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April 18, 2008 

Suicide blast kills 17 in Afghan bazaar: governor
Thu Apr 17, 1:35 PM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - At least 17 people, including two police officers, died on Thursday when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a bazaar in the southwestern Afghan province Nimroz, the provincial governor said.

Suicide Bomber Kills 23 in Remote Afghan Province
The New York Times, 04/18/2008 By Carlotta Gall
KABUL - A suicide bomber struck outside a mosque in southwestern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing 23 people, including two senior police officials and several children, officials said Thursday evening.

Poisoned wheat kills 10, sickens 100 in Afghanistan: officials
Thu Apr 17, 1:22 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Ten Afghans have died and more than 100 have fallen ill with liver disease after eating wheat contaminated with a poisonous plant, heightening food insecurity in the country, officials said Thursday.

UN warns Pakistan on refugee plan
Friday, 18 April 2008 BBC News
Pakistan needs to revise a plan to repatriate 2.4 million Afghan refugees by the end of 2009, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has said.

Bodies of engineers killed in Afghanistan arrive in India
Times of India, India, 17 Apr 2008 NEW DELHI
The bodies of the two Indian engineers who lost their lives in a suicide bomb attack on Saturday while working on a road project in Afghanistan were brought to Delhi on Tuesday morning. After the Afghan ambassador and officials from Border Road Organisation (BRO)

Since 2001, a Dramatic Increase in Suicide Bombings
Washington Post, United States By Robin Wright Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, April 18, 2008
Suicide bombers conducted 658 attacks around the world last year, including 542 in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, according to data compiled by U.S. government experts.

Germany pledges more training officers, aid to Afghanistan
Xinhua, China www.chinaview.cn 2008-04-18
BERLIN-Germany Thursday pledged more security training staff members and civilian assistance to Afghanistan.

Afghans Want Sen. Obama for US President
Somalis Support Sen. Clinton as Peace Partner
The Seoul Times Friday, April 18, 2008
LONDON-The people of Afghanistan would like to see US presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama take over at the White House, while Somalis would prefer to work with Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Clinton, according to a series

Al-Qaeda adds muscle to the Taliban's fight
Asia Times Online - South Asia News By Syed Saleem Shahzad Apr 19, 2008
KARACHI-From many hundreds, al-Qaeda now has fewer than 75 Arabs involved in the Afghan "war on terror" theater, but the group is more lethal in that it has successfully established a local franchise of warriors who have fully embraced

Carryings on up the Khyber
By Andrew McGregor – Asia Times online 4.11.08
Taliban deputy leader Mullah Bradar Muhammad Akhand announced "a new series of operations" under the code name Operation Ebrat (Lesson) on March 27. The Taliban's spring offensive is "aimed at giving the enemy a lesson through

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Suicide blast kills 17 in Afghan bazaar: governor
Thu Apr 17, 1:35 PM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - At least 17 people, including two police officers, died on Thursday when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a bazaar in the southwestern Afghan province Nimroz, the provincial governor said.

The attack happened near a mosque in Nimroz's provincial capital Zaranj just after dusk, Ghula Dastagir Azad told Reuters.

"I can say that at least 17 people including two police officers have been killed and 35 have been wounded in this suicide attack," he told Reuters by phone from Zaranj.

He said children were among the victims of the attack, the latest example of increasing violence in Afghanistan following the traditional winter lull.

The governor said the attack, the bloodiest suicide blast this month in the country, was the work of "Afghanistan's enemies," a term often used by government officials for describing Taliban insurgents and al Qaeda allies.

Impoverished and remote Nimroz lies near the border with Iran. Two Indian road engineers were killed this week in the province in a suicide attack for which the Taliban claimed responsibility.

Earlier on Thursday, several dozen Taliban were killed in a series of clashes involving Afghan and foreign troops in two provinces to the southwest of Kabul, provincial officials said.

And two NATO soldiers were wounded when a remote-controlled blast hit their vehicle in an area near the border with Pakistan, an official from the region said.

The Taliban could not be contacted for comment about the suicide blast in Zaranj and the reports of the deaths of their own fighters. A spokesman earlier said the blast against NATO troops was the work of an al Qaeda-backed militant group.

Removed from power in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban lead an insurgency against the government and foreign troops under the command of NATO and the U.S. military.

More than 11,000 people have been killed in the last two years, the bloodiest period since the overthrow of the Taliban, despite the presence of more than 55,000 foreign troops and some 140,000 national forces.
(Writing by Sayed Salahuddin; editing by Andrew Roche)
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Suicide Bomber Kills 23 in Remote Afghan Province
The New York Times, 04/18/2008 By Carlotta Gall
KABUL - A suicide bomber struck outside a mosque in southwestern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing 23 people, including two senior police officials and several children, officials said Thursday evening.

An estimated 31 people were wounded in the explosion, which occurred just before evening prayers in the border town of Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz Province.

Nimruz is a remote desert area, sparsely populated and poorly policed, where traffickers smuggle drugs across into neighboring Iran. There has also been an increase in insurgent activity in the province.

Many of those killed and wounded were civilians, shopkeepers and guests at a hotel, the provincial governor, Ghulam Dastagir Azad, said by telephone.

He said he believed that police officials had been the bomber’s targets. One of those killed was Bismillah Khan, a district police chief, and another was the commander of a battalion of border guards, he said.

“They are the enemy of the poor people, the enemy of human beings,” the governor said of the attackers.

Also on Thursday, the American military said that two United States marines from a unit that arrived last month had been killed and that two were wounded Wednesday morning when an explosion hit their convoy in the southern province of Kandahar.

Under NATO rules their nationality was not released immediately, said Capt. Kelly Frushour, the unit’s public affairs officer. She gave few details of the episode except to say that it had been a hostile attack, and that the wounded were being sent to the American military base at Landstuhl, Germany.

The marines came from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a force of 3,200 that was sent to Afghanistan recently to help NATO troops faced with a continued insurgency in southern and eastern Afghanistan. NATO commanders in Afghanistan have called for more forces repeatedly over the last two years, but were rebuffed until the Marine unit arrived.

The marines came with their own artillery, helicopters and Harrier fighter planes, and were expected to add considerable combat capability to the NATO forces, which have struggled to contain the Taliban insurgency since being deployed in 2006.

About 2,200 of the marines will work with NATO forces and serve as a task force capable of being used across the country as needed. The remaining 1,000 will provide training and support for the Afghan Army and police forces under United States command.

The Marine unit has been stationed at an air base just outside the city of Kandahar, and has yet to see combat.

In comments reported in The Baltimore Sun, members of the unit complained recently that the slow and cumbersome NATO command structure had delayed them from being utilized, and that they had been wasting time on the base rather than fighting insurgents.
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Poisoned wheat kills 10, sickens 100 in Afghanistan: officials
Thu Apr 17, 1:22 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Ten Afghans have died and more than 100 have fallen ill with liver disease after eating wheat contaminated with a poisonous plant, heightening food insecurity in the country, officials said Thursday.

The plant, known locally as Charmak, grows in wheat fields and was harvested at the same time in the remote Gulran district in western Herat province bordering Iran, said health officials.

A similar outbreak of the disease in Afghanistan in 1974 killed dozens of people. There have also been cases in India and some central Asian nations in recent years.

"Yes, I confirm more than 100 people have been affected and 10 people have died. We learnt about it in early February," public health ministry spokesman Abdullah Fahim told AFP.

"This is the second outbreak of the disease since 1974. It's caused by eating a certain plant that grows in the wheat fields," said Fahim, who is also a medical doctor.

The condition is caused by alkaloids in plants from several herbs, including comfrey, formerly used to make a popular herbal tea in many parts of the world.

People who consume them develop liver disease and many die while others suffer long-term health problems.

"Back then (in 1974) the plant was eliminated and the people were told to not consume it. I think it has come back," he said.

Ghulam Sayed Rashid, head of the provincial health department, also confirmed that about 10 people had died from the disease and that his department was working to curb the epidemic.

"What we've done in an emergency response to the outbreak is we have told people to stop consuming the wheat from their own district which is likely to be containing the poison," he told AFP.

The Afghan Red Crescent Society in Herat said it had distributed wheat to local residents.

Aid officials said earlier this week that in response to growing food insecurity, they had stepped up assistance to more than two million Afghans in recent months.

In recent months, bad harvests, rising global population and the development of biofuels have all contributed to rapid rises in global food prices.
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UN warns Pakistan on refugee plan
Friday, 18 April 2008 BBC News
Pakistan needs to revise a plan to repatriate 2.4 million Afghan refugees by the end of 2009, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has said.

The head of the UN refugee agency in Pakistan, Guenet Guebre-Christos, told the BBC that the plan was unworkable and would create instability.

Pakistan said it still hopes most of the refugees will return by the end of next year.

It says Taleban militants blamed for attacks often shelter in refugee camps.

'Painful process'

The UNHCR has already agreed to Pakistan's plan to shut down four camps that Islamabad says pose a security threat.

Many of the refugees fled during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Most live in towns or cities, rather than camps.

Pakistan announced the plan to repatriate the refugees early in 2007, when relations with Afghanistan were particularly tense.

Repatriations are supposed to be voluntary, but many refugees say they do not want to return.

"Since 2001 almost five million Afghans have returned from Iran, Pakistan and other places and for a country that has been ravaged by war for the last 30 years, rebuilding is a very slow and painful process," Ms Guebre-Christos said.

"Some areas in Afghanistan are not yet very secure, so assuming that all Afghans must return immediately is a fallacy.

"Therefore we count on the government of Pakistan to continue to be a generous host, and to review the situation constantly."

The UNHCR argues that "people are not commodities" and that the plan needed to be "revised and reviewed".

It said that refugees who were repatriated would likely go back to Pakistan as illegal immigrants.

"Because of the porous border they are likely to return," Ms Guebre-Christos said, "and they will simply inflate the number of illegal migrants in Pakistan.

"On the other side, these are also the poorest of the poor, and they could join other undesirable elements, and fight back."

But Pakistan's commissioner for Afghan refugees, Imran Zeb Khan, said his country should not have to "carry the burden" of the refugees alone, and would still try to get close to its target for 2009.

"We will give it our best shot," he said.

Millions of Afghan refugees have already returned from Pakistan, Iran and other countries since the fall of the Taleban in 2001.
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Bodies of engineers killed in Afghanistan arrive in India
Times of India, India, 17 Apr 2008 NEW DELHI
The bodies of the two Indian engineers who lost their lives in a suicide bomb attack on Saturday while working on a road project in Afghanistan were brought to Delhi on Tuesday morning. After the Afghan ambassador and officials from Border Road Organisation (BRO) placed wreaths on the coffins, the bodies were flown to the respective home towns.

According to sources, the bodies of Mahendra Pratap Singh, a resident of Varanasi and C Govindasamy of Bangalore were flown into Delhi at 10.45 am.

The two were working on a road project in Gurguri village in the southwestern district of Nimroz when at 9 am local time, a man emerged from a car and blew himself up. Five other Indians and two Afghan personnel were also injured in the attack.

The bodies of the deceased were airlifted to Kabul and then flown to Delhi on Tuesday. From the international terminal, the bodies were brought to the Shraddhanjali Sthal towards the domestic terminal where they received a guard of honour and Afghan Ambassador S Makhdoom Raheen and DG of BRO, Lt Gen A K Nanda placed wreaths on the coffins.

Nanda, when addressing media personnel after the ceremony, said: "We are taking all possible measures to protect our personnel in Afghanistan. We have taken steps to further tighten security."

Arrangements were then made to transfer the bodies to the respective hometowns. While there were no flights to Varanasi in the afternoon after the wreath laying ceremony was over, Singh's body was taken to Varanasi in a special Air Force plane.

Govindaswamy's body, however, was flown to Bangalore in an Indian Airlines flight, IC 403, at 4.30 pm. This was the second such attack on road building crew in a week. Authorities suspect the hand of the Taliban extremists in the attack.
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Since 2001, a Dramatic Increase in Suicide Bombings
Washington Post, United States By Robin Wright Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, April 18, 2008
Suicide bombers conducted 658 attacks around the world last year, including 542 in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, according to data compiled by U.S. government experts.

The large number of attacks -- more than double the number in any of the past 25 years -- reflects a trend that has surprised and worried U.S. intelligence and military analysts.

More than four-fifths of the suicide bombings over that period have occurred in the past seven years, the data show. The bombings have spread to dozens of countries on five continents, killed more than 21,350 people and injured about 50,000 since 1983, when a landmark attack blew up the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.

Today is the 25-year anniversary of that attack, the first of a series of large suicide bombings targeting Americans overseas.

"Increasingly, we are seeing the globalization of suicide bombs, no longer confined to conflict zones but happening anywhere," said Mohammed Hafez of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and author of the book "Suicide Bombers in Iraq." He calls the contemporary perpetrators "martyrs without borders."

The unpublished data show that since 1983, bombers in more than 50 groups from Argentina to Algeria, Croatia to China, and India to Indonesia have adapted car bombs to make explosive belts, vests, toys, motorcycles, bikes, boats, backpacks and false-pregnancy stomachs.

Of 1,840 incidents in the past 25 years, more than 86 percent have occurred since 2001, and the highest annual numbers have occurred in the past four years. The sources who provided the data to The Washington Post asked that they not be identified because of the sensitivity of the tallies.

The data show more than 920 suicide bombings in Iraq and more than 260 in Afghanistan, including some that killed scores of U.S. troops. All occurred after the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

The exact number of U.S. casualties from the bombs in Iraq is classified "because it might show the effectiveness of the enemy's weapon," said Maj. Brad Leighton, a U.S. spokesman in Iraq. "They won't even give the number to me."

More than 3,420 Americans have died in at least 10 major suicide bombing incidents, beginning with the embassy bombing in Beirut, which killed 63 people, including 17 Americans, and injured more than 100. The bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut six months later killed 241 and still ranks as the largest loss of American military life in a single incident since the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.

Both attacks caught Washington by surprise, despite suicide bombings against the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut in 1981 and an Israeli military headquarters in south Lebanon in 1983. "We at the embassy collectively saw the political situation as improving," said Richard Gannon, the regional security officer at the time.

The FBI and the CIA still do not know the identity of the bomber who, 25 years ago, drove a dark delivery van loaded with explosives past the red-and-white-striped security booth straight into the seven-story embassy overlooking the Mediterranean, ripping off the entire front facade.

Anne Dammarell, who worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development, vividly remembers being pinned under concrete with 19 broken bones, unable to move as flames approached. She said she decided to gulp smoke to "suffocate before being burned to death. I thought that would be easier."

The FBI eventually blamed a cell of Shiite extremists that later evolved into Hezbollah, and said Iran provided aid and direction. But few specifics are known to this day, and no one has been brought to justice, as in many such attacks.

At least two-thirds of suicide bombings since 1983 have targeted U.S. policy goals, intelligence officials say. "They may be targeting the U.S. but not hitting either the American homeland or American interests in other countries," said Gary LaFree, director of the University of Maryland's National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.

Few of the perpetrators have been identified. "We're dependent on the terrorist group to make a public claim or release a martyrdom tape," said Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University, author of "Inside Terrorism." "But if the bomber was never fingerprinted or governments do not have their DNA, he or she usually remains anonymous. What makes it so formidable a tactic or strategy is these legions of unknown soldiers deployed against us."

The State Department will hold a commemoration of the Beirut attack this morning.  
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Germany pledges more training officers, aid to Afghanistan
Xinhua, China www.chinaview.cn 2008-04-18
BERLIN-Germany Thursday pledged more security training staff members and civilian assistance to Afghanistan.

The number of German police training officers would be increased to 45 from the current 30, Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said here after meeting with UN special envoy Kai Eide.

Jung said the number of military trainers had been doubled to 110 since August last year, and a further increase is planned.

Jung also announced that Germany would increase its contributions to civilian reconstruction in Afghanistan to 140 million euros (220 million U.S. dollars) from 80 million euros (127 million U.S. dollars) previously.

By 2010, total contributions are expected to hit 900 million euros (1,431 million U.S. dollars).

In his visit to Berlin, Eide also met with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Editor: Sun Yunlong
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Afghans Want Sen. Obama for US President
Somalis Support Sen. Clinton as Peace Partner
The Seoul Times Friday, April 18, 2008
LONDON-The people of Afghanistan would like to see US presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama take over at the White House, while Somalis would prefer to work with Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Clinton, according to a series of interviews conducted over the past month by The Senlis Council in Afghanistan and Somalia.

When asked which of the presidential candidates they would back, 69% of those questioned in Afghanistan favoured Obama, with 26% in favour of Clinton. In Somalia, 47% of civilians surveyed supported Clinton, with 44% backing Obama.

"What we are seeing is that Afghans have overwhelming support of Senator Obama because they are attracted by his promises to bring peace and end the war in Iraq," said Norine MacDonald QC, president and lead field researcher of The Senlis Council.

"Most interestingly, we found unified support for Sen. Clinton amongst Somalis associated with the Islamic courts, and the extremist parts of the community. According to their perceptions of Sen. Clinton's character and experience, she is best suited as a partner to build peace with Muslims."

Somalis interviewed believed that Sen. Obama could avoid engaging in Islamic issues because he would be vulnerable to allegations of being overly sympathetic to a Muslim viewpoints, given his family's Muslim background.

"Obama will not be able to deliver a positive working relationship with the Muslim people. The US people are very suspicious of his Muslim background and if they see him in a room with Muslim leaders they will not trust him to represents US interests," said one of the respondents in Mogadishu.

The strongest support for Obama in the Somali community came from those most closely associated with the Somali government.

Afghans and Somalis aware of US elections; calls for peace from both countries

"The interviews revealed a high level of awareness amongst Afghans and Somalis of the upcoming US presidential elections," said Gabrielle Archer, policy analyst at The Senlis Council. "Their knowledge of the candidates shows that people in both countries realise the significant impact that the choice of US president plays in their lives."

In offering a message to the next US president, peace was an overriding concern amongst both Afghan and Somali respondents, refuting any perception that ordinary Afghans and Somalis are interested in perpetuating their own conflicts.

"Afghans and Somalis alike want to pursue peace," said Archer. "They hope the next president will see the vital importance of support in both Afghanistan and Somalia as an integral part of US foreign policy."
Little support for Sen. McCain in Afghanistan and Somalia

In both countries, support for Senator McCain was very low, with just 5% of respondents in Afghanistan and 9% in Somalia opting for the Republican nominee.

"McCain is no different to Bush at all. We would be very concerned if McCain was elected. The whole world is looking to the US to bring back the dignity and morality of the US," said a businessman from Mogadishu.

A total of 388 people were interviewed in Afghanistan in the cities of Kabul, Jalalabad, Kandahar City and Lashkar Gah, while 302 Somalis were questioned in Mogadishu, Baidoa and Hargeisa. The series of interviews were part of initial research that precedes a comparative study of the insurgency and politics of both countries, which will be released on the 23rd of April in London.
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Al-Qaeda adds muscle to the Taliban's fight
Asia Times Online - South Asia News By Syed Saleem Shahzad Apr 19, 2008
KARACHI-From many hundreds, al-Qaeda now has fewer than 75 Arabs involved in the Afghan "war on terror" theater, but the group is more lethal in that it has successfully established a local franchise of warriors who have fully embraced al-Qaeda's ideology and who are capable of conducting a war of attrition against the coalition in Afghanistan.

In the years following the United States-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, al-Qaeda lost hundreds of members, either killed or arrested or departed to other regions. These included diehard Arab ideologues such as Mustapha Seth Marium (arrested) and commanders Abu Laith al-Libbi (killed) and Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi (arrested) .

And this month, news of the death in January of Abdul Hameed, alias Abu Obaida al-Misri, from Hepatitis B, was released to Western intelligence. He was a most-trusted aide of al-Qaeda deputy Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri and had been appointed by Osama bin Laden as the head of the khuruj (revolt) in Pakistan. He was in his mid-50s.

While al-Qaeda was suffering losses, Pakistan's tribal areas became increasingly radicalized, which al-Qaeda was able to tap into to reinvigorate the Afghan insurgency. When military operations chopped off its vertical growth, it grew horizontally.

This defied intelligence estimates, polls, analysis and strategic opinions. Former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld was of the opinion that by 2003, as a result of US military operations in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda had been destroyed as an organization and it was unable to strike against US interests.

However, the US National Intelligence Estimate report in July 2007 said al-Qaeda had regrouped and posed a threat to the US homeland. Recently, US President George W Bush also said al-Qaeda was a serious threat.

The year 2007 was important for al-Qaeda's development as several stand-alone Arab groups operating in Pakistan's tribal areas, including Libyans and Egyptians, either merged into al-Qaeda or made an alliance in which they would be subservient to al-Qaeda's command.

With al-Qaeda losing key members, a vacuum should have been created, but that did not happen, and another figure has emerged - Maulana Ilyas Kashmiri. He is a veteran fighter of the Kashmir struggle, groomed by Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence's India cell.

Islamabad's clampdown on activities in Kashmir and being arrested a few times disheartened Kashmiri, and he moved to the North Waziristan tribal area. He was soon followed by his diehard Punjabi colleagues and they made Afghanistan their new battlefield.

This year, a "crossbreed" of fighters - a combination of Arab command and that of Kashmiri, as well as an alliance with tribal warlord Baitullah Mehsud - is expected to spring some surprises in Afghanistan.
"The Taliban are tribal warriors. They only understand guerrilla operations as hit-and-run raids," a group leader for the Taliban-led spring offensive told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity.

"They are not familiar, for instance, with mopping operations. The new fighters who were trained for Kashmir are expert in these operations and this year this expertise will certainly make a difference in Afghanistan," the group leader said, in reference to attacks in which guerrillas hit a target and completely destroy it before they leave.

Another improvement this year will be the introduction of new technology, and again credit for this goes to the Punjabi fighters. These include a mortar that is under a meter long and weighs only five kilograms, and silencers for AK 47s. The Punjabis believe such weapons will enable them to start special operations, such as targeted killings of high-profile enemies.

The strategy to cut the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) supply lines was the brainchild of the Punjabi fighters. They also chose Pakistan's Khyber Agency and the neighboring Afghan province of Nangarhar - most unlikely places for Taliban operations - as the focus of the spring offensive.

Wednesday's events in Khyber Agency are illuminating and could herald a new flashpoint in the "war on terror".

Local tribes were given money by the Americans to secure the area from Taliban activities. US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte recently visited Khyber Agency and met a few tribal elders. As a result, the tribesmen gave an ultimatum to the pro-Taliban Lashkar-i-Islam, as well as to the Pakistan government's representative in the agency, to leave the area.

Lashkar-i-Islam refused, leading to clashes with anti-Taliban forces supported by Pakistani troops. Fighting raged into early Thursday and involved heavy weapons, including missiles, rockets and mortars. Taliban contacts confirmed to Asia Times Online that this event will lead to a new round of attacks against Pakistani security forces.

In addition, the Taliban have escalated attacks on a highway being built in Nimroze (a few Indian workers were killed) which connects Afghanistan to Iran's Chabahar port. The only alternative remains the "doubly land-locked route" through Russia, which is a difficult if not impossible route for NATO supplies.

The Taliban have also suspended suicide attacks to allow political parties like the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz group), the second-largest party in the ruling coalition government, to counter US influence on military operations in Pakistan. The League is said to have a soft spot for militants. If the government succumbs to US pressure, the militants will resume the attacks. (The use of local tribes against the pro-Taliban militia in Khyber Agency is good enough reason to switch on the attacks.)

In a new round of violence in Pakistan, the death of Abu Obaida al-Misri could have been a blow. But under a new arrangement, Khalid Habib is the new man in-charge in coordination with an Arab and Ilyas Kashmiri - a formidable troika for the Pakistani security forces.

The militants often discuss the dwindling numbers of Arab fighters within their ranks, and in doing so refer to the Prophet Mohammad's saying that before the end of time battles, the Arab tribes will be reduced to minimum numbers. The militants take strength from this.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com
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Carryings on up the Khyber
By Andrew McGregor – Asia Times online 4.11.08
Taliban deputy leader Mullah Bradar Muhammad Akhand announced "a new series of operations" under the code name Operation Ebrat (Lesson) on March 27. The Taliban's spring offensive is "aimed at giving the enemy a lesson through directing powerful strikes at it, which it can never expect, until it is forced to end the occupation of Afghanistan and withdraw all the occupier soldiers ... We will add to the tactics and experiences of the past years new types of operations. The operations will also be expanded to cover all locations of the country, in order for the enemy to be weighed down everywhere."

There are indications that a main target of the offensive will be the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier, in particular the strategically vital Khyber Pass. Citing an improvement in the skills and capacity of
the Afghanistan National Army (ANA), Afghanistan's Defense Ministry immediately dismissed the announcement as "a psychological campaign and not a reality which could be implemented on the ground". In reality, the situation along the border is extremely precarious and threatens the ability of coalition forces to operate within Afghanistan.

The first in a planned series of six joint intelligence centers along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border was opened at the Afghanistan border town of Torkham on March 29.

When the plan is fully implemented there will be three such centers on each side of the border at a cost of US$3 million each. There are high hopes for the centers, which have been described by the US commander in Afghanistan as "the cornerstone upon which future cooperative efforts will grow". According to US Brigadier General Joe Votel, "The macro view is to disrupt insurgents from going back and forth, going into Afghanistan and back into Pakistan, too. This is not going to instantly stop the infiltration problem, but it's a good step forward."

The centers are designed to coordinate intelligence-gathering and sharing between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the intelligence agencies of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The project is an outgrowth of the earlier Joint Intelligence Operations Center (JIOC) established in Kabul in January 2007. This center, comprising 12 ISAF, six Afghan and six Pakistani intelligence officers, was initiated by the military intelligence sharing working group, a subcommittee of the tripartite plenary commission of military commanders that meets on a bimonthly basis. The JIOC is designed to facilitate intelligence-sharing, joint operations planning and an exchange of information on improvised explosive devices. The working languages are English, Dari and Pashto, aided by a number of translators.

The new border centers will each be manned by 15 to 20 intelligence agents. One of the main innovations is the ability to view real-time video feeds from US surveillance aircraft. The commander of US troops in Afghanistan, Major General David Rodriguez, described the centers as "a giant step forward in cooperation, communication and coordination".

Despite such glowing descriptions, there remains one hitch - Pakistan's military has yet to make a full commitment to the project. According to Major General Athar Abbas, the director general of Pakistan's Inter-Services Public Relations, a military information organization, "At this time this proposal is being analyzed and evaluated by the concerned officials. But Pakistan has not yet come to a decision on this matter.".

General Abbas and other officials have declined to discuss Pakistan's reservations or even to commit to a deadline for a decision. It is possible that the failure to sign on as full partners in the project may have something to do with the stated intention of Pakistan's new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, to pursue a greater focus on negotiation than military action in dealing with the Taliban and other frontier militants. There may also be reservations on the part of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to share intelligence on their clients within the Taliban.

Actual intelligence cooperation along the border is hampered by a number of factors, not least of which is a basic inability to agree on exactly where the border lies. In the past, Pakistan has responded to complaints from Afghanistan of Taliban fighters infiltrating across the border by threatening to fence or even mine the frontier, a shocking proposal to the Pashtun clans that straddle the artificial divide. Afghanistan's long-standing policy is simply to refuse recognition of the colonial-era Durand Line, which it claims was forced on it by British imperialists in 1893. Pakistan accepts the Durand Line, but the two nations are frequently unable to agree on exactly where the 2,400-kilometer line is drawn.

The United States is pursuing a number of initiatives to increase security and diminish the influence of the Taliban in the frontier regions of Pakistan, including a massive economic aid program, counter-insurgency training for the Frontier Corps and enhancement of the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA's) monitoring and surveillance abilities in the area.

The CIA already gathers information on the region from overflights of its unmanned Predator surveillance aircraft, which can also deliver precisely targeted missiles on suspected Taliban safe houses. Complicating efforts to increase security in the border region is a belief within Pakistan that the United States is preparing to intervene militarily in Pakistan's frontier region.

In a March 30 interview, CIA director Michael Hayden declared that the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region would be the most probable source for new terrorist attacks on the United States: "If there is another terrorist attack, it will originate there." The CIA chief warned that the situation along the border "presents a clear and present danger to Afghanistan, to Pakistan, and to the West in general and to the United States in particular". Hayden also suggested that Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri were present in the Pakistan tribal frontier, where they were training "operatives who look Western".

A spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry responded angrily to the CIA director's comments, stating that if the United States has information about the whereabouts of the al-Qaeda leadership, it should share it with Pakistan so it can take action. "Such a statement does not help trace alleged hideouts ... Terrorists have threatened Pakistan and targeted our people. We are, therefore, combating terrorism in our own interest."

Syed Munawar Hasan, leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan's largest Islamic political party, suggested that Hayden's statements were "white lies", similar to Washington's allegations of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Munawar urged the new government to stand fast in the face of what he described as US threats to invade Pakistan, despite the establishment of a democratic government. The provincial assembly of the North-West Frontier Province issued a unanimous condemnation of Hayden's remarks.

The location of the first joint intelligence center at Torkham reflects the strategic importance of this border town at the Afghanistan end of the fabled Khyber Pass.

It is the main gateway for supplies to US and ISAF forces within Afghanistan and is believed to be one of the main targets for the forthcoming Taliban spring offensive. Linking Afghanistan's Nangarhar province and Pakistan's Khyber Agency, Torkham is traditionally the busiest commercial border post between the two countries.

A new round of attacks on Torkham may have already begun - as many as 40 oil tankers destined for coalition forces in Afghanistan were destroyed in a series of explosions in a Torkham parking lot on March 20. There were 70 to 100 tankers awaiting clearance to cross into Afghanistan at the time.

Only a day before the attack on the tankers, an effort by a US Army colonel to expedite border clearances for military transports at Torkham failed when the chief Pakistani customs official refused to meet with her. Vehicles typically wait in parking lots at Torkham for up to 20 days awaiting clearance to proceed.

Part of the problem is due to delays in permits faxed to Torkham from the US base in Bagram near Kabul - until these are received the vehicles are forbidden to cross into Afghanistan. There are also accusations that some tanker operators may be selling their fuel along the road in Pakistan before deliberately torching their vehicles at Torkham to claim the insurance on the missing load.

Torkham has also become a nearly unregulated transit point for legal and illegal migrants since the demolition of the border gate by the National Highway Authority of Pakistan two years ago. A series of meetings between Afghan and Pakistani officials - attended as well by NATO officials - has been unable to agree on the design and other details of a replacement gate. Smuggling and illegal crossings have spun out of control while tensions between the respective border authorities nearly erupted into open fighting in September 2006.

Pakistan's reluctance to make a full commitment to intelligence-sharing raises a number of difficult questions: Is the ISI still cooperating with or even aiding the Afghan Taliban? Do the military and the intelligence services operate outside of political control? Is it possible to collaborate with the Taliban and not the Taliban's allies, al-Qaeda? Why do the better-armed and better-trained regular forces frequently relinquish their security role in the frontier regions to the poorly-equipped Pashtun Frontier Corps?

After a meeting on security and terrorism issues with chief of army staff Ashfaq Pervez Kiani on April 3, a spokesman for Gillani stated that the prime minister was formulating a comprehensive terrorism strategy "based on political engagement, economic development and backed by a credible military element". Many within the new government believe that President Pervez Musharraf's aggressive military approach to the frontier crisis over the past several years is responsible for the recent rash of suicide bombings and other attacks that have taken scores of lives across the country.

In the meantime, there is a dangerous lack of coordination on border issues in which all parties bear responsibility. There is every indication that the Taliban have identified Torkham as a crucial weak point in the supply and logistics system that maintains the international military presence in Afghanistan. The failure to share intelligence combined with bureaucratic delays and infighting along the Afghanistan/Pakistan frontier threatens the entire coalition mission in Afghanistan.

Dr Andrew McGregor is the director of Aberfoyle International Security in Toronto, Canada.
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