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April 10, 2008 

8 civilians killed in Afghan blast
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Thu Apr 10, 10:05 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide car bomber targeting a U.S.-led coalition convoy in southern Afghanistan Thursday killed eight civilians and wounded 25 other people, including three coalition soldiers, officials said.

US envoy may challenge for Afghan presidency
By Thomas Coghlan Daily Telegraph - Apr 09 6:07 PM
The Afghan-born US Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, has signalled that he will run for the presidency of Afghanistan in elections next year.

Afghans Hold Secret Trials for Men That U.S. Detained
The New York Times - World By TIM GOLDEN and DAVID ROHDE  April 10, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan -Dozens of Afghan men who were previously held by the United States at Bagram Air Base and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are now being tried here in secretive Afghan criminal proceedings based mainly

Rights group: Afghan trials unfair
By ALISA TANG, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - A human rights group charged on Thursday that Afghanistan is prosecuting detainees transferred from U.S.-run prisons in arbitrary and unfair trials with little evidence.

Two aid workers reported missing in Afghanistan
BERLIN (AFP) - German humanitarian organisation KinderBerg International said on Thursday that two of its workers are missing in Afghanistan.

New U.S. commander in Afghanistan vows to stabilize security
www.chinaview.cn  2008-04-10 20:10:13
KABUL, April 10 (Xinhua) -- New commander of the U.S.-led Coalition forces in Afghanistan Major General Jeffrey J. Schloesser on Thursday vowed to spare no efforts in stabilizing security to the post-Taliban nation.

12 Afghans killed inside Iran, say Afghan police
IANS via Yahoo! India News - Apr 09 10:32 AM
Kabul, April 9 (DPA) Twelve Afghan nationals were killed in an ambush while entering Iran from Afghanistan, an Afghan police border commander in western region said Wednesday.

Judge: Afghan chief must stand trial
By LARRY NEUMEISTER, Associated Press Writer Wed Apr 9, 11:32 PM ET
NEW YORK - An Afghan tribal chief cannot escape trial on federal drug charges just because government agents tricked him into traveling to the United States by promising he could return home, a judge ruled Wednesday.

AFGHANISTAN: Ten schools torched in past three weeks
10 Apr 2008 12:34:33 GMT
 KABUL, 10 April 2008 (IRIN) - At least 10 schools have been attacked by unidentified gunmen in different parts of Afghanistan in the past three weeks, Ministry of Education (MoE) officials told IRIN.

Ottawa asks Boeing for proposal for 16 new Chinook helicopters
The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — The federal government issued a request for proposals Monday to Boeing for 16 military helicopters.

US think tank urges India to tailor Afghan policy to Pak situation
 Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC rediff.com - Apr 10 1:26 AM
A leading Washington, DC think tank, which is a repository for erstwhile senior administration officials and policymakers, has called on India to 'tailor its Afghan policy to the new situation in Pakistan' in order to alleviate the decades-long

US marines say they have begun operations in Afghanistan
TurkishPress.com - Apr 10 6:45 AM
KABUL - More than 2,000 US marines recently deployed in Afghanistan to support a NATO-led military campaign against Islamic rebels have began operations in the country's restive south, the unit said Thursday.

101st Airborne takes over Afghanistan
Thu Apr 10, 6:50 AM ET Associated Press
BAGRAM, Afghanistan - The U.S. 101st Airborne Division is taking over in Afghanistan, replacing the 82nd Airborne after 15 months in the country.

Afghan minister's trip to Kashmir
Altaf Hussain BBC News, Srinagar Thursday, 10 April 2008 16:23 UK
Afghanistan's Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak has made a one-day visit to Indian-administered Kashmir to see counter-insurgency operations.

'No Redeployment of Korean Troops to Afghanistan'
By Jung Sung-ki The Korea Times Staff Reporter
South Korean officials expressed negative views Friday about the idea of redeploying forces to Afghanistan to support U.S.-led stabilizing operations in the central Asian nation.

Terror planner dies on Afghan border
April 10, 2008 Washington Times, DC
By Jerry Seper - Senior al Qaeda planner Abu Obeida al Masri, identified by authorities as a key suspect in the 2005 London transit bombings and a foiled 2006 plot to blow up U.S.-bound commercial airliners, has died, U.S. counterterrorism officials said yesterday.

Afghan FM: Olympic Games must not be used as political means
www.chinaview.cn  2008-04-10 20:57:25
KABUL, April 10 (Xinhua) -- The Afghan Foreign Ministry on Thursday said the Beijing Olympic Games represents peace and reconciliation, and it should not be used as a political matter.

Afghan drills vital to save lives
By Cameron Buttle BBC Scotland Thursday, 10 April 2008 15:50 UK
Inside the camp walls of Lashkar Gah military base in southern Afghanistan A Company of the Royal Highland Fusiliers practise their emergency drills.

Senator says he sees improvements in Afghanistan
CTV.ca, Canada Wed. Apr. 9 2008 CTV.ca News Staff
A Liberal senator who just returned from Afghanistan says he's definitely seen improvements there since his last visit, citing a new road project and better co-operation.

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8 civilians killed in Afghan blast
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Thu Apr 10, 10:05 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide car bomber targeting a U.S.-led coalition convoy in southern Afghanistan Thursday killed eight civilians and wounded 25 other people, including three coalition soldiers, officials said.

The car bomber blew himself up shortly after the convoy passed near him in Kandahar city, said provincial police chief Sayed Agha Saqib. Eight civilians were killed in the powerful explosion, Saqib said.

Three coalition soldiers were slightly wounded in the attack, said Lt. Cmdr. Pierre Babinsky, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in southern Afghanistan. The nationalities of the wounded soldiers were not disclosed.

Also wounded were two policemen and seven people who were in serious condition, Saqib said.

Taliban militants regularly launch suicide bombings against Afghan and foreign troops in the country, but most of the victims in such attacks have been civilians.

Mehmetullah Khan was inside his furniture shop when blast shook the ground. Two of his workers were hurt.

"I do not know what kind of Muslims they are. They are killing Afghans," Khan said of the insurgents. "My two workers were poor and were providing for their families. Who is going to feed them now?"

The number of suicide attacks spiked in 2007, with the Taliban launching more than 140 suicide missions, the highest number since they were ousted from power by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

More than 8,000 people were killed in insurgency-related violence in 2007, the U.N. says.
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US envoy may challenge for Afghan presidency
By Thomas Coghlan Daily Telegraph - Apr 09 6:07 PM
The Afghan-born US Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, has signalled that he will run for the presidency of Afghanistan in elections next year.

Mr Khalilzad is a senior figure in the Bush administration who served as ambassador to Kabul before becoming ambassador to Iraq and then the UN.

He holds US citizenship, is married to an American and is a former professor at Columbia University.

advertisementHe has fuelled speculation of a run by announcing on Afghan television: "I will resign from my official work in the next few months and start a private business."

Asked if he would stand for the presidency, he replied: "I have said earlier that I'm not a candidate for any position in Afghanistan, but I am at the service of the Afghan people."

Sources close to Mr Khalilzad within the Afghan establishment insist that he is considering a run for the presidency and has been putting out feelers to political factions within the country.

"He is under pressure to stand from within Afghanistan," said one source. "His comments are genuine in that he will come to Afghanistan and work in the private sector, but he will reassess towards the end of this year whether he has a chance to take the presidency."

Mr Khalilzad is rumoured to have long had his eye on replacing President Karzai, the man he picked to become Afghanistan's first president in 2004.

Mr Khalilzad's supporters are alleged to have sounded out Pashtun tribal chiefs in the south as well as figures within the Northern Alliance, which now calls itself the National Unity Front.

The popularity of President Karzai has waned as disquiet at government corruption and the resurgence of the Taliban has been felt across the country.

Mr Karzai has become increasingly critical of the international community in an apparent attempt to bolster support at home, most notably by attacking Britain and blocking Lord Ashdown, the British diplomat, for the position of UN envoy in Kabul.

The Afghan president let slip his own intention to stand for re-election this week.

Following his return from the Nato conference in Bucharest on Sunday, Mr Karzai said: "I want to complete the work that I started - if they vote for me."
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Afghans Hold Secret Trials for Men That U.S. Detained
The New York Times - World By TIM GOLDEN and DAVID ROHDE  April 10, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan -Dozens of Afghan men who were previously held by the United States at Bagram Air Base and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are now being tried here in secretive Afghan criminal proceedings based mainly on allegations forwarded by the American military.

The prisoners are being convicted and sentenced to as much as 20 years’ confinement in trials that typically run between half an hour and an hour, said human rights investigators who have observed them. One early trial was reported to have lasted barely 10 minutes, an investigator said.

The prosecutions are based in part on a security law promulgated in 1987, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Witnesses do not appear in court and cannot be cross-examined. There are no sworn statements of their testimony.

Instead, the trials appear to be based almost entirely on terse summaries of allegations that are forwarded to the Afghan authorities by the United States military. Afghan security agents add what evidence they can, but the cases generally center on events that sometimes occurred years ago in war zones that the authorities may now be unable to reach.

“These are no-witness paper trials that deny the defendants a fundamental fair-trial right to challenge the evidence and mount a defense,” said Sahr MuhammedAlly, a lawyer for the advocacy group Human Rights First who has studied the proceedings. “So any convictions you get are fundamentally flawed.”

The head of Afghanistan’s national intelligence agency, Amrullah Saleh, said his investigators did their best to develop their own evidence. But he added that the Afghan judicial system remained crippled by problems more than six years after the fall of the Taliban.

“This is Afghanistan,” he said. Referring to the Afghan trials, he added, “I am equally critical of that procedure, but who is supposed to fix it?”

Since 2002 the Bush administration has pressed foreign governments to prosecute the Guantánamo prisoners from their countries as a condition of the men’s repatriation. But many of those governments — including such close American allies as Britain — have objected, saying the American evidence would not hold up in their courts.

Afghanistan represents perhaps the most notable exception.

Although President Hamid Karzai refused to sign a decree law drafted with American help that would have allowed Afghanistan to hold the former detainees indefinitely as “enemy combatants,” the Afghan authorities have now tried 82 of the former prisoners since last October and referred more than 120 other cases for prosecution.

Of the prisoners who have been through the makeshift Afghan court, 65 have been convicted and 17 acquitted, according to a report on the prosecutions by Human Rights First that is to be made public on Thursday. A draft copy of the report was provided to The New York Times.

United States officials defended their role in providing information for the Afghan trials as a legitimate way to try to contain the threats that some of the more dangerous detainees would pose if they were released outright.

“These are not prosecutions that are being done at the request or behest of the United States government,” said Sandra L. Hodgkinson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detention policy. “These are prosecutions that are being done by Afghans for crimes committed on their territory by their nationals.”

Ms. Hodgkinson said the United States had pressed the Afghan authorities “to conduct the trials in a fair manner,” and had insisted that lawyers be provided for the prisoners after the first 10 of them were convicted without legal representation. But she did not directly reject the criticisms raised in the Human Rights First report, adding, “These trials are much more consistent with the traditional Afghan justice process than they are with ours.”

The new court is located on the ground floor of a new high-security Afghan prison that was built by the United States at Pul-i-Charki, on the outskirts of Kabul.

Although Afghan officials say the trials there are not officially secret, they have allowed only three outside observers — two human rights investigators and a representative of a local United Nations office. The human rights investigators were permitted to see two trials in February, review some trial documents and interview judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers for the court.

Gen. Safiullah Safi, the Afghan Army officer who runs the prison where the trials are being held, told a reporter that permission to view the trials could be granted only by Mr. Karzai’s office. But that office referred the request to Abdul Jabar Sabit, the Afghan attorney general. Mr. Sabit’s office finally said he was too busy to meet with a journalist.

The human rights investigators who observed the operations of the new court described them as a perversion of the efforts by Afghanistan and the United States to rebuild and reform the Afghan judicial system after years of war, corruption and neglect.

They said that the defense lawyers, who work for a legal aid organization based in New York, typically meet their clients five days before their trials begin and have few resources to investigate the distant events on which they turn. At least some of the Afghan judges also appear to accept the American allegations at face value, they said, and routinely admit allegations that would not pass the evidentiary standards of special military tribunals at Guantánamo, much less the federal courts of the United States.

“The files provided by U.S. authorities and the information in them would never have been admissible in a U.S. court or even a military commission in Guantánamo,” said Jonathan Horowitz, an investigator for One World Research, a public-interest investigations firm in New York that also monitored the Afghan trials.

In an interview, one of the justices of the Afghan Supreme Court argued that while the trials might have some flaws, they represented a fair process.

“All of these trials have been prepared by our friends from the United States,” said the justice, who uses the single name Rashid. “They have seen it themselves. We don’t have any doubts about the trial not being fair.”

Justice Rashid added that he had complete confidence in the accuracy of the information that was being provided to Afghan investigators by the American military.

“I’m 100 percent sure that what was done by the United States was done according to the legal system of the United States,” he said. “And I am familiar with the legal system of the United States.”

But one case file that was partly reproduced in the Human Rights First report underscores questions that have been raised about the procedures of the Afghan trials and the American evidence with which they begin.

In a single paragraph, the United States “Report of Investigation” recounts that the Afghan prisoner Rais Mohammed Khan was detained by the police as he and a friend tried to cross the Afghan border in the eastern department of Khost on May 1, 2006. The report, which misidentifies Mr. Khan by a name his father used, Matelky, notes that he and his injured friend were suspected of having planned a suicide bombing that went awry.

“Their stories are conflicting, and the Khost Police Force believe they are directly tied to suicide attacks that were taking place during the Independence Day Parade in Khost,” the report reads. It notes that Mr. Khan appeared to lie on a polygraph examination when he denied involvement in suicide bombing. But it adds:

“Confessions/Admissions/Incriminating Statements: None”

“Witnesses: None”

“Physical Evidence: None”

“Photographs: None”

Also in his Afghan court file was a one-page summary of the recommendation from the United States military panel that reviewed his case at Bagram. It describes him as a low threat to American and coalition forces and him as “low prosecution value.”

He was convicted under the 1987 Afghan security law and sentenced to eight years in prison.
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Rights group: Afghan trials unfair
By ALISA TANG, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - A human rights group charged on Thursday that Afghanistan is prosecuting detainees transferred from U.S.-run prisons in arbitrary and unfair trials with little evidence.

Human Rights First lauded the Afghan government's decision to try the detainees, formerly held in the prisons at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Bagram, Afghanistan, in a court of law. But the New York-based group said in a new report that the legal proceedings are unfairly based on little more than allegations by American officials.

"Where there is evidence of criminal activity, persons should be tried in proceedings that comport with international fair trial standards," Human Rights First said in its report. "In Afghanistan, the trials of former Bagram and Guantanamo detainees being conducted since October 2007 fall far short of this mark."

In trials that last between 30 minutes and an hour, defendants have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 20 years, it said.

An Afghan official overseeing the cases said he believes the proceedings have been transparent and fair.

More than 250 Afghan prisoners have been transferred from U.S. custody in Guantanamo or the military prison at Bagram to Afghan custody. The prisoners are being held and tried at a new, U.S.-funded block of the Pul-i-Charkhi prison on the outskirts of Kabul.

The detainees are being charged under Afghan law with crimes ranging from treason to destruction of government property.

Human Rights First, which conducted its research in January and February and observed two trials, said that 65 of those detainees have been convicted "in violation of fair trial standards." Seventeen have been acquitted.

The group also examined court documents and interviewed detainees' family members, lawyers, judges and Afghan government officials.

Among the group's findings:

• During the trials, no prosecution witnesses and little or no physical evidence are presented.

• Defense lawyers are not present when a client is interrogated by the prosecution or when intelligence officials collect evidence, so defendants are unable to challenge the evidence or cross-examine witnesses.

• Lawyers are appointed to the case after the investigation is concluded and generally have only five days to review the government's evidence prior to trial.

It said 30 Afghans remain in Guantanamo. More than 600 are being held in Bagram.

"Transfers must be done responsibly," the report said.

Mohammad Ishaq Aleko, head of the independent commission set up by the Afghan Justice Ministry to oversee the detainee transfers, said the commission has studied the cases and monitored the legal proceedings from beginning to end.

"The work of the judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers has been excellent," he said. "So far the trials of these detainees have been fair."

More than 40 detainees have been acquitted and are about to be released soon, he said, noting that the current process was an improvement from prisoners being detained indefinitely, as some have been in U.S. custody.

"These detainees were being held in prison without trial," Aleko said. "At least now the prisoners know how long they are going to stay in jail."
___
Associated Press Writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.
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Two aid workers reported missing in Afghanistan
BERLIN (AFP) - German humanitarian organisation KinderBerg International said on Thursday that two of its workers are missing in Afghanistan.

Abdul Rab, a 44-year-old Afghan medical doctor, and his driver, Abdul Hafiz, left Kabul for Kunduz in the far north on Tuesday, but failed to arrive at their destination, the organisation said in a statement.

It said Afghan authorities found their vehicle empty in Shar-i-Kar, north of Kabul, after it reported them missing.

"We don't know whether they have been kidnapped," said Johanna Kutter, a spokesman for the Stuttgart-based organisation that specialises in health care projects for children.

KinderBerg said Rab has worked for humanitarian organisations in Afghanistan for more than 10 years.

The Taliban are waging an increasingly bloody insurgency in Afghanistan which, besides attacking security forces, includes the kidnapping of foreign nationals.

A German engineer was kidnapped by the hardline Islamist movement last year and freed in October along with five Afghans in exchange for five Taliban prisoners after being held hostage for three months.

Another German hostage was shot dead by kidnappers after being seized in July.

Germany has some 3,200 troops stationed in northern Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
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New U.S. commander in Afghanistan vows to stabilize security 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-04-10 20:10:13
KABUL, April 10 (Xinhua) -- New commander of the U.S.-led Coalition forces in Afghanistan Major General Jeffrey J. Schloesser on Thursday vowed to spare no efforts in stabilizing security to the post-Taliban nation.

"Today we pledge to work for the progress and prosperity of Afghanistan, we pledge to support Afghan National Security Forces and Afghan security," he told audience at his first remarks after taking over the command from his predecessor General David Rodriguez.

At the ceremony held in Bagram Air Field, the headquarters of the U.S.-led Coalition forces 50km north of Afghanistan capital Kabul, he also assured to support Afghan National Security Forces and look forward to work with Afghan people.

Presently, more than 21,000 U.S.-led Coalition forces from 21 countries have been serving in Afghanistan to help stabilize security and development process in the war-battered country.

More than 43,000 NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have also been deployed in Afghanistan to help ensure durable peace and security in this land.
Editor: Song Shutao 
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12 Afghans killed inside Iran, say Afghan police
IANS via Yahoo! India News - Apr 09 10:32 AM
Kabul, April 9 (DPA) Twelve Afghan nationals were killed in an ambush while entering Iran from Afghanistan, an Afghan police border commander in western region said Wednesday.

It happened Monday night after a group of Afghan nationals were ambushed by unknown attackers some 25 km inside Iran, Colonel Rahmatullah Safi said.

'We don't know who killed these people,' Safi said, adding: 'There are two possibilities - that they were either killed by Iranian border police or by enemies of both our countries.'

He also could not say who the dead Afghans were or why they were crossing the border during the night.

'We cannot investigate inside their country. Since Iran is our friendly neighbour we ask them to investigate the matter and provide us more information,' Safi said.

Owing to unemployment in Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of Afghans have crossed the border illegally and currently live in Iran. The Iranian government recently decided to expel over one million Afghans in its country.

Nearly one million Afghans who escaped three decades of war in their homeland have been registered as legal refugees in Iran.

The long border is also known as a drug smuggling route to Iran, from where traffickers take illicit drugs to Turkey and western European countries. Afghanistan produces more than 90 per cent of the world's heroin.

'No group has the right to kill the smugglers and illegal refugees. If the 12 Afghan men had committed any crime, they should have been arrested, not killed,' Safi said.
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Judge: Afghan chief must stand trial
By LARRY NEUMEISTER, Associated Press Writer Wed Apr 9, 11:32 PM ET
NEW YORK - An Afghan tribal chief cannot escape trial on federal drug charges just because government agents tricked him into traveling to the United States by promising he could return home, a judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain said the U.S. government acted legally in the 2005 arrest of Bashir Noorzai, who was put on the list of Most Wanted drug kingpins before he was charged with smuggling $50 million worth of heroin into the United States with Taliban support.

Noorzai's lawyer, Ivan Stephan Fisher, said he was disappointed by the ruling. He said Noorzai was eager for his May 19 trial to begin.

"We are working now on what the hardest part of the trial is going to be — to find a jury that could be fair to an accused who is Muslim and from Afghanistan," he said.

Yusill Scribner, a spokeswoman for prosecutors, said the government had no comment.

The ruling pertained to unusual circumstances in which Noorzai helped the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by providing information and turning over weapons and munitions to U.S. authorities, a fact the government did not contest.

The judge also noted that most of Noorzai's contacts with U.S. officials were cooperative, although he was detained for six days by the United States in 2001 at the Kandahar Airport in Afghanistan.

Noorzai, chief of the Noorzai Tribe and its more than a million members, was told by two U.S. representatives in August 2004 that he would be granted safe passage to and from the United States if he agreed to meet authorities, the judge said.

In April 2005, Noorzai and two of his associates arrived in New York City, where he was arrested after being questioned for 11 days by a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in a hotel near the World Trade Center site.

The judge noted that he was repeatedly read his Miranda rights during the questioning and he never indicated he did not understand them.

An indictment accused Noorzai and his organization of providing weapons and manpower to the Taliban between 1990 and 2004 in exchange for protection for opium crops, heroin laboratories and drug transportation routes out of the country.

In one instance in 1997, Taliban officials seized a truckload of drugs and discovered the cargo belonged to Noorzai, only to return it "with personal apologies from Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Taliban," according to the indictment.

The Taliban militia ruled Afghanistan until it was toppled by the United States in late 2001. Taliban-led militants are still operating along Afghanistan's mountainous eastern border with Pakistan.

Swain said that the promises to Noorzai, "even if made by authorized officials, were not ones that by their terms negated the possibility of prosecution."

In a footnote, she wrote that constitutional entitlements to due process focus on a defendant's full opportunity to defend himself. False assurances that he would not be arrested would not compromise his ability to defend himself, she said.
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AFGHANISTAN: Ten schools torched in past three weeks
10 Apr 2008 12:34:33 GMT
 KABUL, 10 April 2008 (IRIN) - At least 10 schools have been attacked by unidentified gunmen in different parts of Afghanistan in the past three weeks, Ministry of Education (MoE) officials told IRIN.

Armed assailants, believed to be associated with Taliban insurgents, have torched three schools in Kunduz, two in Kandahar, and one school each in Helmand, Paktia, Khost, Wardak and Farah provinces since the new school year began on 23 March, according to the MoE.

Armed men broke into Ortablaq school in Imam Saheb District of northern Kunduz Province and cut-off the ears of a watchman before setting the school ablaze on 4 April, the Ministry of Interior said in a press release.

Apart from the torchings, there have been other attacks: Kandahar Province Department of Education officials said five schools had been attacked in the same period; in another incident one teacher was reportedly killed when a school was attacked in Khost Province, southeastern Afghanistan, in late March, MoE said.

"Nearly all attacks on schools take place during the night so there are no casualties among students," said Hamid Elmi, an MoE spokesman in Kabul.

Ministry of Education statistics shown to IRIN indicate there were 2,450 "terrorist" attacks on schools from March 2006 to February 2008. In the same period 235 schoolchildren, students, teachers and other education workers were killed, and 222 wounded.

About 500 schools have remained closed due to insecurity, particularly in the volatile south where Taliban insurgency has also hindered humanitarian and development access. "Up to 300,000 students cannot go to school because of insecurity and threats," said the MoE's Elmi.

'Madrasas' not attacked

Taliban insurgents oppose female education and say the school curriculum is "un-Islamic", a charge rejected by the Afghan government and moderate Islamic scholars.

"Attacking schools, children and civilians is fundamentally against Islamic principles," Afghan President Hamid Karzai told a gathering of teachers in Kabul in March. He said insurgents were attacking schools and schoolchildren at the behest of the "enemies of Afghanistan".

On the other hand, none of Afghanistan's 336 Islamic schools or 'madrasas', or their 91,000 students, have been attacked in recent years, Elmi noted.

"Though the government promotes both 'madrasas' and [secular] schools, the Taliban only attack schools," Elmi said.

Most of the Taliban's senior leaders, including spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, were reportedly educated in 'madrasas' in Pakistan, and 'madrasas' flourished in Afghanistan during their six-year rule (1995-2001).

Record numbers at school

The school attacks intensified just as a record six million pupils went back to school. "Never before in the history of Afghanistan were six million students at school," said Elmi, adding that over 35 percent of them were female.

The unprecedented increase in the number of children at school compares well with the the situation six years ago when fewer than two million were at school, but the safety of staff and pupils has become a growing concern, officials said.
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Ottawa asks Boeing for proposal for 16 new Chinook helicopters
The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — The federal government issued a request for proposals Monday to Boeing for 16 military helicopters.

Public Works Minister Michael Fortier says the helicopters are meant to re-equip the Canadian Forces over the longer term - not to fill Canada's immediate need for helicopters in Afghanistan.

But Defence Minister Peter MacKay says the helicopter purchase is all about getting them into the war-ravaged country as quickly as possible.

A blue-ribbon panel led by former Liberal deputy prime minister John Manley concluded helicopters were a requirement for extending Canada's mission in Afghanistan.

The Conservative government announced in June 2006 it was going to buy 16 heavy-lift helicopters and within weeks said Boeing was the company best-suited to meet the requirements.

The government says it expects to award the helicopter contract this fall.
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US think tank urges India to tailor Afghan policy to Pak situation
 Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC rediff.com - Apr 10 1:26 AM
A leading Washington, DC think tank, which is a repository for erstwhile senior administration officials and policymakers, has called on India to 'tailor its Afghan policy to the new situation in Pakistan' in order to alleviate the decades-long competing strategic agendas between New Delhi and Islamabad vis-?-vis Afghanistan.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, in a report titled India and Pakistan in Afghanistan: Hostile Sports, said that if New Delhi 'can find even modest ways of working in harmony with the Pakistani government, it could reap substantial benefits in its relations with both countries', even as it acknowledged that the new 'great game' may continue, 'but it will be more of chess, less of tug-of-war'.

The report said that besides the deep cultural and historic ties with Afghanistan that both India and Pakistan have had for decades, there had been competing strategic agendas.

'For India, Afghanistan was an important albeit passive geopolitical on Pakistan, as well the gateway to Central Asia. Pakistan saw Afghanistan as part of a threatening Indian pincer movement, a source of fuel for Pushtun separatism inside Pakistan, and during the Taliban years, a source of 'strategic depth' against the Indian threat,' the report stated.

The report said that the Indian presence in Afghanistan has 'stoked Pakistan's fears', and Islamabad believes that 'the Indian consulates provide cover for Indian intelligence agencies to run covert operations against Pakistan'.

It said that in recent years, 'Pakistan has accused India of intriguing in collusion with the Afghan ministry of tribal affairs and the Afghan intelligence agencies to fund and arm rebels of the Baloch Liberation Army, who are carrying out a separatist insurgency in Pakistan'.

The report recalled that when Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Pakistan in 2007, President Musharraf had 'presented him maps of locations with suspected Indian activity and urged him to rein in the Indians'.

'Pakistan's fears of encirclement by India,' it added, 'have been compounded by the Indian Air Force's new facility in Farkhor, Tajikistan, which may house MI-17 helicopter gunships. The air base follows up on hospital and logistics depot constructed by the Indians in the region some years ago'.
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US marines say they have begun operations in Afghanistan
TurkishPress.com - Apr 10 6:45 AM
KABUL - More than 2,000 US marines recently deployed in Afghanistan to support a NATO-led military campaign against Islamic rebels have began operations in the country's restive south, the unit said Thursday.

The 2,300-strong US Marine Expeditionary Unit was part of Washington's recent contribution to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) efforts to quell a resurgent Taliban insurgency.

"The last of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Marines and Sailors are arriving and the unit is beginning operations after weeks of flowing personnel and equipment here," the unit said in a statement.

"The Marines have begun their operations in (southern Afghanistan) in support of and with their Afghanistan international partners," it said, referring to ISAF forces deployed there.

Southern Afghanistan sees much of an ongoing insurgency being waged by remnants of the Taliban, which was toppled from government in a US-led invasion in late 2001.

The insurgency, which includes suicide bombings and is said to be supported by Al-Qaeda terror network, has increased especially in the country's south and east in the past two years.

The spike in violence in recent years has prompted NATO commanders to call for reinforcements.

The Marine force can "conduct full-spectrum operations from humanitarian assistance missions to combat operations," the statement said.

With France publicly announcing a reinforcement of 700 fresh troops, NATO pledged to send nearly 2,000 additional soldiers to support the alliance force's operation in Afghanistan this month.
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101st Airborne takes over Afghanistan
Thu Apr 10, 6:50 AM ET Associated Press
BAGRAM, Afghanistan - The U.S. 101st Airborne Division is taking over in Afghanistan, replacing the 82nd Airborne after 15 months in the country.

Outgoing commander Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez welcomed 101st commander Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser at a handover ceremony Thursday at the main U.S. base at Bagram.

The 101st Airborne will be responsible for security in eastern Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan. The paratroopers are being deployed for 15 months.

The U.S. now has some 32,000 troops in the country, the most since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. That includes about 3,500 Marines sent to southern Afghanistan to train police and fight the rising insurgency there.

The 101st, based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was last deployed to Iraq in 2005-06.
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Afghan minister's trip to Kashmir
Altaf Hussain BBC News, Srinagar Thursday, 10 April 2008 16:23 UK
Afghanistan's Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak has made a one-day visit to Indian-administered Kashmir to see counter-insurgency operations.

Mr Wardak visited the headquarters of the army's 15th corps in Srinagar, where the officiating corps commander briefed him on the security situation.

More than 50,000 people have been killed since an armed uprising began against Indian rule in Kashmir in 1989.

Those killed have include militants, civilians and security personnel.

Indian authorities say a near-normal situation has been restored and that only "residual militancy" remains.

A large number of Afghan militants joined the anti-India campaign soon after the armed conflict broke out.

No evidence

Likewise, several Kashmiri militants fought alongside Afghan militants against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in early 1990s.

However, there has been no evidence of Taleban or al-Qaeda militants' presence in Kashmir.

Abdul Rahim Wardak, who is on a weeklong visit to India, is the first-ever Afghan minister to arrive in Kashmir.

He heads a six-member delegation and is also accompanied by his wife.

Mr Wardak had a meeting with his Indian counterpart, AK Antony on Tuesday.

India has ruled out any military involvement in Afghanistan, but has pledged to continue helping in reconstruction and rehabilitation.
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'No Redeployment of Korean Troops to Afghanistan'
By Jung Sung-ki The Korea Times Staff Reporter
South Korean officials expressed negative views Friday about the idea of redeploying forces to Afghanistan to support U.S.-led stabilizing operations in the central Asian nation.

``We've just pulled our troops out of Afghanistan. I think it will be impossible to send them again,'' a senior military source said on condition of anonymity, responding to a report that Washington wants to discuss Seoul's troops redeployment to Afghanistan with the Lee Myung-bak government.

In a congressional confirmation hearing Wednesday, Kathleen Stephens, the U.S. ambassador-designate to South Korea, expressed hope that the issue will be discussed during the upcoming summit between Presidents Lee and George W. Bush next week, Yonhap News Agency reported.

``I think this is a discussion we should have with the new government. I think we need to discuss what the needs are in Afghanistan and see how they can contribute,'' Stephens said.

She was responding to questions from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who asked why Seoul was hesitant to send forces there despite requests from Washington to help stabilize Afghanistan, according to Yonhap.

``South Korea understands the need to have stability at its border,'' the senator said, suggesting that such an understanding should extend to security in central Asia. ``I would hope that in this new opportunity we have with you and the new president, that we will make that case.''

Last December, all South Korean non-combatant troops returned home, ending their five-year-long humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, following the death of a soldier in a suicide bomb attack and the abduction of 22 South Koreans by Taliban militants.

After the troop pullout, South Korea has been contributing to the security of the central Asian country by joining the NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT).

PRT is an administrative unit administering international aid to Afghanistan and Iraq, consisting of civilians and military specialists who perform small construction projects or provide security for others involved in aid and reconstruction work.

A Defense Ministry official said the United States has not requested the redeployment.

``That's just remarks made by the ambassador-designate during a confirmation hearing. We haven't received any request on troop redeployment to Afghanistan from the U.S. government,'' the official said.

South Korean forces consisting of engineers and medics conducted humanitarian and rehabilitation work in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2007.

The Dongui Medical Unit was dispatched to the country in September 2002 to support the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom aimed at toppling the Taliban regime that ruled most of the country from 1996 to 2001. The Dasan Engineering Unit was sent to the country a year later.

The operation was initiated in late 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks and Islamic extremists refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, who the United States accused of masterminding the attacks on U.S. soil. Washington also aimed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base for operations.

About 44,000 coalition forces from 44 nations are conducting military operations in the country under the command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, according to reports.
gallantjung@koreatimes.co.kr
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Terror planner dies on Afghan border
April 10, 2008 Washington Times, DC
By Jerry Seper - Senior al Qaeda planner Abu Obeida al Masri, identified by authorities as a key suspect in the 2005 London transit bombings and a foiled 2006 plot to blow up U.S.-bound commercial airliners, has died, U.S. counterterrorism officials said yesterday.

Described as a "senior external operations planner" for Osama bin Laden and third in command of the al Qaeda terrorist network, al Masri reportedly died last year in the tribal areas along lawless sections of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border of either hepatitis or a blood disease, the officials said.

One U.S. law-enforcement authority said al Qaeda had held off an announcement of the death "in hopes that they could claim martyrdom" as part of a terrorist operation, but none materialized. The death of the Egyptian national reportedly occurred during the past several months.

U.S. and foreign authorities yesterday said it was too early to assess the impact of al Masri's death on al Qaeda's ability to carry out attacks, but they noted that he already has been replaced by another Egyptian, Sheik Sayed al Masri, who was in charge of al Qaeda's finances.

Authorities said Obeida al Masri served as a paramilitary commander in eastern Afghanistan and rose within the al Qaeda ranks after the death of Abu Hamza Rabia, another Egyptian, in a missile strike in Pakistan in 2005.

Air strikes targeting al Qaeda militants in Pakistan in January killed another top al Qaeda commander, Abu Laith al Libi, described as a senior leader thought to have plotted and executed attacks against U.S. and coalition forces, including a February 2007 bombing at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney.

Another top al Qaeda leader, Abu Musab Zarqawi, once described as the most-wanted terrorist in Iraq, was killed in June 2006 when U.S. warplanes dropped 500-pound bombs on his safe house. Zarqawi's death was considered America"s single-biggest victory in nearly five years of fighting Islamist terrorism.

In Pakistan, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told the Associated Press he had no information about Obeida al Masri's death. The Pakistani government initially reported in 2006 that Obeida al Masri had been killed during a CIA Predator aircraft strike.

Obeida al Masri, operating out of the mountainous Afghan province of Kunar, is thought to have been in charge of planning attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces. Violence in southern and eastern Afghanistan spiked last year, leaving about 1,600 people dead, including a surge in suicide attacks — a change of tactics by the militants.

He has been identified as one of one of the planners behind the London transit suicide attacks in July 2005. A series of coordinated bomb blasts rocked London's public transportation system during the morning rush hour, with three bombs exploding within 50 seconds of each other on three London Underground trains.

A fourth bomb exploded on a bus nearly an hour later. The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four suicide bombers, while injuring another 700. It was the largest and deadliest terrorist attack on London in the city's history.

Obeida al Masri also has been tied to a failed plot to explode trans-Atlantic flights bound for the United States and Canada in 2006.
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Afghan FM: Olympic Games must not be used as political means
www.chinaview.cn  2008-04-10 20:57:25
KABUL, April 10 (Xinhua) -- The Afghan Foreign Ministry on Thursday said the Beijing Olympic Games represents peace and reconciliation, and it should not be used as a political matter.

"In our opinion, Olympia is an opportunity for peace and reconciliation. We wish success for the Beijing Olympic Games and it must not be used as political means," Foreign Ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen said at his weekly press briefing.

Baheen also said that five athletes from Afghanistan would attend the Beijing Olympic Games to be held in August.
Editor: Song Shutao 
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Afghan drills vital to save lives
By Cameron Buttle BBC Scotland Thursday, 10 April 2008 15:50 UK
Inside the camp walls of Lashkar Gah military base in southern Afghanistan A Company of the Royal Highland Fusiliers practise their emergency drills.

They drill this again and again, every time they prepare for a patrol outside the camp walls. It has to be instinctive, no hesitation.

Sgt Davie Forrester, from Kilmarnock, is happy enough with the drills. The next day he will take the soldiers out of the camp walls on one of their first patrols in the town.

The aim is to get the drivers used to the town and the Fusiliers used to the heat, soon it will peak in the high 40s.

As the patrol heads through the streets I can hear the soldiers shouting back hellos but then their weapons swing round in the turret and the shouts are warnings to halt, to keep back from the patrol. Anyone could be a threat here.

Tough tour

Soon the patrol reaches a VP - a vulnerable point.

The threat comes from the drainage ditches at the side of the road, an easy place to hide a bomb.

I watch from the turret as some of the fusiliers dismount and begin checking the culverts slowly walking the three Land Rovers through.

It's easy to see how important the drills back at base are. If anything did happen, there would be little room for manoeuvre, few options and no time to think.

The Fusiliers' commanding officer, Lt Col Nick Borton, told me he thought his men were ready for what was going to be a tough tour.

"Although the Taleban may have declared a spring offensive we've not seen it yet and to be honest the weather has not really reached it's peak," he said. "Who knows what's going to happen?"

"Previous units have had great success against the Taleban and it may be that we've got them on the back foot.

"We have to wait and see as to whether or not they genuinely do live up to whatever they say they're going to do."

This patrol was uneventful, everyone returned unharmed and perhaps a little wiser as to what's ahead.

They'll be doing this a lot over the next six months.
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Senator says he sees improvements in Afghanistan
CTV.ca, Canada Wed. Apr. 9 2008 CTV.ca News Staff
A Liberal senator who just returned from Afghanistan says he's definitely seen improvements there since his last visit, citing a new road project and better co-operation.

Sen. Colin Kenny, chair of the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence, told Canada AM on Wednesday that an Afghan elder in the volatile Panjwaii district praised a road-building project there that employs about 400 Afghans.

"He was very positive about the employment, the use of the road. It was a project that Afghans wanted for themselves," he said, but added that the workers came under harassment from the Taliban.
"Our sense was that we were doing things there that Afghans wanted, that would be of use to them, and that we were being well received by them."

Top Canadian and Afghan provincial officials held a ceremony Monday to celebrate the $4.5-million project, which will create a 6.5-kilometre stretch of paved road when completed in October.
The project is being carried out using manual labour, rather than the heavy equipment that would be used in Canada.

There are plans to eventually pave about 22 kilometres of road in the district, which is considered the Taliban's heartland.

Paved roads will help Afghan farmers move their produce to market more easily -- and it will make it tougher for the Taliban to plant roadside bombs, which are responsible for the vast majority of injuries and fatalities suffered by Canadian soldiers these days.

Kenny, who has been to Afghanistan three times, said the various Canadian agencies in Kandahar province seem to be working together much better than during his last visit a year ago.

One recommendation of this winter's Manley panel report was that the federal government improve its communications with Canadians about the mission.

"I think we have to publicize it more," Kenny said.

A dinner with Afghan provincial officials, in which they said how Canada's efforts were making a difference in their region, could have been televised, he said. "We would have been happy to have the media there."

More cabinet ministers and the prime minister should speak up more about the mission and explain exactly what Canada is trying to accomplish in Afghanistan, he said.

Canada's military mission is to last in the country until December 2011, but the government has said Canada will be involved in Afghanistan after that date, but with a focus on development and governance rather than security.

Eighty-two Canadian soldiers, one diplomat and one volunteer civilian aid worker have died in Afghanistan since 2002. The body of latest soldier to die, Pte. Terry Street, arrived back in Canada Tuesday evening.

At the recent NATO summit, the U.S. said it will shift 1,000 troops to Kandahar province to help bolster Canada's existing 2,500 troops.
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