By Hamid Shalizi
KABUL (Reuters) - U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops killed about 80 Taliban fighters in a six-hour battle following an ambush in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said on Sunday.
Taliban fighters opened fire on Saturday with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades on the joint coalition and Afghan army patrol from a trench system near Musa Qala in Helmand province, the most important town held by insurgents.
"The combined patrol immediately returned fire, maneuvered, and employed close air support resulting in almost seven dozen Taliban fighters killed during a six hour engagement," the U.S. military statement said.
Such lengthy pitched battles are relatively rare in Afghanistan, where the Taliban prefer to "shoot and scoot" before air strikes can be called in.
But analysts say the insurgents are expected to fight hard to defend Musa Qala, in the north of Helmand, where they are heavily dug in after taking control of the town in February.
A Taliban official in the town denied any insurgents had been killed around Musa Qala and accused foreign forces of dropping bombs on civilians.
The U.S.-led coalition and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) accuse the Taliban of making false accusations of civilian casualties and say foreign troops take every effort to avoid hurting ordinary Afghans.
ISAF said on Sunday it had investigated an air strike in Wardak province on Monday and concluded there was no truth in reports by a local government official who said 11 members of an Afghan family had been killed.
It said the target of the air strikes had been a large group of insurgents setting an ambush for ISAF troops.
TALIBAN HANG THREE
The Taliban hanged three men in Musa Qala on Saturday, accusing them of spying for foreign forces, another Taliban official in the town said. Two were strung up at the entrance to the town and the other in the town centre.
Mainly British troops are engaged in almost daily gun battles further south in the province, an area of harsh, barren desert sliced through by the Helmand River which provides a lush strip of fertile land where more than half the world's opium is grown.
Foreign military forces say they can take back Musa Qala at any time, but do not want to do so until an Afghan civilian administration and security forces are ready to take control of the town.
In the meantime, U.S. and Afghan forces have launched a series of reconnaissance patrols around Musa Qala.
Elsewhere, several Taliban insurgents were killed after an ambush on U.S.-led coalition troops in neighboring Kandahar province, the U.S. military said.
NATO-led forces are also conducting operations in Helmand and Kandahar, but unlike the U.S.-led coalition force, do not release Taliban casualty figures.
More than 7,000 people have been killed in renewed violence since the Taliban re-launched their offensive against the Afghan government and its Western backers two years ago.
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Australian soldiers backed out of Dutch-led Afghan operation
Sun Oct 28, 3:52 AM ET
SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian soldiers did not fight in a heavily-criticised Dutch-led assault on Taliban fighters in Afghanistan because of concerns about differing rules of engagement, the military said Sunday.
Some 52 civilians were reported to have died in the battle in the Chora Valley in southern Uruzgan province in June, prompting Afghan President Hamid Karzai to slam the "indiscriminate and unprecise operations" of the foreign forces.
A spokesman for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) said that Australian officers were involved in the planning of the operation and in manning vehicle checkpoints but did not take part in the June 16-17 combat.
"As the situation in the Chora Valley deteriorated... ADF personnel in Afghanistan became aware that Dutch procedures for this operation differed from Australian targeting procedures and expressed their concerns, including at senior levels," Brigadier Andrew Nikolic said.
Nikolic said Australian troops shared the same concerns as NATO soldiers about civilian lives being placed at risk by Taliban fighters who were choosing to attack from inside heavily populated areas.
"Australian forces operate under rules of engagement that aim to avoid and minimise civilian casualties," he said.
While unable to discuss the rules of engagement for Australian forces, Nikolic said they were consistent with the objectives of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
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Canadians protest war in Afghanistan, call for troop pullout
Sat Oct 27, 6:50 PM ET
MONTREAL (AFP) - Canadians protested in numerous cities across the country Saturday to call for the return of their soldiers from Afghanistan, local media and protest organizers reported.
"The people of Canada grow ever more upset with this war and are calling for our troops to be brought home alive," said Bob Ages of the Canadian Peace Alliance, which organized protests in 22 cities.
About 300 people demonstrated in Montreal beginning at mid-day, according to Radio Canada.
"The global movement that erupted around the Iraq war is growing again to challenge the occupation of Afghanistan and the so-called War on Terror," Ages said in a statement.
Canada has a contingent of 2,500 soldiers deployed in southern Afghanistan, and 71 Canadians have died in the country since the mission began in 2002.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently reiterated his support for the mission up through 2011.
But the mission has currently an official expiration date of February 2009.
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Abdul Bari, Afghanistan: “I go to school risking my life and my parents’ lives”
October 2007 (IRIN)-LASHKARGAH, Abdul Bari, 13, and his two brothers have had to leave their home in Nad Ali District and rent a room in Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, in order to go to school. Taliban insurgents have attacked and closed down over 100 schools in different parts of Helmand Province, including one in Abdul Bari’s village that he used to go to. Abdul Bari told IRIN about the problems he faces in his quest for education.
“My father is a doctor and wants us to be educated and become doctors and engineers. After the Taliban burnt a school in our village and told villagers to send their children to Madrasas in Pakistan for their education, my father sent us to Lashkargah to continue our studies.
“We have rented a room in a market [in Lashkargah]. It’s so noisy here that I can’t concentrate on my studies. I’m also scared because I see people from my village that come here to buy things and I’m afraid that when they see us going to school they will tell other villagers and that will endanger our parents.
“My family can’t move to Lashkargah and live with us because our home, our land and our cows are in our village and they can’t abandon everything.
“I miss my parents. I haven’t seen them for over three months now. We wanted to go to our village for the recent Eid holiday but we changed our plans after a dreadful incident occurred.
“One of our classmates, who was coming from Musa Qala District, was identified by the Taliban on his way to Lashkargah by bus. The Taliban cut his neck and wanted to kill him but passengers on the bus begged them not to and so saved his life. He’s now in a hospital in Lashkargah. When I visited him there he cried and said he missed his classmates and school. But he said he couldn’t come back to school because the Taliban made him swear that he wouldn’t go to school again.
“The Taliban have also told people in rural areas not to send their children to schools in Lashkargah or they will kill them. The Taliban say schools drive Muslims to profanity and Christianity. I know this is untrue... but people are frightened by their threats. Some people have stopped their children from going to school.
“My father says we should continue our education even if the Taliban kill him. My father says gaining knowledge is good and will secure our future. He says it’s better to die while gaining knowledge than die illiterate.
“I want the Americans and other foreigners to defeat the Taliban and restore peace and security in our village and in all our country so that we can go to school freely and without fear.“
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Dutch tally cost of Afghanistan
MURRAY BREWSTER Canadian Press October 28, 2007 at 9:50 AM EDT via Globe and Mail, Canada
AMSTERDAM — The public debate in both Canada and the Netherlands whether to stay or leave Afghanistan has been weighed in the cost of both lives and treasure.
But for the Dutch there has been a lot of emphasis on treasure.
The enormous cost of the military mission — the biggest for the Netherlands since the Second World War — is a top of mind issue you hear from almost everyone here when Afghanistan is mentioned.
“We are a thrifty people,” said Dick Pels, a political commentator and author from the University of Amsterdam.
“It's a big cost. Our military has been weighing down under the increasing expenses of this operation.”
Much of the Dutch resentment over the refusal of other European NATO members to contribute troops to volatile southern Afghanistan has been framed in financial terms, with complaints about how expensive equipment is being ground up and will have to be replaced.
“It is very crowded up there in the north” of Afghanistan, said retired Major-General Frankl van Kappen, of the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies.
“Everyone wants to be up there handing out oranges and school books, but it is empty in the south.”
It's estimated the two-year deployment of 1,800 troops, fighter aircraft and helicopters will cost the Netherlands $1.4-billion by August 2008, when the current mandate expires. The government is expected to say next month whether the mission to Uruzgan — north of Kandahar — will be extended.
In contrast, it's estimated Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan from 2002 until the expiry of the current mandate in 2009 will be roughly $6.3-billion. An extra $1.2-billion is being spent by the Canadian International Development Agency on reconstruction.
There has been hardly a peep in Canada about cost.
Instead, the debate has been more focused on casualties, detainee treatment and whether the country should have taken on such a dangerous assignment in Kandahar in the first place.
Mr. Pels said every Dutch casualty — 11 in all — has been front page news, but it has been tempered by the acceptance that soldiers are fighting a war.
The opposition GreenLeft party in the Netherlands has advanced many of the same human rights and development arguments as Canada's New Democrats and Liberals, but there is a deeper sense of burden here.
For the Dutch, the mission in Uruzgan is partly about atonement, a national effort to exorcise the ghost of a bloody and disastrous peacekeeping mission in the 1990s.
In Bosnia, Dutch peacekeepers were forced to stand by while Serb forces slaughtered 7,000 Muslim men in Srebrenica.
“It was a trauma for us,” Mr. Pels said.
“We were determined to never let it happen again. We look at the mission in Uruzgan as though we are protecting moderate Muslims from their more radical counterparts.”
There is also a more hard-headed aspect to the debate when it comes to terrorism. Two high-profile murders of over a half dozen linked to radical Islamists have solidified the threat in the minds of most Dutch.
“The sense that radical Islam is a threat and that the multi-cultural idea is a failure has become more deeply realized in the Netherlands than in Canada,” Mr. Pels said.
But that doesn't mean the Dutch are kicking down doors in Uruzgan. In fact, many allies have criticized the fighting style of the Netherlands. The Dutch often have stayed out of villages where they are not invited and prefer to concentrate on reconstruction — an approach that appeals to New Democrats in Canada.
But there has been a subtle shift in attitudes, if not tactics.
“We didn't want to see that there are actually people in the world that want to kill other people because of nationalistic or religious reasons,” Mr. Pels said.
“Now we are facing the threat by radical Islam and we were not prepared until very recently to realize, or face up to the idea that there are people who want to kill us.”
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Heat, dust and bayonet charges: life on the Afghan front line
Michael Smith The Sunday Times (UK) October 28, 2007
BEHIND-the-scenes pictures of British troops in Afghanistan released this weekend show how soldiers on patrol against the Taliban cope with the exhausting conditions of their life at the front and fill the time in-between by trying to make themselves comfortable in their crowded, semi-derelict quarters.
They show every aspect of daily life, from Brigadier John Lorimer, the British commander, plotting military operations with his Afghan counterparts, to an army doctor treating a small Afghan child with stomach ache.
The pictures were taken by Sergeant Will Craig, an army photographer who lived and worked with the fighting men for several months.
Craig followed 12 Mechanised Brigade as it fought pitched battles with Taliban insurgents while trying to win the hearts and minds of local Afghans.
It was bloody fighting, often at the point of a bayonet, that left 29 men dead and almost 100 wounded, more than 20 of them seriously. The Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters lost nine men, as did the 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment.
As the last of Lorimer’s men returned to Britain last week he praised their efforts. “The fighting was tough and the terrain and climatic conditions made it even tougher,” he said. “The temperature hit 50 degrees during the peak of the brutal summer months.
The enemy was cunning, determined and ruthless. However, every time we closed with the enemy, we beat him - and beat him well.”
In some of the pictures, men of the Grenadier Guards, who saw five colleagues killed in Afghanistan, go out on patrol in Garmsir.
They are shown closing with the Taliban with fixed bayonets and mortaring them as they attempt to drive them out of the town.
The troops are also shown in their makeshift barracks, a ramshackle former agricultural college known as Forward Operations Base Delhi, where meals are cooked on mess tins over small tins stoves fuelled by hexamine firelighters. One soldier takes time to shave his head.
An army medic is shown inspecting a young Afghan boy brought to the camp gates by his elder brother with a stomach ache. An interpreter stands alongside, translating the doctor’s diagnosis that the child simply needs more fluids.
Grenadiers who have been dropped off by a Chinook helicopter are then shown orienting themselves in the cloud of dust thrown up as it departs to pick up more troops.
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Harper makes first trip to CFB Valcartier
Marianne White , CanWest News Service Sunday, October 28, 2007
VALCARTIER, Que. -- For the first time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Saturday visited Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, home to the Royal 22nd regiment, leading the Canadian troops in Afghanistan.
The famed Quebec regiment, often referred to as the Van Doos, has some 2,300 troops serving in the province of Kandahar for a six-month tour.
Harper paid tribute to the soldiers' families. "We are here for you tonight," he told the crowd of 600 people that included mostly businessmen but few families.
We don't say it often enough, but the families of the soldiers are heroes as much as the soldiers themselves."
Harper was speaking at a fundraiser for the Valcartier family centre. The centre offers help and counseling to the families of soldiers before and during their mission.
Valcartier was shaken in August when two of its soldiers, Master Warrant Officer Mercier and Master Cpl. Duchesne, died when their light-armoured vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device.
The two deaths, along with that of Pte. Simon Longtin a few days earlier, brought the true cost of the Afghan conflict home to Quebec, where support for the mission is the lowest in the country.
The Canadian government is under public and opposition pressure to bring the troops home when the current mandate of the Afghan mission expires in February 2009.
On Thursday, the Prime Minister's Office dismissed the assessment from Canada's top soldier that the training of Afghanistan's army would take five years longer than the 2011 objective. In the recent throne speech, the Conservatives pledged a two-year extension of Canada's military role in the NATO-led mission. Harper also has appointed a panel to make recommendations on the mission's future.
Gen. Rick Hillier, the chief of defence staff, said at the end of a three-day visit in Kandahar Thursday: "it's going to take 10 years or so" to build a national army ready to safeguard national security on its own. Hillier said Afghanistan is only about halfway to the 70,000 soldiers it needs to maintain peace in the country.
Seventy-one soldiers and a Canadian diplomat have died in Afghanistan since 2002.
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Purported jihadists ask Afghan government for forgiveness
Saturday, October 27, 2007 | 9:32 PM ET CBC News Canada
Afghanistan's government displayed three self-proclaimed would-be jihadists to the media on Saturday in what Afghan officials said is proof the Taliban recruits new fighters from neighbouring Pakistan.
In an unusual press conference in Kandahar, Afghan security intelligence officers paraded the three young men, legs shackled, before reporters to tell their incredible tale, which the CBC's Carolyn Dunn described as either a stunning confession or well-orchestrated propaganda.
The men were arrested a week ago on their way to Uruzgan province, where they say they were planning to wage jihad, or holy war, against foreigners.
They said they come from Peshawar, Pakistan, where they met a man at a mosque who persuaded them to fight in Afghanistan.
"He just told us to go to Afghanistan and there are foreigners, infidels who are oppressing Muslims," said one of the men, who identified himself as Khalid Ghulam. "He told us to do jihad."
'We saw it was wrong with our own eyes'
According to the men, they travelled from Peshawar to Chaman, Afghanistan, where they claim to have completed three days of insurgent training. The training included how to fire Russian rifles and to set explosives, they said.
They were convinced they were doing the duty of Islam until they began the trip through Afghanistan and didn't see any infidels, the men said.
"When I arrived here, I saw the people were Muslim," another of the men, Wajit Hussein, told reporters. "They even brought us water to do ablution and pray."
The men said they have not been forced to say anything and have been treated well.
"We ask the government to forgive us for our mistake," said the third man, Usman Haji-Khan. "The man misled us and he is misleading others. I hope God helps him to stop doing these things."
Ghulam said with their confession, they hope to battle the lies they were told.
"We hope to be released and then we will tell others who are doing this not to," he told reporters. "We saw it was wrong with our own eyes."
With their last-minute conversion told to the world and no comment from the security officials, the men were led away again, presumably back to a jail cell, the CBC's Dunn said.
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NGOs meet with John Manley panel on Afghanistan
Sat. Oct. 27 2007 10:11 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
There should be a clear separation in Afghanistan between development work and the military, according to the head of an aid group who met with a government-appointed panel on Canada's mission in the country.
The panel is headed by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley and is examining Canada's commitment to Afghanistan.
Specifically, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asked the group to look at four options for the mission's future:
Continue training Afghan troops and police, so they can continue to stabilize the country after Canadian soldiers leave;
Shift Canada's focus on reconstruction efforts in Kandahar, while another NATO country take over combat duties;
Leave Kandahar and focus on a different region of Afghanistan; and,
Withdraw troops by February 2009.
Gerry Barr, president of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, said there are two additional options the panel needs to consider: ensuring a division between the military and aid groups, and building consensus among Afghanistan's political entities.
"One of the things going on in Afghanistan that's very troubling to NGOs (non-governmental organizations) is the confusion between the military role and the role of humanitarian actors and aid workers," he told CTV Newsnet.
"There needs to be some space between them. They need to be independent. If not, we can end up with civilians being targeted."
He said the military is crucial for creating the security needed for development projects. But when such projects become associated with the military, they are often targeted by the Taliban.
According to Barr, about 35 per cent of the schools in southern Afghanistan are closed because they have been threatened by insurgents.
"We're building schools that can't be attended," he said.
Barr also urged the panel to look at how Canada can foster peace in Afghanistan, by establishing a dialogue between the different groups.
"The first thing it needs to do is look at how Canada might contribute to generating broad political consensus in Afghanistan -- the search for a durable peace, which is of course the first condition for sustainable commitment," he said.
There will be no public hearings for the panel, which is expected to release a report on its findings by January.
Critics say Harper created the panel to gain political support for extending the mission, and that it's less independent than U.S. President George Bush's advisory panel on Iraq.
"The American panel had much more freedom than the Canadian one does," Amir Attaran, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, told CTV News.
"This Canadian panel is a puppet of the government, even with Mr. Manley present."
Critics also note that whenever the opposition parties want action on the mission, Harper can ask them to wait for the panel's report -- and note that it's headed by a Liberal.
While Maj.-Gen. (Ret'd) Lewis MacKenzie said the panel was an example of "brilliant domestic politics," he said it was also useful for a fresh perspective on the war.
"The prime minister doesn't have to take the recommendations and implement them, but they will in fact come up with a long study -- a fairly extensive study -- and hopefully with some advice," he said.
Along with Manley, other panel members include:
Derek Burney, Canada's former ambassador to Washington and former chief of staff to Mulroney
Broadcaster Pamela Wallin, who was Canadian consul general in New York
Former Mulroney-era Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Jake Epp
Paul Tellier, former Clerk of the Privy Council during the Mulroney era and former president and CEO of Canadian National Railway and Bombardier
With reports from CTV's Graham Richardson and The Canadian Press
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Liam Fox: Afghanistan must not be lost
By Liam Fox 2:25pm GMT 28/10/2007 Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom Commentary
Lord Ashdown said this week that the war in Afghanistan is lost and that a much greater regional conflict looms. While I believe we are not in a losing position at present, there is no doubt that we could be in the future and that the consequences for our security would be disastrous.
This week, Nato ministers again grappled with the need to step up the alliance's contribution across the country and to share the military burden between the allies.
advertisementThere is no clearer challenge facing our collective security than the task we have set ourselves in Afghanistan. It is essential for the cohesion and credibility of Nato that we succeed in building a stable and secure Afghanistan, denying the agents of international terror a base from which to attack the free world.
We have argued for over a year that there is an urgent need to bring greater coherence to the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, by appointing a senior, high-profile individual to lead and co-ordinate it –much as Lord Ashdown himself did in Bosnia.
But it has been the military effort that has been the focus of Nato's attention this week. In an organisation with more than two million soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen, we must surely be able to find the equipment and manpower we need to achieve the goals set for us by the whole international community.
It is not enough to will the objective of a stable Afghanistan, strong enough to resist a return by the Taliban, without delivering the means by which it can be achieved. There are too many caveats, too many restrictions, too few forces available on the front line. We all understand the different political, historical and cultural pressures that exist within the alliance. It is true that several allies have taken brave decisions to deploy forces in the face of strong public opposition. But the fact remains that we still do not have enough fighting capability on the ground.
The Nato Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, warned allied defence ministers this week that Nato is lacking the forces it needs in Afghanistan. In an alliance of 26 nations, it is only right that the burden of providing that additional capability should be shared among them.
And any military commitment must be matched with political commitment.
Because avoiding direct conflict with the forces of international terrorism will not reduce the risks to our citizens. We may be able to choose where we confront them but we cannot choose not to confront them.
For the stark truth is that they will confront us. Those who lead groups such as al-Qaeda hate us for who we are, not just for what we do. They hate our values, our way of life, our freedom itself.
When we see Osama bin Laden calling for a "holy war" against the 26,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, we can be in no doubt about the fanaticism and ferocity of those who see the upholding of international law and the preservation of peace itself as an excuse for violence. To them it makes no difference if it is classified as an EU, Nato or UN mission. There is no safety in nomenclature.
But the conflict and reconstruction in Afghanistan is not simply a Nato issue but one for the whole international order. We cannot allow ourselves to be out-manoeuvred by a fanatical but politically astute enemy. Bin Laden wants to force us into a position where he can claim that he is the leader of the Muslim world against an aggressive Western-dominated world. He and his supporters openly advocate a return to the caliphate, which is why he uses the historic language of the crusades, of infidels against Muslims.
It is essential that we win not only the military conflict in Afghanistan, but the wider political and intellectual battle in the Muslim world.
International outcry was swift after Saddam's invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent annexation of Kuwait as Iraq's 19th province in August 1990.
However, when coalition forces rolled across the desert the early hours of February 24 1991, Saddam found that he faced not only a Western military force but a force consisting of troops from all corners of the world, including many of his Arab neighbours: 100,000 Saudis, 33,000 Egyptians, 14,500 Syrians, 13,000 Moroccans just to name a few.
Saddam's move to wrap himself in the cloak of pan-Arabism and as the defender of Islam against the infidels was quickly dismissed by the Arab street. It was obvious to all: what Saddam did to Kuwait was unequivocally against international law.
So where are the Muslim nations now in Afghanistan? The mission in Afghanistan has been backed by seven United Nations resolutions. By any definition this provides legitimacy to the international community to use military force.
Of course, Pakistan has been facing the brunt of the fighting against al-Qaeda along the Durand line, but other Muslim contributions have been all too limited. With the exception of an Egyptian field hospital at Bagram Air Base, a few dozen Special Operations Forces from the UAE, and a handful of Jordanian engineers during the early days of the conflict, Arab participation has been almost non-existent in Afghanistan.
Yet, the paradox is that the security of many moderate Muslim countries is just as threatened by a resurgent al-Qaeda as is the security of the West, or of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We need to use every diplomatic channel and political opportunity to coax them to do more.
Countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are under serious threat from al-Qaeda, externally and internally.
What is happening in Afghanistan is pivotal. Bin Laden is trying to provoke an artificial polarisation, creating division and discord with the aim of spreading his perverse interpretation of Islam. We can choose to confront this threat together, abroad or we can face it again in London, New York, Bali or wherever they choose to target. We cannot choose not to confront it, because they have chosen to confront us.
All those who are threatened – from America to China, from Europe to Africa – all religions and none must stand together and face down our generation's challenge to our freedom and security.
If we do not, the fears of Lord Ashdown and the ambitions of Osama bin Laden might well be realised.
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Afghanistan needs more of everything
By Trevor Royle, Diplomatic Editor Sunday Herald, UK
THESE ARE worrying times for the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), which offers Afghanistan's best hope of restoring the country to a semblance of normality. Despite all the encouraging noises made by Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, when he visited Gordon Brown in Downing Street last week, the harsh reality is that the Nato-led operation is running into big-time problems, especially in the unquiet part of the world that is Helmand province. Put simply and starkly, there are not enough fighting troops on the ground; there is a chronic shortage of helicopters; the Afghan national army is nowhere near fully operational; and, most worrying of all, there is some confusion within Nato ranks about who should be digging deeper, how they should be doing it and what exactly is the purpose of the mission.
At present, Isaf is made up of a little over 41,000 soldiers from 38 countries but within its polyglot battalions some are more equal than others. The lion's share - 15,108 troops - is provided by the big shoulders and deep pockets of the US. Equally predictably, Britain comes next with 7740, followed by Germany with 3155 and Italy with 2395. A few countries have provided troop levels in the hundreds. Four have the distinction, if that is the word, of producing the grand total of 21 between them: step forward Luxembourg (nine), Ireland (seven), Austria (three) and Switzerland (two).
Last week, in the bracing Dutch seaside resort of Noordwijk, Nato defence ministers spent two days discussing how best to increase the size of the Isaf and how to encourage the slackers to try a little harder. At present, the bulk of the fighting against the Taliban is undertaken by US, British, Canadian and Dutch forces. They have provided the firepower and they are taking the most casualties - with the result that the Canadian and Dutch governments have started talking about pulling out their combat units when their tours of duty come to an end next year.
advertisementIf that were to happen it would be disastrous for Isaf, as the British and the Americans have come to rely heavily on the professionalism and sheer doggedness of the Canadian and Dutch infantry.
Eventually, after a good deal of horse-trading, Nato's secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, emerged to announce that a new rotational system would be introduced to spread the burden among the fighting units, but that is a long-term proposition and would only be implemented once national governments had given their agreement. In the short term, France and Germany agreed to provide more training teams to bring the Afghan national army up to speed, but again that will only produce results over a period of time.
And that's where everything begins and ends. Owing to national defence policies, Italy, Germany, France and Spain are debarred from taking part in offensive operations or refuse to be based in the dangerous southern areas of the country. There are also limits on what their forces can and cannot do - for instance, the Luftwaffe has strict rules about weather conditions for its Tornado reconnaissance aircraft - and there is a distinct reluctance to get involved in any punch-up. Besides, not every country has armed forces capable of operating in such a hostile environment, as Helmand and British commanders have always argued that there is no point in having Nato colleagues as "passengers" who require additional force protection on any mission.
It's not just boots on the ground either. In Afghanistan helicopters are rare as hens' teeth. Not only is there a desperate need for Chinook transporters - the increased use by the Taliban of improvised explosive devices has turned the roads, literally, into minefields - but helicopters are also in short supply for casualty evacuation and for close-air support.
Traditionally, every battlefield commander wants more of everything at the double, but down in Helmand helicopters are not just essential, they are usually a matter of life or death. As a stop-gap there has been talk of hiring civilian helicopters manned by specialist crews, but that has a nasty ring of compromise about it. No doubt civilian crews will be up to the mark as far as their flying skills are concerned, but will they be able to match the RAF and other Nato air forces when the chips are down? I doubt it.
The real trouble is that the entire deployment costs shedloads of money - to maintain the garrison, to run the war and to tackle the problem of the poppy harvest whose proceeds fund the Taliban. Not so long ago the British ambassador in Kabul offered the thought that it would take 30 years to turn around the problem. Given the immensity of the task, some of us think he's erring on the side of caution.
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Abandoning Afghanistan unfortunate: Carter
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 26 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Former US president Jimmy Carter said on Thursday the Bush administration's abandoning Afghanistan for an unnecessary attack on Iran was unfortunate.
Speaking to reporters at the UN headquarters here before meeting Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Carter said: After the 9/11 tragedy, I have supported one of the rare times in my life a military operation in Afghanistan to root out the al-Qaeda and to capture Osama bin Laden."
Known as a man of peace, Carter said: Unfortunately though that was abandoned unnecessarily, tragically by the United States as we shifted our attention to Iraq, which I believe was unfounded and not necessary."
Thus the role of the international forces, he said, was very critical to peace and stability of the country, he felt and urged other states to remain in Afghanistan.
"Now the primary role in Afghanistan is still very important -- one just to maintain peace, with the hope that we can have a free and democratic society there. It is pretty much a holding game. It is important that Canada and others participate."
Responding to a question on Iran, the former president said: Any military attack on Iran would be a horrible mistake and a tragedy. What we should be doing is full negotiations, consultations with Iranian leaders to make sure they know that we do not intend to attack them militarily.
"I think the US and others should insist upon the total absence in Iran of any move towards developing any nuclear weapons," Carter observed, concluding: I hope all those rumours are ill-founded and false."
Lalit K. Jha
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US alleges Iran supplying arms to Taliban
NEW YORK, Oct 26 (Pajhwok Afghan News): As the United States slapped tighter sanctions on Iran, top Bush administration officials including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice alleged on Thursday Tehran was supplying arms and ammunition to Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
"Iran is transferring arms to the Taliban. We have got 27,000 American troops in Afghanistan. We have a duty to protect those troops from the arms transfers," US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told a press conference after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a series of sanctions against Iran.
The US has been leveling such allegations against Iran for the past several months, but the Afghan government so far has not been able to confirm them.
Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, during his visit to the US earlier in the month, had said that there were some reports, but they could not be confirmed so far. We are monitoring the situation.
Earlier, announcing the new sanctions, Rice said: The Iranian government continues to spurn our offer of open negotiations, instead (it is) threatening peace and security by pursuing nuclear technologies that can lead to a nuclear weapon, building dangerous ballistic missiles, supporting Shia militants in Iraq and terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, and denying the existence of a fellow member of the United Nations, threatening to wipe Israel off the map."
Lalit K. Jha
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Insecurity threatens progress in health, education sectors
GENEVA/KABUL, Oct 26 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Progress in Afghanistan since the fall of Taliban has been significant but the UN cautions efforts to build on that headway will be increasingly difficult, particularly in the south, as a result of the recent upsurge in insecurity.
In a report titled Child Alert Afghanistan, UNICEF said on Thursday there had been considerable progress made in the health, nutrition and education sectors in recent years. The majority of the population now has access to a basic package of health services.
"Routine immunisation coverage has risen from 56 per cent in 2001 to 90 per cent in 2006. Vitamin A coverage is now 95 per cent and consumption of iodized salt has risen from less than two percent to almost 30 percent.
"There have been substantial increases in school enrolment and one-third of the children in school today are girls, up from about three percent when the Taliban were in power," said the report.
However, the document added, this progress is fragile. In the Child Alert, Martin Bell, UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies, chronicles the difficult situation still facing millions of children across Afghanistan.
Despite a multitude of plans and proposals, projects and partners, and the support of many countries working to bring peace and progress to Afghanistan, I have witnessed a spike in insecurity that is causing more and more schools to close and more and more children to be killed said Bell, who made his second trip to the country for this report.
Families, especially in the south, are caught in the middle of this crossfire, out of reach of humanitarian assistance. Simply put, it is make-or-break time for Afghanistans children, he remarked.
Bell visited some of those who remain extremely vulnerable, including women who earn $2 working nine-and-a-half hour workdays separating goat hair, with their babies suspended above them in the make-shift factories of Herat.
In Kabul, he spoke to street children and sought out the most marginalised. In a womens prison, housing 49 inmates and their 35 children, he met girls who had been forced to marry men who could be their grandfathers.
A new plan, to promote child-friendly schools by providing nutrition, water and sanitation services in schools, training female teachers and reaching out to girls out of school should further accelerate girls enrolment in school. UNICEF is also funding the training and reintegration of former child soldiers by teaching them useful skills like carpentry and electrical engineering.
"In the insurgency-plagued southern provinces, while thousands of children went back to school this year, hundreds of schools remained at risk due to the insecurity," the report said.
However, it continued, humanitarian access has become increasingly difficult in some areas. At least 78 districts have been rated by the United Nations as extremely risky, and inaccessible to UN humanitarian workers.
This limited access has resulted in challenges in certain programmes. In 2007, taking advantage of the so-called Days of Tranquility, 15,000 vaccinators travelled throughout Afghanistan as part of the National Immunization Days organized by the Ministry of Public Health, and supported by WHO and UNICEF. New cases of polio dropped from 31 in 2006 to nine between January and July 2007.
Of those nine new cases, seven are in the insecure regions of the south and east of the country. Bell cites the polio programme as an example of what the country is capable of. If the Afghans can do that in wartime, what can they do in peace? he asks.
The report illustrates the need for improvements in security, particularly for women and girls. Fear is a strong deterrent to access to education and other essential services. In parts of the country, night letters carrying threats to teachers and parents risk causing families to keep their children out of school.
The Child Alert report also argues strongly for increased efforts to address Afghanistans maternal mortality rate. Afghanistan has long had one of the highest maternal mortality rates. These rates will not decline unless women have better access to the improved health facilities.
We need to create an environment where children are protected and have the opportunity to fulfill their potential. The progress that has been made in education and in child health shows what can be achieved when all stakeholders work together to press for improvement, said Catherine Mbengue, UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan, who joined Bell at the launch in Geneva.
However much more needs to be done if we are to make the gains of recent years sustainable and offer a brighter future to all Afghanistans children.
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NATO, Afghan forces launch Operation Spin Ghar
ABUL, Oct 26 (Pajhwok Afghan News) Afghan and NATO forces have launched the next phase of operations to target and clear Taliban from the area around Tirin Kot in the troubled Uruzgan province in order to consolidate an enduring security presence in the area.
NATO said on Friday soldiers from the Afghan National Army (ANA) and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were involved in the operation code-named Spin Ghar, which began a day earlier to identify Taliban forces and drive them out of their strongholds.
It added the operations key objective was to create a secure environment, free of Taliban, for the citizen of Uruzgan and to support the provincial government and its new governor in their efforts to bring vital reconstruction and development projects to the province.
In a statement, ISAF said the operation was being conducted in consultation with local leaders and Governor Hamdam and had the support of the Afghan government.
"Operation Spin Ghar is designed to consolidate security around Tirin Kot and expand the influence of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. This joint operation will enable the ANSF and ISAF to have freedom of movement in the area around Tirin Kot by pushing the Taliban out, said an ISAF spokesman.
Wing Commander Antony McCord hoped: This will set the conditions for an enduring presence of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and set the conditions for long-term reconstruction and development.
"It is crucial that the Taliban are prevented from terrorising the local people so that they can go about their daily lives without fear of intimidation. The operation is part of a series of operations forming a well developed plan to provide protection and security for the people of Uruzgan."
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Bamiyan pays the Afghan peace penalty
By Mark Sappenfield Wed Oct 24, 4:00 AM ET The Christian Science Monitor
Bamiyan, Afghanistan - The situation in Bamiyan is simple enough for Mohammed Arif Arifie to distill it into two sentences spoken between sips of tea.
First, Bamiyan is so safe that the New Zealand troops posted here have not fired a shot in four years. Second, there is not a foot of paved road anywhere in a province the size of Connecticut.
The two points are connected, says Mr. Arifie, who sits beside the pitted, earthen market road here in a restaurant made of old United Nations emergency food sacks stitched together. Money follows the fighting, with millions being spent in the restive south while other, calmer parts of the country go ignored, he says. "We are punished for our peace."
Available data is often conflicting and incomplete, but it does suggest that a disproportionate share of aid money has gone to the south. Yet experts see signs of a shift as countries realize that their development dollars can achieve more in places of relative peace.
"I can sense an increasing hunger for this," says Rory Stewart, a former British diplomat now working to preserve art and architecture in Afghanistan. "The high ideological days of 2002 are ebbing away, and now officials are listening to grass-roots operations that say, 'We can't work in [the south].' "
The shift is both practical and ideological. In addition to the mounting frustration at having newly built schools and facilities destroyed in the south, there is also a dwindling number of aid workers willing to go there as security deteriorates.
The result could benefit areas like Bamiyan, where the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will spend $17 million this year – one-third more than it spent in the previous four years combined.
Much to the delight of the shopkeepers in town, the outlay will bring the first feet of pavement to the province – nearly two miles, actually – beginning with the market road that runs through the center of Bamiyan City.
"Compared to other parts of Afghanistan in terms of security, we are very good," says Ramazan, a bearded, one-named shopkeeper who leans back in his plastic chair as shoppers bustle by his store. "Compared with the other parts of Afghanistan in terms of development, we have zero."
Such a perception is understandable in a place with no paved roads and only sporadic electricity, which comes from a local diesel-powered generator that shuts down every afternoon at 4 p.m. The reality, however, appears to be more nuanced.
USAID figures suggest that the south has been favored. Some 35 percent of the $1.3 billion it has spent on regional development since 2002 has been spent in the five southernmost provinces, where the insurgency is most active. These five provinces account for 11 percent of the national population.
By contrast, USAID has spent 15 percent of its regional budget on the nine northernmost provinces, which are relatively peaceful. Yet they account for 29 percent of the population. The south is the only region of the country where USAID has spent disproportionately more by population.
Yet in other respects, the unrest in the south has prevented development projects from going forward. One of the Afghan government's key regional-development schemes, the National Solidarity Project (NSP), has been suspended because of safety concerns in about 30 of the country's 396 districts, mostly in the south.
"In the areas where there is security and access, it is easier for the aid workers to go," says Susanne Holste, who monitors the program for the World Bank. "In the south, the start-up time is much longer."
That has benefited the north, she says, and particularly Bamiyan. NSP spending in Bamiyan has been $29.80 per person, placing it fourth among Afghanistan's 34 provinces. On Bamiyan's market street, however, these smaller-scale projects are not the highways and power stations dearly wanted by Ramazan and others.
The result is a perception – both in the north and south – that no one is benefiting from billions of dollars of international aid. Yet in Bamiyan, at least, there are signs that these complaints are beginning to bear fruit.
In a graphic example of democracy in action, Gov. Habiba Sorabi has taken these market-street complaints to the media and anyone who would listen during the past year. Her appeals have brought a surge in international commitments to the province from New Zealand, Japan, and the US. "Other provinces get more money and still there is not stability," she says, noting that Bamiyan has eliminated poppy cultivation virtually on its own.
She has bemoaned the fact NATO has assigned secure provinces Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) from small countries like New Zealand. Less-secure provinces have PRTs from America and Britain, who have far more money to spend.
For instance, the entire 2006 budget for the Lithuanian PRT in relatively peaceful Ghor was less than $400,000. The British PRT in Helmand, at the center of Taliban resistance, is building a single city park for $700,000.
There might be some truth in the claims, says Col. Roger McIlwaine, commander of Kiwi Base, which sits on an arid plateau above the green potato fields of Bamiyan. In general, though, more spending does not necessarily mean more development.
"When you look at the dollars," he says, "you have to bear in mind that security operations cost a lot of money."
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