KABUL (Reuters) - Two NATO soldiers were killed on patrol in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, a day after nearly three dozen insurgents were killed in southern areas rife with Taliban guerrillas, the U.S. military said.
A provincial official said separately that several civilians were killed in an operation by U.S.-led troops against suspected Taliban in an area of Ghazni province in the south on Wednesday.
The U.S. military confirmed the operation, saying those killed were militants, but did concede non-combatants were injured. It gave no details about the nationality of the two NATO soldiers killed, in line with policy, or where it happened.
Violence has surged in the past 19 months in Afghanistan, the bloodiest period since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001.
Nearly two dozen insurgents were killed in two separate clashes in the southern province of Kandahar on Tuesday, while 10 more were killed in fighting in the neighboring province of Uruzgan, the U.S. military said.
The Taliban denied any of their fighters were killed and there were no independent accounts of what happened.
"Two attempted insurgent ambushes failed September 4 as Afghan National Security Forces, advised by coalition forces, repelled and killed nearly two dozen enemy fighters in separate battles in northern Kandahar province," the U.S. military said in a statement.
Taliban fighters attacked an observation post near a coalition base in Uruzgan province with rocket-propelled grenades, it added.
The clashes were the latest in a number of confrontations in the Taliban-dominated south in recent weeks in which the U.S.-led military says coalition forces have killed hundreds of insurgents.
The Taliban concede some losses during that period, but say Afghan and foreign troops vastly exaggerate enemy death tolls.
More than 7,000 people have been killed during the past 19 months in Afghanistan.
NATO's international security assistance force (ISAF) said on Wednesday that 227 Afghan civilians have been killed and 646 wounded since the beginning of the year by 1,600 improvised roadside bombs. It gave no details on how many troops were killed by the devices.
The Afghan government and aid groups say more than 350 civilians have been killed in operations by western troops so far this year.
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi in KABUL and a Reuters reporter in GHAZNI)
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500 Afghan police killed in five months
Tue Sep 4, 3:15 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Around 500 Afghan policemen have been killed in growing violence linked to Taliban attacks and anti-opium efforts in the past five months, the government said.
Interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary described the death rate for the fledgling force as "very high" but could not provide figures from last year for comparison.
"About 500 policemen have died this year," he told reporters Monday, referring to the Afghan year, which starts March 21.
"They were martyred not only providing security but also in fighting insurgents, participating in poppy eradication activities as well as fighting drug traffickers," he said.
Most of the deaths were in the country's south and east where Taliban insurgents are most active and poppy cultivation is at its highest, he told AFP after the media briefing.
Afghanistan's internationally trained police force, which now numbers 70,000 out of a planned 82,000, is often on the frontline of the Taliban insurgency, taking on army-type duties.
In a report released last week, the independent International Crisis Group cited interior ministry figures that said nearly 630 policemen and officers were "killed in action" in the year to March 2007.
The high death rate was due in part "to the fact that ill-equipped and trained police are used inappropriately as a fighting force," the report said.
Many police were seen by insurgents as "vulnerable, badly equipped representatives of the government," it said.
Casualty figures for the Afghan army were much lower, the report said.
The United Nations annual survey on opium cultivation, also released last month, said 15 Afghan police personnel were killed this year taking part in the eradication of opium fields as part of a crackdown on drugs production.
Opium production shot up 34 percent this year, it said. Afghanistan's produces 93 percent of the world's opium, the raw ingredient of heroin.
The drugs trade is said to finance part of the Taliban insurgency, which has intensified this year and left around 4,000 people dead, most of them rebels.
Hundreds of civilians have also been killed as have more than 150 international soldiers, according to an AFP count.
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AFGHANISTAN: Civilian casualties reportedly peak in August
KABUL, 5 September 2007 (IRIN) - One hundred and sixty-eight civilians died in armed conflicts, suicide attacks, improvised explosions and aerial bombardments in Afghanistan in August, the country's human rights watchdog told IRIN on 4 September.
August marked a 16.6 percent increase in civilian deaths over July when 144 non-combatants reportedly lost their lives, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said.
"Two thirds of the 168 civilian deaths happened in military operations conducted by international forces against their opposition," said Mohammad Farid Hamidi, an AIHRC official.
Air strikes by the US army have repeatedly been criticised as a fighting tactic as they inflict heavy losses on local communities, the Afghan human rights organisation said.
Hamidi, however, did not exclusively blame US and NATO-led Western forces for the dozens of civilian casualties.
"The Taliban use civilians as human shields and use perfidious tactics, which endanger ordinary people's lives," Hamidi acknowledged.
The AIHRC accused all sides of not providing civilian protection during their military operations.
Investigating civilian causalities
Insecurity has impeded access to conflict areas making it very difficult, if not impossible, for impartial observers to assess the impact of the fighting on civilians.
At least 750 civilians have lost their lives in insurgency-related violence so far this year, the UN told a Western media outlet on 2 September, a 20 percent increase on 2006.
While the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has selectively shared its confidential statistics on civilian casualties with a few Western media outlets, a senior Afghan official said the organisation is not mandated to "do body counting" in the country.
In an effort to end confusion about civilian casualties, the country's human rights body has decided to set up an independent unit to regularly investigate, authenticate and report incidents in which armed conflicts affect people's lives.
"We call on all parties to the conflict to ensure our access to conflict-affected areas and help us disclose reliable facts about incidents in which civilians are harmed," Hamidi said.
The UN also keeps a secret tally; it collects and verifies reports of civilian casualties in Afghanistan for the organisation's internal use only.
US and NATO-led international troops based in Afghanistan have often refuted reports of civilian casualties in their military operations against Taliban insurgents.
"In a number of cases we have gone out and investigated, where they have claimed there were civilians killed and in fact those were unfounded," Reuters quoted US Army Brig-Gen Perry Wiggins as saying.
Taliban insurgents have also refuted reports that their fighters, in clear violation of the rules of war, deliberately harm civilians in their hit-and-run attacks.
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Nearly 230 civilians killed in Taliban bombs this year
Wed Sep 5, 6:09 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Nearly 230 Afghan civilians have been killed and 650 wounded in Taliban-style suicide and other bomb explosions this year, security officials said here Wednesday.
About 12 percent of the casualties had occurred in the past two weeks, Major Charles Anthony, a spokesman with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, told reporters.
Insurgents often direct their bombings against the security services but the blasts generally kill more civilians.
"These bombs -- roadside and suicide bombings -- have killed 227 civilians and injured 647 since the start of January this year," interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said.
He did not have figures for last year for a comparison. Insurgency-linked attacks have, however, spiked this year as the militants' insurgency has deepened.
The latest Taliban bombing was in the northern town of Kunduz on Tuesday and killed two Afghan policemen.
Officials at the media briefing did not give figures for the number of security forces personnel killed in such blasts this year.
Bashary said earlier this week that about 500 Afghan policemen had been killed in Taliban-related violence since March.
About 300 civilians have also been killed in operations by Afghan and international troops targeted at militants, according to figures cited by the United Nations.
The violence this year has killed about 4,000 people, most of them fighters for the Taliban, who are trying to topple the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.
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Challenges mount in Afghanistan
By PAUL AMES, Associated Press Writer Tue Sep 4, 3:50 AM ET
MAYMANA, Afghanistan - An Afghan police officer leaned over a tray laden with pistachios and cubes of chilled watermelon to make his point to NATO's supreme commander.
"The enemy are attacking with machine guns and rocket launchers, and we can reply only with rifles," complained Col. Sayad Yakub Khan. "We don't have the capacity to respond."
The officer was speaking in northwestern Faryab province, which borders Turkmenistan and is relatively peaceful and prosperous, far from the Taliban's heartlands in the south where NATO units clash daily with the insurgents.
Yet even in this relatively prosperous part of Afghanistan — spared the worst of the violence — and others like it, the mission to reconstruct the war-shattered country faces a raft of problems, nearly six years after the ouster of the Taliban regime.
NATO chiefs report progress in combating a resurgent Taliban, yet an ineffective Afghan police force, spiraling drugs production and criticism of the military alliance over rising civilian deaths all present major headaches to the Western-backed mission to stabilize the country.
"It's like three-dimensional chess in a dark room, and you have gloves on," is how Gen. John Craddock — the commander of all NATO operations, including the 40,000 allied troops in Afghanistan — described NATO's task during a visit to the country last week.
Local officials praise NATO troops for helping open schools, pave roads and boosting the local economy. Yet recent months have seen a resurgence of attacks by insurgents infiltrating from the south. Targets include police posts, alliance troops and local civilians working with international development efforts, officials said.
Craddock promised NATO would stand by the local authorities and told Khan he was pressing allied governments to provide more equipment to the Afghan army and police. Getting more NATO training teams to embed with the Afghan army was his top priority, Craddock said.
Insurgent violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since U.S. forces invaded the country in 2001 to oust the hard-line Islamic Taliban rulers, who harbored al-Qaida leaders blamed for planning the Sept. 11 attacks.
The focus of the violence has been in the southern and eastern provinces, but the insurgents increasingly use Iraq-style tactics, such as roadside bombs, suicide attacks and kidnapping to hit foreign and Afghan targets around the country.
Craddock acknowledged NATO was caught by surprise by the strength of Taliban resistance since his troops moved into the south a year ago.
"When we took over the south I don't think that we NATO, or the coalition, realized the extent of the Taliban resurgence there," he said. "There weren't many (international) forces there. That became a safe haven. NATO moved in, stirred up a hornets' nest and we're still feeling that."
He says NATO troops — mostly from Britain, Canada, the U.S. and the Netherlands — are making progress, thwarting Taliban attempts to seize control of significant territory in the south. Taliban units sometimes move into outlaying settlements in the morning and "parade around" to give the impression they control the area, Craddock said, but retreat as NATO forces approach.
"There is propaganda advantage, but there is no tactical advantage," he says.
However, commanders on the ground in southern Afghanistan say they sometimes lack the troops to consolidate successes. They complain they can chase the Taliban out of particular districts but then don't have the manpower to hold the ground.
The number of NATO troops has doubled over the past year, but that was largely because several thousand U.S. forces already in Afghanistan were transferred to NATO command. Several other NATO nations including Spain, Turkey and Germany refuse to send troops to the southern battlefields. Rising casualties and public disenchantment have triggered calls for a withdrawal among some countries on the frontline — notably Canada and the Netherlands.
Speaking privately in Kabul, several senior officials complained about shortages of troops and equipment. One British official based in Kandahar said there was a "dire need" for more helicopters. French and Italian officers wished their governments would do more.
Craddock expressed frustration at the reluctance of some countries, "who want to walk away from what I see to be a commitment." He says failure to commit the necessary forces was jeopardizing the safety of those that are deployed.
"NATO agreed to this. NATO needs to source this to the fullest extent because, without that, every soldier, every marine, every airman that they put there is at greater risk," he said.
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Pressure for tougher Afghan anti-drugs drive - UN
By Mark John
BRUSSELS, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Pressure is growing on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to get tough on his country's burgeoning opium industry with methods such as aerial spraying, the head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said on Wednesday.
A switch to aerial eradication of poppy crops would mark a policy U-turn for Karzai, who has favoured a softer approach to a sector that many Afghans rely on for survival but which is now seen increasingly as fuelling the country's insurgency.
However, NATO said its 40,000-strong Afghan peace force was not mandated to undertake eradication and stressed the method was just one element of a long-term strategy to fight drugs.
"There is very strong pressure building up in favour of aerial eradication in that part of Afghanistan," UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said of the south of the country, which accounted for most of this year's record drug production.
"The government has not decided yet and we will support the government in whatever it decides to do," he told a news conference in Brussels after presenting a U.N. report showing a rise in Afghan opium production to NATO chiefs.
Costa cited a call by Afghan First Vice-President Ahmad Zia Masood this week to use aerial spraying, and said officials at the United Nations and countries involved in Afghan reconstruction were now coming round to the same view.
The UNODC report released last week showed the area of Afghan land where opium poppies are grown rose by 17 percent to 193,000 hectares in 2007 from 165,000 last year and this year's harvest was 8,200 tonnes, up from 6,100 tonnes in 2006.
Afghanistan produces 93 percent of the world's opium, making it the largest producer of narcotics since 19th century China and highlighting the failure of Afghan and British-led international efforts to tackle the problem.
Costa noted that aerial spraying had proved successful in helping Colombia rein in cocaine production and reiterated his view that eradication from the ground, as favoured so far by the Karzai government, was not working.
"Ground eradication has been ineffective, I have called it a farce," Costa said of a method which can also involve spraying herbicide but is seen as slower than doing so by air and also puts those involved at greater risk of attack.
Costa said the anti-drug effort was being hit by corruption within the Afghan security forces. He urged NATO and other bodies to help strangle the industry, for example by choking the transport routes vital to both the manufacture and distribution of opium and the final product, heroin.
NATO, which has long insisted it should have only a support role to the Afghan government's anti-drug drive, said it was looking at how it could step up help, but insisted it was for other international agencies to do more.
"We are doing the best we can, we would ask others to do more," NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary-General for Operations Jim Pardew told the same news conference.
"The fight against narcotics is first and foremost an Afghan responsibility but they need help."
NATO spokesman James Appathurai said: "NATO is not mandated to be an eradication force, nor is it proposed. Eradication is one part of a complex strategy."
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Afghanistan urges foreign troops to join anti-opium drive
Tue Sep 4, 3:10 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The Afghan government said it had asked international military forces based here to clear Taliban-led insurgents from opium-growing areas before Afghan troops move in to destroy poppy crops.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) made a similar call last month when it released a survey which showed that Afghanistan's opium production had shot up by a third over the past year to a record high.
Afghanistan's poorly armed police force cannot reach certain insurgency-plagued areas in the volatile south to eradicate poppy fields, interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said.
"For a new plan for this year, we've requested that the foreign military forces go and conduct military operations to enable us to eradicate poppy crops," Bashary said.
"In areas where there's insecurity, we need strong military support to be able to eradicate poppy fields. Police can't eradicate poppies and fight insurgents at the same time," he said.
Opium cultivation is highest in areas where the Taliban-led insurgency is the strongest and officials say the drug is financing some of the violence.
UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa has also called on the international military forces operating in Afghanistan under the NATO umbrella to help in the fight against opium, which is used to make heroin.
The forces have so far refused to get involved, a decision that was due for review this month.
"Since drug trafficking and the insurgency live off each other, the foreign military forces operating in Afghanistan have a vested interest in supporting counternarcotics operations," Costa said.
Afghanistan is now practically the exclusive supplier of the world's deadliest drug.
President Hamid Karzai last week accused the international community of failing in the anti-drugs efforts, saying the cultivation had dropped off in areas where his government had more sway.
One of his vice presidents, Ahmad Zia Massoud, said in the British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph that the government would resort to chemical spraying to destroy opium.
Karzai has previously rejected this option, citing potential health risks.
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Foreign troops blamed for increased poppy cultivation
KABUL, Sep 3 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The Interior Ministry Monday said that poppy cultivation had increased in those provinces where the foreign troops were based.
Addressing a news conference, the ministry's spokesman Zmaray Bashari said 13 provinces, where the Afghan government has full control, had been declared poppy-free. However, he said poppy cultivation had registered an increase in Helmand and Kandahar where the foreign troops are stationed.
At the same time, the spokesman said the Afghan government was unable to eradicate poppies without the assistance of the international community. He said local police needed help from the international security forces to carry forward the anti-poppy drive in Helmand and Kandahar.
According to a recent survey report released by the United Nations, 193,000 hectares of land has been cultivated with poppies across the country. Of that, 102,000 hectares had been cultivated only in Helmand province, said the report. The survey report suggested that poppy cultivation had increased by 17 percent during the current year.
He said the local police was able to clear only 20,000 hectares of poppy cultivated land during the current year. In order to achieve complete eradication of the banned crop, NATO troops should launch military operation in poppy-infested districts to help police successfully carry forward the task, he suggested.
Bashari said the local police was in need of support from the foreign troops because they had no modern military equipment and machinery as well as resources to independently tackle the problem.
In his speech last week, President Hamid Karzai had criticised the international community for his government's failure to eradicate poppy cultivation. However, UK ambassador to Kabul Sherard Cowper-Coles, rejected President Karzai's criticism saying that the Afghan government must control administrative corruption first and then criticise the foreign troops.
Bashari said the Interior Ministry, in collaboration with the Ministry of Counter Narcotics, had devised a strategy to be implemented next year, to eradicate poppies.
The spokesman also informed about the Operation Khyber launched in Paktia province. He said 33 suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda members had been arrested during the operation.
Among the detainees, he said, three were those accused of masterminding suicide attacks and operations against the government. He said police had captured 510 kilograms of explosives during the operation.
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Germany eyes long-term role in Afghanistan: document
Wed Sep 5, 1:17 AM ET
BERLIN (AFP) - Germany believes its troops should remain in Afghanistan until the country can take care of its own security needs, according to an internal government document obtained by AFP.
The document was prepared by the defence, foreign, interior and overseas development ministries for the cabinet of Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of a vote in the German parliament in October.
The parliament is expected to approve a renewal of the mandatefed intense pressure from its NATO partners to send troops to southern Afghanistan where the fighting is most heaviest.
Most German troops are serving within the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) force in the relatively peaceful north of the country and help to train the Afghan police force.
Germany has also sent Tornado reconnaissance planes to help US-led forces hunting the Taliban.
In the five years since it deployed in Afghanistan after the Taliban regime was ousted, Germany has lost 25 soldiers, three police officers and four civilians.
A 62-year-old German engineer has been held hostage in Afghanistan for seven weeks. Another German he was captured with was shot dead by their captors.
A German woman hostage seized in a separate case was rescued within days of her capture.
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Lawsuit demands US reveal civilian deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan
Tue Sep 4, 6:45 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - A US civil rights group filed a lawsuit Tuesday demanding the American military release documents about civilians killed by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, accusing the government of trying to hide the human cost of war.
The American Civil Liberties Union's legal move came after a request for documents related to civilian deaths under the country's Freedom of Information laws was rebuffed by the US Navy, the Air Force and Marines. The US Army complied with the ACLU's year-old request.
The group has already released thousands of documents obtained from the army showing compensation claims from families whose loved ones were killed by stray bullets or in traffic accidents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, the ACLU released thousands of additional documents revealing court martial proceedings and military investigations in cases in which US soldiers were accused -- and often acquitted -- of killing civilians intentionally or through negligence.
In its suit filed in federal court in Washington, the ACLU -- citing the public's legal right to information held by the government -- demands the Pentagon release "all records relating to the killing of civilians by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan since January 1, 2005."
The ACLU accused President George W. Bush's administration of suppressing information about military and civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"There can be no more important decision in a democracy than whether to go to war, yet this administration has gone to unprecedented lengths to control the information that the American people need to make informed judgments," said Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the ACLU.
The government's refusal to meet ACLU's freedom of information request "unlawfully obstructs the public's right to know the true costs of our nation's wars," Wizner said.
Few of the military investigations or courts martial called for disciplinary action as a result of civilian deaths, according to the documents cited by the ACLU.
In one case, US military authorities called for a US driver to be charged with negligent homicide and reckless endangerment after a six-month-old infant was killed in a traffic accident.
In the probe of a soldier who shot an Iraqi man in the head at close range, an army investigating officer expressed concern that soldiers questioned in the case seemed to lack knowledge or understanding of the rules governing the treatment of enemy prisoners, according to documents cited by the ACLU.
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UK troops blow up 50 million pound Hercules aircraft in Afghanistan
By ANI Wednesday September 5, 02:14 PM
London, Sept.5 (ANI): British commanders in Afghanistan ordered the blowing up of a 50-million pound Hercules aircraft to ensure that its high-tech gear did not fall into the Taliban's hands.
According to The Sun, a decision to destroy the specially modified RAF Hercules was taken after it crash-landed in southern Helmand Province.
The plane was used to move SAS troops and equipment, and its loss is expected to hamper Special Forces operations, the tabloid reported.
The hushed-up accident occurred last week in a blacked-out night landing on a rough dirt airstrip.
Four SAS troopers guided in pilots using night vision goggles on the ground.
Hercules planes used by the special forces are equipped with highly classified digital encrypted satellite and high frequency communications suites to relay messages and video from SAS troops on the ground straight back to UK headquarters from anywhere in the world.
They are also fitted with the latest defensive aids including missile-approach warning gear - and have the ability to jam anti-aircraft missiles with flares and chaff launchers, which release millions of tiny metal particles to confuse radar systems.
Aircraft for SAS missions also have to be able to carry the Who Dares Wins regiment's very heavily armed Land Rovers or Mad Max-style Special Utility Vehicles.
They also transport the SAS's raider speedboats and mini-subs. (ANI)
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Iran calls for Afghanistan progress: FM
Tehran, Sept 5, IRNA
Iran calls for progress in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tuesday afternoon in a meeting with his Afghan counterpart Rangin Dadfar Spanta in Tehran.
The meeting was held on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Ministerial Meeting on Human Rights and Cultural Diversity, held in the Iranian capital on September 3-4.
Stressing Tehran's support for Islamabad's move towards progress and development, Mottaki called for expansion of bilateral cooperation in the field of economy.
The two sides also discussed major regional developments as well as speeding up implementation of Iran-Afghanistan previous agreements.
For his part, the Afghan minister praised Iran for its successful hosting of the NAM ministerial meeting during which the participants agreed on formation of a NAM human rights center in Iran.
Spanta also welcomed promotion of Tehran-Islamabad economic relations, stressing that the two capitals should strengthen the volume of their trade exchanges.
He added Islamabad was willing to receive Tehran's valuable experiences in various fields including implementation of different projects.
Regretting the spread of illegal drugs trafficking in the region, Spanta underscored the need for promotion of bilateral cooperation in anti-drug campaign.
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Afghanistan plays down Chinese arms concerns
Daily Times, Pakistan
* Defence ministry says not aware of any Chinese weapons reaching Taliban
KABUL: Afghanistan’s government played down Tuesday reported concerns about Chinese weapons finding their way to Taliban rebels waging a growing insurgency.
The defence ministry said it did not have evidence of Chinese arms supplied to the Taliban. The president’s office added that if such weapons were in Afghanistan, they were likely coming via groups “known” to support the rebels - a reference to those in neighbouring Pakistan said to aid the insurgents.
The BBC reported Tuesday that Britain had privately complained to Beijing that Chinese-made weapons were being used by the Taliban in Afghanistan, where nearly 7,000 British troops are aiding the fight against the insurgents. The broadcaster said it had been told that on several occasions Chinese arms have been recovered after attacks on British and American troops by Afghan insurgents. It did not name its sources.
The Afghan defence ministry did not agree, spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi said. “We’re not aware of any Chinese weapons,” Azimi told AFP. President Hamid Karzai’s senior spokesman told a media briefing later that he had no information about how Chinese weapons were entering Afghanistan.
But “there are people in our neighbourhood who are supporting and providing not only Chinese but all types of weapons for the enemies of Afghanistan,” the spokesman Homayun Hamidzada said. He did not identify any group in particular but Afghan officials regularly say that extremist elements in neighbouring Pakistan, including in the government, are supporting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
“We all know who is supporting terrorists and Taliban in Afghanistan, in the region and in our neighbourhood,” Hamidzada said. A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, which has deployed tens of thousands of troops in the war-torn country, said weapons manufactured in many nations wind up in battlefields across the world.
“I don’t know if you can draw any conclusion from that,” Major Charles Anthony told AFP. The United States and Britain have also alleged that weapons from Iran - Afghanistan’s western neighbour - are going to the Taliban. Tehran has denied involvement and Afghan officials have said publicly there is no proof to back the allegations. However, privately some Afghan officials have said they are concerned about an inflow of Iranian-made weapons. afp
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Tories getting wires crossed, Dion says
CAMPBELL CLARK From Tuesday's Globe and Mail September 4, 2007
OTTAWA — The Conservative government is muddying the debate on Afghanistan to assuage public opinion while hiding its true intentions, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion charged yesterday.
The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is sending signals and hints to suggest that it does not expect to extend the combat-heavy Kandahar mission past 2009, but refuses to make unequivocal official statements to its allies and Canadians, Mr. Dion argued.
The oft-repeated promise of a vote in Parliament on Canada's future on Afghanistan is particularly confusing because the Harper government will not say what the question will be, or even which side it will take, he said.
"How will they vote on their own vote?" Mr. Dion asked in an interview yesterday. "Why don't they say that today?
"The Prime Minister wants this confusion. He's not clear at all, because he wants the extension. ... What he would like to do is to have an open-war mission with no deadlines. But he has to cope with the public opinion of Canada, and they are a minority government."
Both Mr. Dion and Bloc Québecois Leader Gilles Duceppe have called for the government to notify its allies that Canada will not extend its mission leading NATO troops in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, past February of 2009.
On Sunday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said in a television interview that Canada has signalled to allies that they cannot count on our troops fighting in the Kandahar region past 2009.
"The signal that has been sent already is that our current configuration will end in February, 2009. Obviously the aid work and the diplomatic effort and presence will extend well beyond that. The Afghan compact itself goes until 2011," Mr. MacKay said on CTV's Question Period.
"But the way the mission is currently configured, with respect to our presence in Kandahar, there is an expiration date that has been set."
Mr. MacKay added that Parliament will vote on Canada's future role in Afghanistan after 2009. And a spokesman, Dan Dugas, said later that the Defence Minister had not meant that Canada has sent a new signal to NATO, but rather that allies know that the current mission ends in 2009, and that a new vote must be held in Parliament to decide what Canada will do after that.
Mr. Dion said Mr. MacKay's indication that our allies have been advised not to expect an extension of the Kandahar mission is an effort to hint to Canadians that it will end in 2009 - but without saying so unequivocally.
He noted that Mr. MacKay did not categorically rule out prolonging the Kandahar mission because he said a future role will be subject to a Commons vote.
"Why not do what I am suggesting? Not to signal - what a word - but to say officially to NATO and to the government of Afghanistan that the combat mission of Canada will end in February, 2009, and they need to plan for a replacement," Mr. Dion said.
"That's not what they're saying. They're saying there will be a vote, and before the vote, we will continue the ambiguity. A signal is an ambiguous word - it's a decision that they should make. And there is no decision made because this government is looking for a way to extend the mission."
Yesterday, Public Works Minister Michael Fortier said that all options remain open, including the possibility that the House of Commons will vote on a different mission for Canada in Afghanistan after 2009.
"Any renewal of the mission in its current form or another form will be subject to the approval of the Parliament of Canada," Mr. Fortier told Radio-Canada television.
"This renewal, or non-renewal, will take place in February, 2009. We're in the fall of 2007. So we still have some time before making this decision."
Today, the government will offer reporters in Canada a technical briefing on the situation in Afghanistan.
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Taliban Tied to Abduction Is Killed, Afghan Says
By ABDUL WAHEED WAFA and DAVID ROHDE The New York Times September 5, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 4 — The Taliban commander who masterminded the kidnapping of 23 South Korean church workers in Afghanistan was killed in fighting with American and Afghan forces on Monday evening in central Afghanistan, an Afghan official said Tuesday.
A Taliban spokesman denied the claim.
Afghan officials said the fighting took place in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni Province, near where the Koreans had been held before their release last week. Ali Shah Ahmadzai, the provincial police chief, said that Qari Abdul Mateen, the Taliban leader who organized the kidnapping, was among the Taliban killed.
“Taliban Commander Qari Abdul Mateen was among the 22 rebels killed in an overnight operation of Afghan police,” Mr. Ahmadzai said by telephone.
Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, confirmed that fighting took place, but denied that a commander had been killed.
“Seven Taliban fighters were martyred and three injured in the operation, but not any commander,” he said.
American military officials said that several Taliban died in the fighting, but could not confirm that Mr. Mateen was among them.
Military officials said a dozen Taliban were killed in a separate clash in the southern province of Kandahar on Monday. They said that the fighting lasted for five hours in the Sha Wali Kot district and that airstrikes were used to attack a compound holding Taliban fighters. No Afghan Army members were wounded in the clash, they said.
In separate attacks, two suicide bombers killed three Afghan policemen and wounded eight others in attacks in northern and eastern Afghanistan on Monday and Tuesday.
A suicide bomber walked up to a police vehicle in the volatile eastern province of Paktika and blew himself up on Monday, killing one policeman and wounding two civilians.
On Tuesday, a suicide bomber blew himself up as the police chased his car in the northern province of Kunduz, killing two policemen and wounding four others and two civilians, said Muhammad Ayub Salangi, the provincial police chief of Kunduz.
Abdul Waheed Wafa reported from Kabul, and David Rohde from Gardez, Afghanistan.
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Joint council for talks with Taliban
Dawn (Pakistan), Monday, September 03, 2007? By Syed Irfan Raza
ISLAMABAD, Sept 2: Pakistan and Afghanistan have finalised the names of 50 members of a tribal council from their Joint Jirga Commission to hold talks with the Taliban leadership for restoration of peace in both countries, interior ministry sources told Dawn on Sunday.
The sources said that 25 members had been selected from each side for the talks and they would soon hold talks with the Taliban leadership.
When contacted, interior ministry spokesman Brig Javed Iqbal Cheema said that talks with Taliban would be held soon, but declined to say when. He also declined to say anything about the agenda and venue of the meeting.
Meanwhile, the Taliban are reported to have rejected the jirga and its proposal for talks and reiterated their demand for all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan.
Tribal elders from Jamrud, Bara and Landi Kotal tehsils of the Khyber Agency have reportedly offered their services for direct talks with Taliban leaders both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Tribal leader Malik Ahmad Khan, who was also a member of the Kabul Peace jirga, said if the government of Pakistan could hold talks with India to resolve the Kashmir issue, why it could not launch a dialogue process with the Taliban.
Expressing satisfaction at the outcome of the Kabul jirga, he urged the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan to continue the process.
He told mediapersons that at least 50 elders of the Khyber Agency were ready to open talks with the Taliban leadership.
Another tribal leader, Malik Guli Shah, said that the tribal people wanted peace in their region and Afghanistan and, therefore, there was no harm in initiating a dialogue with the Taliban leadership.
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Commission heads to seek trust votes from MPs
KABUL, Sept 3 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament) Monday approved with majority an amendment to the law pertaining to the composition of the government.
Unanimously passed by the house, the amendment requires heads of 16 independent commissions to seek votes of confidence from lawmakers - a move that is likely to meet strong resistance from the stake-holders.
The changed procedure for the appointment of heads of autonomous bodies was given the go-ahead after a heated debate, with some legislators lashing out at the role of Afghanistans Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).
Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf and some other members, participating in the discussion, underlined the need for making leaders of all independent commissions subordinate to Parliament, which should have the power to make new rules and amend the existing statutes governing such appointments.
"The existence of AIHRC is the need of the hour, but its members, rules and charter should be reconsidered so that all these things are cleared by the Wolesi Jirga. This is how the whole procedure can be accorded confidence of the masses," Sayyaf observed.
AIHRC members were affiliated with a certain political party, alleged the former Ittehadi Islami leader, who underlined the appointment of qualified religious scholars to the commission for accurate interpretation of different issues based on Shariah.
Qadria Yazdan Parast, echoing Sayyafs views, blamed the commission members for having links to a particular political outfit. During the last six years, the MP charged, the commission had repeatedly deviated from its mandate by siding with a certain sectarian group and interfering in the affairs of other governmental organs.
AIHRC procedures and structure ought to be reviewed so as to make the rights watchdog more focussed on its fundamental job, suggested the parliamentarian, who stopped short of naming the party or group supported by the rights activists.
Allegations from Sayyaf and Yazdan Parast inflamed Muhammad Hussain Fahimi, elected public representative from Sar-i-Pul. Their comments, based on personal views, did not contain substantive suggestions for improving the commissions performance, he said.
Sayyaf himself had a criminal track record, Fahimi claimed, saying the long-bearded man had contributed to the destruction of Kabul and civilians massacres. But the legislator from Sar-i-Pul launched the vitriolic assault on the ex-jihadi leader after he had left the house.
Appearing in no mood to end his diatribe against Sayyaf, Fahimis microphone was cut off, an act that left him and other Hazara MPs growing even angrier.
An MP from Badakhshan, Amanullah Paiman, accused AIHRC head Seema Samar of nepotism and partisanship. He recalled Samar had attended a Shiite protest a year back against the Kabul Express movie that projected the Hazara community in a bad light.
On Tuesday (tomorrow), the Wolesi Jirga will debate the findings of a probe commission that visited the Pul-i-Charkhi Prison on Sunday to assess the situation of prisoners in the wake of Saturdays rioting.
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USAID helps Afghans explore new trade routes
KABUL, Sept 3 (Pajhwok Afghan News): An Antonov 12 cargo aircraft, similar to the ones used to transport troops during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, landed in Jalalabad airport last week - this time with a totally different purpose.
The aircraft came to lift the first direct air freight shipment of fresh fruit to be delivered to the Emirate of Dubai, opening the door to a new trade route between eastern Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates and marking the beginning of a regular weekly airfreight shipment to these important markets from Jalalabad.
For the last 20 years, the Jalalabad Airport had been closed to civilian passengers and commercial cargo aircraft. This long hiatus ended the day when Samsoor Ban Limited, a trading company based in Laghman province, sent its first load of apples, grapes, apricots and melons straight from the Jalalabad Airport to Dubai, USAID said.
In a statement mailed to Pajhwok Afghan News on Monday, USAID said the Alternative Livelihood Programme for the Eastern Region (ALP/E) worked closely with the civil and military authorities at the airport to meet their requirements for the new venture.
Samsoor Ban began exporting fresh fruit to Dubai through Kabul Airport in November 2006. At that time, USAID supported the company with market contacts and technical advice in grades and standards, packaging and the trade logistics.
Now 10 months later, Samsoor Ban is exploring other options that will result in lower transport costs, shorter times in transit and consequently better quality and longer shelf-life, the US agency added...
Supported by the USAID-funded (ALP/E), Samsoor Ban Ltd. is one of several progressive traders from Kunar, Laghman and Nangarhar provinces currently supplying institutional buyers in Dubai, India, Kuwait and Qatar.
Fresh fruit and vegetables from eastern Afghanistan are sold in regional and international markets under the brand name Pride of the Eastern Region, which is consistent with the sentiment that their re-appearance in the global marketplace brings about for Afghan traders.
USAIDs Alternative Development Program for the Eastern Region follows a Value Chain Approach, integrating men and women entrepreneurs in the production and marketing of high-value crops and linking them to the global-value chains.
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$10m WB grant to help Public Health Ministry combat AIDS
KABUL, Sept 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The World Bank will grant $10 million to the Public Health Ministry over the next three yeas for measures preventing the spread of the deadly Human Immuno Deficiency Virus (HIV).
A contract for the grant was inked between Finance Minister Anwarul Haq Ahady and Alastair J. Mckechnie, World Bank director, in Kabul on Sunday. Public Health Minister Syed Muhammad Amin Fatemi promised the grant would be used judiciously to strengthen preventive measures against AIDS.
He acknowledged 245 HIV-positives cases had been detected in Afghanistan. Seven of the infected people have died and the rest are under treatment. The minister added 75 per cent of the infected cases were male and more than 60 percent of them were addicts.
Dr. Fatemi revealed his ministry had devised a five-year strategy outlining areas where the grant would be expended. He reckoned the Public Health Ministry needed $38 million to implement the project, with the World Bank becoming the first source to help finance implementation of the strategy.
Alastair J. Mckechnie pointed out at the moment there was no accurate number of HIV-infected Afghans. But he praised the efforts being made by the Public Health Ministry to combat the fatal virus in a cash-strapped country.
Anwarul Haq Ahady, welcoming the grant, recalled the World Bank had provided Afghanistan $360 million for reconstruction projects this year. Since 2001 the bank has pledged $1.5 billion to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. So far $1 billion of that amount has been spent a string of schemes aimed at rebuilding the war-devastated country.
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Wolesi Jirga panel launches probe into jail riot
KABUL, Sept 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The Lower House of Parliament Sunday appointed a seven-member body to probe a recent uprising at the Pul-i-Charkhi Prison on the eastern outskirts of Kabul.
The riot that erupted in the third block of the jail two days back was allegedly put down by law-enforcement officials using intoxicating gases. For an assessment of the incident, the Wolesi Jirga speaker appointed a panel comprising members of the five house commissions.
The commission appointed by Younus Qanuni is headed by Attaullah Ludin, chairman of the justice panel of the lower house. Before leaving for the jail at 10am, he told journalists they would look into allegations that prisoners had been tortured.
Certain inmates, declared innocent by courts, were still languishing in the jail, claimed Ludin, who slammed the use of intoxicating gases as illegal. He promised the commission would dispassionately look into the charge levelled against the jail administration.
Word on the prison riot got out on Saturday, but details of the incident remain sketchy. A jail warden told Pajhwok Afghan News prisoners held at the third block gave prison officials poisonous food Friday night.
About 400 prisoners later started rioting and chanted Allah-o-Akbar (God is Great), he said, alleging the inmates wanted to escape but 100 Afghan National Army (ANA) and police personnel frustrated their attempt.
Major-General Abdul Salam Esmat, head of prisons at the Justice Ministry, said some prisoners on the first floor of the third block planned to go on strike. Police went in to maintain security, but the prisoners sprinkled the policemen with oil and torched blankets and cushions.
He added ANA soldiers then used anesthetic gases to put down the riot, Esmat explained, saying the situation was calm at the prison, housing approximately three thousand prisoners. Three inmates were killed and 30 others wounded in a similar riot in February this year.
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UN concerned at plight of women in Afghan jails
KABUL, Sept 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Sunday voiced concern over the predicament of women prisoners in Afghanistan.
Dr. Shukria Nuri, head of the UNODC, told a day-long conference on the issue that women were held in Afghan jails in inappropriate conditions that were contrary to the concept of human rights and other international norms.
She exclusively cited the Pul-i-Charkha Jail on the eastern outskirts of Kabul as an example of women inmates plight. About 20 female prisoners along with their children were being kept in a single room in the largest Afghan prison, she added.
Nuri viewed a lack of proper space for child inmates and the absence of educational programmes for female prisoners as major issues that needed to be addressed on a priority basis.
Dr. Bahauddin Baha, a Supreme Court judge, verified the dilemma of women in prisons, suggesting the government should build separate women jails, where they could acquire different vocational skills besides paying special attention to their children.
Over 3000 prisoners including 346 women are currently being held in the Pul-i-Charkhi Jail. Two years back, construction work on a women prison was launched in Tah-i-Maskan area of Kabul by the UNODC. But the building has not been completed as yet.
Habib Rahman Ibrahimi
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