on the Litvinenko murder in London -- followed by "The Defector of Pyongyang" -- which centred on the money-laundering activities of Kim Jong Il. The next will focus on Kosovo, where De Villiers, who has just been there, predicts an imminent explosion.
"The outside powers made two contradictory promises -- to the Albanian Kosovars that there would be independence, and to the Serbs that there would not. And now we are on collision course," he said.
Before starting a book, De Villiers travels to the country involved and taps into his network of contacts in the armed forces and intelligence community. In Kosovo, for example, he was guest of the newly-appointed French commander of NATO's KFOR force General Xavier Bout de Marnhac.
His researches on "Polonium" in London convinced De Villiers that the Russian FSB -- heir to the Communist KGB -- was behind the 2006 radiation murder of the dissident Alexander Litvinenko.
"One thing that was never published is that MI5 have identified the man who brought the polonium into Britain -- and it wasn't (number one suspect Andrei) Lugovoi. It was a man who came to Britain on a Latvian passport, stayed in the country with another passport, and left with a Slovak one.
"Altogether there were 25 people involved. That kind of operation can only be mounted by a major intelligence outfit," he said.
De Villiers describes himself as a mixture between British spy writer John Le Carre and the American Robert Ludlum, and he regrets that his phenomenal international success has never carried over into the English-speaking world.
"I bear the curse of being French. Between the French and English-speaking worlds there are walls of steel. The truth is you just don't read foreign books," he said.
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NATO, Taliban clash kills three Afghan civilians
Sun Sep 30, 2:02 PM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Three Afghan civilians were killed during a clash of NATO-led forces with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan's southeastern province of Paktia, the alliance said on Sunday.
President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly warned Western forces in Afghanistan to avoid civilian casualties during operations as it would sap support for his government and would be risky for the presence of the troops there.
The clash broke out on Saturday after the Taliban made an abortive ambush on Afghan forces patrol in the area, NATO said in a statement, adding a number of militants were also killed.
"We take the loss of any civilian life seriously," said an alliance spokesman, adding it will conduct a full investigation into the events that lead to the deaths of the civilians.
More than 370 civilians have been killed during operations of foreign forces against militants in Afghanistan this year, according to aid groups and Afghan officials.
Violence has surged to its worst level in the past 19 months, the bloodiest period since Taliban's removal from power in 2001.
In the latest incident, three Afghan police were killed, while trying to defuse a remote-controlled bomb in the southern city of Kandahar, officials there said.
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Taliban will 'never talk' unless foreign forces leave
Sun Sep 30, 4:09 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Afghanistan's Taliban militia Sunday rejected peace overtures by President Hamid Karzai, insisting they would never negotiate as long as international soldiers were in the country.
The Taliban is also not interested in government positions, the movement's purported main spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP.
Karzai said Saturday he would "immediately" offer the militia posts in his government if they gave up a bloody insurgency.
He also said he was ready for peace talks with the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who is wanted by the United States, if this could lead to a way out of the grinding conflict.
But Ahmadi dismissed Karzai's statements, which came hours after one of the deadliest Taliban bomb attacks in Kabul killed 30 people, as "nothing new."
"Taliban are not interested in government posts -- ministries or anything. We want the withdrawal of foreign forces and we stand by our position," he said.
"As long as they have not withdrawn, we'll never talk with the Kabul administration."
There are around 50,000 mostly Western soldiers in Afghanistan under NATO and US command.
They are here at the request of the government to round up Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters, build the Afghan security forces, extend Kabul's authority and facilitate reconstruction.
Karzai said Sunday that the demand for the international soldiers to leave was unacceptable. "We won't let the foreigners leave until our roads are built, our schools, electricity are built, until our police and army are better," he said.
The extremist Taliban movement was in government from 1996 to 2001, when they were removed in a US-led invasion. The insurgency, supported by Al-Qaeda, is at its deadliest with nearly daily attacks.
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Gates Tells Lawmakers Iraq War Is Hurting Afghanistan Mission
Hans Nichols Mon Oct 1, 12:12 AM ET
Oct. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told a group of U.S. House Democratic lawmakers that the multinational mission in Afghanistan is suffering from a lack of resources, citing the war in Iraq and the reluctance of U.S. allies to contribute more troops, participants at the meeting said.
Gates also acknowledged the Pentagon has made mistakes in prosecuting both wars and pledged to work with Congress to remedy the errors, according to a half-dozen participants at a Sept. 27 breakfast in House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office.
``He expressed his concerns about the issue of resources and that Afghanistan is under-resourced, both in terms of equipment and personnel,'' said Representative Silvestre Reyes of Texas, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. ``He wants to see more help from NATO.''
A senior House Democrat said Gates told the group the U.S. focus on Iraq was hurting the effort in Afghanistan. Gates said that while the multinational force has held the Taliban at bay, it hasn't defeated the insurgents, according to the lawmaker, who requested anonymity. Two additional Democrats also said Gates linked the U.S. commitment in Iraq to shortfalls in Afghanistan.
Some lawmakers at the breakfast said his comments suggested he may be a potential ally in future showdowns with the White House. His assessment may reinforce the criticism leveled by Democratic presidential candidates such as Senator Hillary Clinton that the Iraq war is distracting the U.S. military from achieving victory in Afghanistan.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell wouldn't comment on a ``private meeting between the secretary and lawmakers,'' citing the need for participants to have a ``candid conversation without any outside influences.''
Morrell acknowledged the logistical difficulties in fighting the two wars. ``We have a finite number of resources,'' he said. ``We have chosen to use the vast majority of those resources to fight the war in Iraq.''
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the administration supports ``all of Gates's efforts on the Hill,'' while declining to comment on the meeting. Johndroe dismissed any notion the secretary's private comments are at odds with President George W. Bush's position that the U.S. military has what it needs to achieve its goals in both wars.
Supporting the President
``I know Secretary Gates fully supports the president,'' said Johndroe.
Hoyer, who said he invited the ``15 to 20'' Democrats at the secretary's request, drew a contrast between Gates, 64, who took over as Pentagon chief in December, and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, 75. ``He admits that mistakes were made, unlike his predecessor,'' said Hoyer.
Hoyer, 68, of Maryland, declined to provide details of Gates's remarks.
Some lawmakers were reluctant to discuss a private meeting with a Cabinet secretary, fearful that disclosure of their conversation would preclude further talks. Other participants praised Gates, with Representative Ellen Tauscher of California saying his remarks ran counter to the ``toxic group-think'' in the Bush administration.
``It gave me hope that we finally have a secretary of defense who is willing to deal with the reality of the mistakes we've made,'' she said. ``He is a straight shooter. He is someone who is lending his personal integrity to repair a significant breach between Congress and the Pentagon.''
Not Like a Hearing
Representative Alcee Hastings of Florida said, ``It was not the kind of discussion you would get in a hearing room.''
None of the lawmakers said what, if anything, Gates suggested the U.S. should do about Iraq. Several expressed surprise that the secretary appeared to share their view that the war in Iraq has prevented American forces from routing the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Morrell, who attended the meeting, said Gates is someone who ``does not sugarcoat things.''
``Does he wish we had more troops to put in Afghanistan? Yes,'' said Morrell.
In a press conference later on Sept. 27, Gates expressed concern about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's commitment.
``We have been very direct with a number of the NATO allies about the need to meet the commitments that they made at Riga,'' said Gates. Last November, 26 countries pledged to strengthen their commitments and called for broader international engagement at a conference in Riga, Latvia.
About 34,700 NATO soldiers are trying to crush the insurgency and stabilize Afghanistan, which has experienced more than 25 years of conflict. The U.S. had 15,154 troops under NATO command as of Sept. 10, according to the alliance's Web site. The U.S. has a separate force of about 10,000 that coordinates with NATO and conducts separate anti-terrorism operations.
The United Nations is pushing for peace talks between President Hamid Karzai's government and Taliban insurgents, and has offered to mediate.
There are other signs that Gates wants to be more active than Bush in alleviating the strains of two wars. On Sept. 27, he said he intends to accelerate by one year a $3 billion Bush plan to expand active-duty forces.
His breakfast with Democrats follows one he had with selected Republicans last month, ``where Afghanistan was discussed,'' said Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri. ``It is my sense that we do not have enough troops in Afghanistan and that our NATO allies can do more to help.''
To contact the reporter on this story: Hans Nichols in Washington at email@example.com
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Death rate for Afghan police force `staggering'
With 1,150 officers killed in 18 months, replacements can't be trained fast enough
Bruce Campion-Smith OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF Toronto Star - Oct 01 1:34 AM
KANDAHAR–In rural Panjwaii and Zhari districts, Afghan cops are being killed faster than they can be replaced, says one of their Canadian mentors.
That terrifying fact stands as a huge roadblock to Canada's efforts to turn over security in these troubled regions to the fledgling police force.
"The rate at which they're losing policemen can never be replenished, unfortunately," RCMP Cpl. Barry Pitcher said.
In Panjwaii district alone – an insurgent hotbed west of Kandahar – police officers recently had six trucks destroyed in a 20-day period through roadside bombs and ambushes.
In July, 71 police officers were killed in regional command south, a territory that includes Kandahar province. Nationwide, 650 officers were killed from March 2006 to March 2007. Government officials say another 500 have been killed since then.
Just yesterday, two more died trying to defuse a large bomb in the centre of Kandahar city, police said.
"They're in the front lines. They're doing the counter-insurgency warfare. How are we replenishing the ranks? That's a staggering, staggering casualty rate," said Pitcher, one of eight Canadian police officers here helping train the Afghan force.
While serious concerns have been raised about the training and integrity of Afghan police officers, the fatality rate highlights the stark dangers facing this low-paid, ill-trained cadre of officers.
"In places like Panjwaii and Zhari, they're what the military calls soft targets because they're visible, they're not as well armed, they don't have air support and quite often they're hit bad," Pitcher said.
While Canadian soldiers move at night in armoured vehicles with night vision gear and the ability to call in reinforcements, the Afghan police have only Toyota trucks with six officers riding in the back, each armed with an AK-47.
"They're more guerrilla warfare fighters than policemen," said Pitcher, a fraud investigator in St. John's, Nfld., before he accepted a year-long assignment in Kandahar.
"Policing in a counter-insurgency environment is probably one of the most difficult arenas to enter. You're trying to impart peacetime police training in the middle of a war zone," he said.
In recent weeks, the Canadians have helped Afghans reclaim territory and establish new police substations. Canadian soldiers will remain at the checkpoints until the Afghans are ready to assume responsibility for security.
That comes after complaints that Canadians abandoned the Afghans during the summer, allowing insurgents to overrun the positions.
The danger is just one challenge facing the Afghan police force – and the Canadians who have high hopes of passing over responsibility for security in the rural areas.
Lt.-Col. Alain Gauthier, who heads the Canadian battle group in Kandahar, says it will take "years" to develop the police into a professional, capable force.
"It takes many, many years to train a professional security force to be able to sustain themselves," he said.
He said most of them have been deployed with little, if any, training, at low wages and in "very poor" working conditions.
"All of this has been recognized and they're working on all those specific points to improve their living conditions," he said.
The Canadian military, for example, has just launched a new training course, bringing 20 Afghan officers at a time to forward operating bases for a 10-day policing course.
Meanwhile, civilian police officers like Pitcher are schooling their Afghan counterparts in checkpoint training, roadside bomb awareness and police techniques such as handcuffing and ethics.
Pitcher knows that Afghan police have a reputation for being on the take, but he urges caution before passing judgment – it's often because they haven't been paid in months.
"They're in a situation here where if they're not being paid and corruption is an accepted way of life, they get caught up in the environment," Pitcher said.
"They want to be policemen ... This is why they decided to wear a police uniform ... You want to serve a greater good."
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Japan's PM pleads with opposition on Afghan mission
TOKYO (AFP) — Japan's new prime minister appealed to the opposition to work with him to renew a controversial military mission as he set a limited agenda to push through a divided parliament.
Making a customary policy speech at the start of a parliamentary session, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said the naval mission, which supports US-led forces in Afghanistan, was a sign of a more active Japan on the world stage.
His call was similar to one made in a policy speech last month by his unpopular predecessor Shinzo Abe, who quit abruptly two days later citing the opposition's refusal to extend the deployment.
The opposition, saying that the officially pacifist nation should not be part of "American wars," has vowed to end the mission since taking control of one house of parliament in July elections.
Japan's navy delivers free fuel in the Indian Ocean to US and other coalition war jets and ships operating in the "war on terror" in Afghanistan.
"I will do my utmost to gain the understanding by the public and parliament members over extending the mission," said Fukuda, a 71-year-old political veteran known for his centrist views.
"I will exert a diplomacy in which Japan contributes to world peace through awareness of the responsibility that befits its power and growing trust from the world," Fukuda said.
Fukuda, a former oil man, noted that Japan was almost entirely dependent on the Middle East for its oil, arguing that contributing to the region's security "serves Japan's national interests."
The United States, other Western nations and Pakistan have all called on Japan to extend the mission.
Opinion polls last week showed that Fukuda enjoyed strong initial support and that public opinion had shifted to supporting extending the naval deployment.
Fukuda appealed for cooperation from the opposition, which can use its newfound control of the upper house to indefinitely stall legislation on the mission, which expires November 1.
"I will conduct national politics by holding sincere talks with people of opposition parties on important policy tasks," he said. "It is an urgent task to restore trust in politics and policy administration."
Abe, an outspoken conservative, had languished in opinion polls after a slew of scandals and criticism that he pursued an ideological agenda that ignored bread-and-butter issues that most concerned voters.
Fukuda's speech was also notable for what it did not address -- there was no mention of rewriting the US-imposed post-World War II constitution, the signature cause for Abe.
With many observers predicting early general elections to avoid a divided parliament, Fukuda mentioned few concrete policy goals. He pledged in general terms to tackle income disparities, a key issue that the opposition has campaigned on.
Fukuda said he is committed to free-market reforms, but acknowledged that social "gaps" had also emerged as the world's second largest economy recovers from recession in the 1990s.
"I will carry out warm-hearted politics under the belief that young and old, large and small companies, and cities and provinces need to pay mutual respect and help each other, while in principle trying to support themselves," he said.
Abe's predecessor Junichiro Koizumi had launched a free-market reform drive, the cornerstone of which was breaking up the vast post office monopoly -- a goal that finally came into being Monday.
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Kandahar military base on high alert due to possible threat
The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A state of alert on the international military base at Kandahar Airfield has ended.
The security situation on the base was upgraded late Sunday night due to a possible threat.
The military did not release the exact nature of the threat or the additional security measures in place at the base citing security reasons.
The alert ended Monday morning following additional security sweeps of the base.
There are more than 10,000 international troops and civilians at Kandahar Airfield, the headquarters for NATO operations in the Kandahar province.
Canada has approximately 2,300 troops in Kandahar.
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Afghan axe-attack victim's recovery slow but sure
Lena Sin CanWest News Service; Vancouver Province Sunday, September 30, 2007
VANCOUVER -- The flutter in Capt. Trevor Greene's legs last week may seem infinitesimal, but it's the first sign that the B.C. soldier and former journalist, author and entrepreneur may one day walk again.
"He is so determined," says Debbie Lepore, Greene's fiancee. "His main goal is walking. We're a long, long, long way off from that, but that's his main goal."
A year and a half ago, Greene was at a meeting with Afghan village elders when he took off his helmet and laid down his weapon out of respect. Moments later, a crazed teen leapt out of the crowd and buried an axe deep into Greene's head. His fellow soldiers shot the attacker dead.
The brutal blow left Greene immobile and unable to speak, but his cognitive capacity remained intact. Now, sheer determination is seeing him through his mission of recovery.
Remarkably, Greene, 42, wants Canadians to know that he'd go back overseas in a heartbeat.
"We cannot give in to terrorists," he says in a barely audible whisper. He staunchly believes that success is possible in Afghanistan, that Canada needs to stay the course but adds: "It's time for another NATO country to step up and take the lead."
Greene was speaking from his sun-drenched clinic room in Ponoka, Alta., with a Superman blanket, a gift from Lepore, pulled over his bed.
In July, the couple and their two-year-old daughter, Grace, left Vancouver for the small town, 95 kilometres south of Edmonton, so that Greene can receive the best brain injury care in the country at the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury.
For the military reservist who has had a varied career as a journalist, business consultant and author of three books, the victories do not come easily.
But already, there's progress. Last October, after months of silence, Greene whispered his first words. Today, his voice is back to normal at least 20 per cent of the time. In December, his feeding tube was taken out and, as of March, he no longer needed a tracheostomy tube.
He has regained some promising movement in his left arm and, as of last week, some tiny - but definite - movement in his legs and torso muscles.
"It's so slow," Lepore says, but it's progress.
"And all these little things are going to be adding up. He's definitely improved since he's been here at the centre. It's exciting to see all these incremental improvements because they will add up to maybe him sitting up on his own or him feeding himself on his own."
At the brain injury clinic, Greene's week is packed with therapy as he tries to rewire his brain.
"Everything for him is just repetition and getting better at it and for his brain to reconnect all the things he used to do," says Lepore.
While the military is covering medical costs, friends and family can't help but worry about the couple's financial future.
To be by her fiance's side, Lepore had to quit her part-time accounting job in Vancouver. There's no telling how long the family will need to stay in Alberta.
Last week, friends and family in Vancouver showed their support by holding a fundraiser to help the Greene family cope with expenses not covered by the military.
Greene's friend, Rob Gibbs, admits it was difficult seeing Greene for the first time in hospital last year.
The man then confined to a bed 24 hours a day had worked as a reporter in Japan for seven years while authoring a book on the homeless and another on the women missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
"If he could stand up and walk out of that hospital the first thing he'd do is put on his army gear and head back to Afghanistan," said Gibbs. "He's just a humanitarian. It's always about somebody else, he's always trying to help somebody else."
In keeping with his social activism, Greene's role in Afghanistan was that of co-operation officer, in which he met with village elders to hear about their problems.
But, even today, Greene remains modest.
"I'm just a soldier, I'm not a hero," he says. "The heroes are being scraped off the battlefields."
Donations to the Trevor Greene trust fund can be made to CIBC account No. 39-31137, bank No. 010 and transit No. 00500.
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ISAF helicopter makes emergency landing in S. Afghanistan
September 30, 2007 People's Daily
A helicopter of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) made an emergency landing in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province Sunday, an ISAF statement said.
"An ISAF helicopter made an emergency landing east of Kandahar air field today around 10 a.m.," the statement said.
No ISAF personnel were injured and there was no hostile activity during the incident, it added.
The helicopter was on a routine flight when it experienced engine problems forcing it to land, the statement said, adding the incident is under investigation.
Some two weeks ago another chopper of NATO made an emergency landing in the northwest Badghis province for which Taliban claimed responsibility, while NATO rejected the claim, saying no troops were hurt in the event.
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Tripartite meeting on voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Iran at
Tehran, Sept 30, IRNA
UNHCR Headquarters hosted on 28 September in Geneva the 13th Tripartite Commission Meeting between the Governments of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Afghanistan and UNHCR on the joint programme for voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Iran, according to UNHCR press release issued on Sunday.
The Iranian delegation was headed by Mr. Seyyed Taghi
Ghaemi, Advisor to the Iranian Interior Minister and Director General of the Bureau by representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Afghan delegation was headed by Mr. Abdul Ghader Ahedi, Deputy Minister of Refugees and Repatriation (MORR). The meeting was chaired by the UNHCR Director for the Asia Bureau Ms. Janet Lim.
UNHCR offices in Iran and Afghanistan were represented by Mr. Sten A. Bronee and Mr. Salvatore Lombardo respectively.
The Tripartite meeting examined the current repatriation trends and noted with concern the low trends of voluntary
repatriation over the past couple of years.
The parties reaffirmed nevertheless their already expressed commitment to the safe, dignified, gradual and voluntary return taking into account the absorption capacity of the Afghan authorities in the current situation inside Afghanistan and its effect on the possibility of the a sustainable livelihood for refugees upon return.
The parties recognized the need for end called on the international community to continue its support for the
reconstruction of Afghanistan and to intensify efforts to secure greater assistance for the reintegration programs for returnees in Afghanistan.
The parties welcomed as an essential element in enhancing the return options for refugees, the offer by the Islamic Republic of Iran of granting work and temporary residence permits to Afghan refugees wishing to return to Iran. The parties also welcomed the progress made by the Afghan authorities in allocating land and housing to returning refugees and encouraged those efforts to intensify the scheme.
UNHCR representative in Iran, Mr. Sten A. Bronee said, "All parties seemed happy with the results of this meeting. The aim of this meeting was to try find more durable solutions to the problems of the 910,000 remaining Afghan refugees, most of whom have lived in Iran for over 20 years."
He thanked the Iranian government for its hostility during the past 20-25 years towards Afghan refugees and also for all their efforts in trying to find durable solution to the problems of this population.
The next Tripartite Commission meeting is scheduled to take place in Kabul, Afghanistan in January 2008.
Following the TC meeting, all representatives are also to take part in the Executive Committee meeting of the UNHCR which takes place once a year in Geneva from 1-5 October.
ExCom with 72 member states meets annually in Geneva to review and approve UNHCR's programs and budge. It also advises on international protection and discusses a wide range of other issues with UNHCR and its intergovernmental and non-governmental partners.
ExCom's Standing Committee meets several times a year to carry on with ExCom's Standing Committee meets several times a year to carry on with ExCom's work between plenary sessions.
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City’s 12 Persian, Pashto schools shrink as Afghan refugees leave
By Mashiur Rahaman Daily Times, Pakistan
KARACHI: The 12 Afghani schools of the city are facing serious challenges due to a lack of financial and technical support. Neither the Education Ministry of Afghanistan nor any local or international NGO have offered to assist in disseminating a unique culture of education.
The Persian and Pashto education centres are likely to vanish from the city in a few years along with their cultures if something is not done, concerned individuals told Daily Times.
The Afghan educational institutions were built in the early 1990s with help from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Persian and Pashto language education was a symbol of socio-cultural compassion between the two countries, said former in-charge of the Afghanistan Education Ministry in Karachi, Professor Rahim Rahimi Mohmand.
“A unique culture was developed in the city around these educational institutions. Afghan children learnt not only basic education via Afghanistan’s education system, but also promoted the tradition and culture of a foreign land,” Mohmand elaborated.
As the ongoing Permission of Residence policy has directed all Afghan refugees to leave Pakistan by 2009, fewer refugee families are staying behind. Slowly but surely all these schools will lose a major portion of their students, Mohmand said. The tuition fee (between Rs 50 and 150) was the only source of finance and now the declining number of students is threatening their existence, he added.
According to officials from the Afghanistan Consulate General Karachi, there are two colleges, four secondary and six primary educational institutions in the city. These schools are registered with the Afghanistan Ministry of Education and students with a certificate from these institutions are recognized in Afghanistan “These certificates will have to be attested by the Afghan Consul General,” officials from the Afghan Consulate added.
“We know about their financial crisis but no solid solution has been found yet,” said Abdul Muqtader Frozanfar, Counsel General of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. During an interview at his consulate office, he acknowledged the importance of these educational institutions for the community, but accepted that there difficulties in providing financial assistance.
“Schools in Karachi significantly contribute to the promotion of Afghan culture and tradition through Persian, Dari and Pashto language teachings. But it seems like very few of them will survive the next few years,” Frozanfar said.
Teachers and students from these Afghan schools in Karachi unveiled their problems which range from financial problems to a shortage of staff and the availability of textbooks.
“We initiated our services in Karachi to provide an opportunity for education to our young generation who have been trapped here as refugees. They are in a situation caused by the actions of their elders,” said Dr Malalai Saieh Mohmand, founder of the Ibn Sina Education Centre.
Her school is a primary-level institution that is also facing serious financial problems. According to her, Afghan refugees were not allowed to get admission in any Pakistani educational institution, as per the rules, so this was the only way to educate them.
At the time of its establishment in 2000, the number of students was 400, but, now there are only 150. “Our only source of income went down gradually,” she stated. Closing these schools means an end of our Afghan tradition and culture, she added. She also demanded a solution from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The availability of textbooks is another problematic aspect, said teachers of the Ibn Sina Education Centre. ‘We make photocopies of the textbooks that are locally available to meet our requirements. None of their originals are available in the local market, however’ they told Daily Times.
The Afghanistan Ministry of Education has offered support to all the schools in Pakistan if they wish to shift their academic set up from Pakistan to Afghanistan, officials from the Afghanistan Consulate said. “The level of education in Afghanistan is growing rapidly, particularly in cities like Kabul and Kandahar. Schools can be shifted from here and set up in these cities,” Frozanfar said. Despite repeated attempts from the consulate office, no financial support has been acquired for these schools, he said.
However, he said that he will try his best to try and support at least one school in the city through the Afghan Foreign and Education ministries. “In every foreign country, foreign diplomatic missions support institutions which promote culture, language and education. A proposal for this is under serious consideration in our office,” Frozanfar added.
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Suicide bomber in burqa kills 16 in Pakistan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) — A suicide bomber disguised in a woman's burqa blew himself up at a busy police checkpost in northwest Pakistan Monday, killing at least 16 people including four policemen, officials said.
The blast happened on the outskirts of Bannu, a key garrison town near Pakistan's troubled tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, where the army is battling Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.
It was the latest in a string of deadly attacks in Pakistan since government troops stormed the Al-Qaeda-linked Red Mosque in Islamabad in July, and comes days before President Pervez Musharraf seeks re-election.
"A man disguised in a burqa got out of an autorickshaw when police stopped the vehicle for a search at a checkpoint. He then blew himself up," police officer Asar Islam told AFP.
Examination of remains "confirmed that it was a male suicide bomber" wearing women's clothing, while initial reports of a possible female attacker had been discounted, Bannu police chief Ameer Hamza Mahsud said.
A doctor at the local hospital, Mohammad Usman, also confirmed that the attacker was a man.
Police sources said they had earlier received intelligence that male suicide bombers dressed in all-covering burqas, a common female garment in conservative northwestern Pakistan, would soon launch attacks.
They had beefed up security at all checkpoints and the vehicle carrying the bomber was intercepted as a result, but the attacker blew himself up before they could check it, one source said.
Interior ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema said 16 people were killed and 29 were wounded and that authorities were still investigating the blast.
Officials said four policemen and four women were among those killed.
Chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad confirmed that it was a suicide blast but dismissed earlier witness reports that the bombing targeted a military convoy passing through the town.
In a separate incident Islamic militants shot dead a paramilitary soldier before dawn in North Waziristan, the most conflict-hit of Pakistan's tribal zones, security officials said.
The rebels raided a checkpost in the border town of Datta Khel and fled in darkness after shooting the trooper, apparently using a gun fitted with a silencer, one official said.
Nearly 300 people have died in attacks in Pakistan blamed on Islamic militants, most of them suicide bombings, since the Red Mosque raid. Most of the attacks have targeted Pakistani security forces.
The mosque standoff also coincided with the breakdown of a controversial peace deal between the government and Islamic militants in the tribal belt.
Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden called on Muslims in Pakistan to wage holy war against the government of key US ally Musharraf and his armed forces in a new audio message issued less than two weeks ago.
Musharraf has been under mounting pressure from Washington to tackle militants, especially in the tribal border zones, where US officials have said that Al-Qaeda is regrouping to launch attacks on Western targets.
The president, whose popularity has slumped in recent months, is aiming for re-election for another five-year term in a parliamentary vote on Saturday.
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Afghan models reveal the beauty under the burqa
By Jon Hemming Sun Sep 30, 9:02 PM ET
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A model strutting the catwalk is hardly revolutionary in most countries, but Afghan television's answer to "America's Next Top Model" is breaking boundaries and revealing the beauty under the burqa.
Nearly six years after the overthrow of the strict Islamist Taliban government, almost all women in deeply conservative Afghanistan still only appear in public wafting past in the burqa's pale blue, their dark eyes only occasionally visible behind the bars of its grille.
But in the relatively liberal northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, a local television station has started to show a different image of Afghan women with an extremely low-budget take on the hit "America's Next Top Model," a reality TV show in which judges choose prospective models from a group of contestants over several weeks.
"I was really enthusiastic to make this program because I wanted the girls to present the clothes and themselves," said Sosan Soltani, the 18-year-old director of the program.
"Afghanistan is free and these girls are the future of this country," she said.
Four girls in brightly colored traditional costumes with baggy pants and long loose-fitting shawls and headscarves strode down the impromptu catwalk decked out in traditional Afghan rugs. Seemingly less confident than their Western counterparts, they avoided the gaze of the all-male film crew and press.
A quick change later, the same four appeared in camouflage combat trousers, sneakers and embroidered smocks. Then came denim jeans, open-toed sandals and colorful lightweight jackets.
None of this would be at all risque in the West, but in Afghanistan, such attire can spark outrage, especially when broadcast on television.
"According to Sharia law, Islam is absolutely against this," said Afghan Muslim cleric Abdul Raouf. "Not only is it banned by Islamic Sharia law, but if we apply Sharia law and to take this issue to justice, these girls should be punished."
"A STEP FORWARD"
More than 10 other models due to take part in the program failed to turn up after hearing that members of the international press would be present, fearing the wider broadcast of the show could lead to trouble for them, their friends said.
Those who did brave the possible backlash were determined.
"It is a great idea I think for Afghan girls, to encourage them to go a step forward," said 19-year-old model Katayoun Timour.
"We know that in Afghan society 90 percent of people think it is not good, that it's absolutely wrong," she said of the program. "We had objections from people, but I tell them it is not something bad, they should see it in a positive way."
But on the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif, it was hard to find anyone who objected to the program, especially among the young.
"It is a good program," said 28-year-old shopkeeper Ahmad Sear. "People watch and like it, especially women are interested in this program -- through this program and the clothes they wear, they might be able to develop their country."
"Young people are interested in fashion and the program introduces new clothes to them," said businessman Ahmad Nasir. "It also complies with Afghan culture, so it's fine."
But asked if he looked more at the clothes or the girls, he replied with a smile: "The girls of course." Then added, "the clothes are important though."
Model Timour said she wanted the outside world to see a different image of Afghan women.
"I have seen outside Afghanistan they have a different kind of idea about women in Afghanistan -- they think they are always wearing the burqa and sitting at home but it is not like that," she said. "Girls in Afghanistan are beautiful."
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