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April 19, 2008 

Taliban hold kidnapped Pakistan envoy to Afghanistan
April 19, 2008
DUBAI (AFP) - Pakistan's envoy to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin, who went missing in February, appeared on Saturday in a video aired by Al-Arabiya news channel in which he said that he was held by the Taliban.

FACTBOX - Pakistan's kidnapped ambassador to Afghanistan
April 19, 2008
(Reuters) - Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan, who went missing in February in the Khyber region, appeared on Arabic television on Saturday saying he was being held by the Taliban and urged Islamabad to meet their demands.

Afghans to probe whether U.S. used depleted uranium
Sat Apr 19, 2008 6:09pm IST By Tan Ee Lyn
KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan government plans to investigate whether the United States used depleted uranium during its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and if it might be linked to malformed babies born afterwards.

Afghanistan detains 68 Pakistani nationals
Sat Apr 19, 5:35 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The Afghan army detained 68 Pakistani men soon after they entered the country over suspected ties with Taliban-linked rebels, the defence ministry said Saturday.

Pregnant Spanish defence minister visits Afghanistan
Sat Apr 19, 8:42 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - Spain's newly appointed Defence Minister Carme Chacon, who is seven months pregnant, made a brief visit to insurgency-hit Afghanistan Saturday to meet Spanish troops, an official said.

Afghanistan moves to center stage
By M K Bhadrakumar Asia Times Online / April 19, 2008
Three or four seemingly unconnected statements within the space of the past week, and the "war on terror" in Afghanistan acquires new shades of meaning. On Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said during

Nato admits mistakenly supplying arms and food to Taliban
The Guardian (UK) / April 19, 2008 Anil Dawar and agencies
Nato forces mistakenly supplied food, water and arms to Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan, officials today admitted.

German held by US in Afghanistan
By FRIEDER REIMOLD Associated PressSat Apr 19, 7:59 AM ET
BERLIN - U.S. authorities in Afghanistan have been holding a German citizen in custody since early January over accusations that he was on a U.S. base without authorization, Germany's Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

Canada wanted detainee kept out of Gitmo
By MICHAEL MELIA April 18, 2008
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) Canada asked the United States not to send former child soldier Omar Khadr to Guantanamo after he was captured in Afghanistan in 2002, according to a letter released on Thursday.

Afghan Commandos Emerge
U.S.-Trained Force Plays Growing Role in Fighting Insurgents
Washington Post, United States By Ann Scott Tyson Saturday, April 19, 2008
KHOST PROVINCE, Afghanistan -Night after night, commandos in U.S. Chinook helicopters descend into remote Afghan villages, wielding M-4 rifles as they swarm Taliban compounds. Such raids began in December in the Sabari

Polish troops to take over Afghan Ghazni province
Xinhua, China www.chinaview.cn 2008-04-19
WARSAW-Polish forces in Afghanistan will concentrate in the province Ghazni, Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said Friday.

Taliban hold kidnapped Pakistan envoy to Afghanistan
April 19, 2008
DUBAI (AFP) - Pakistan's envoy to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin, who went missing in February, appeared on Saturday in a video aired by Al-Arabiya news channel in which he said that he was held by the Taliban.

"We were on our way to Afghanistan in our official car on February 11 when we were kidnapped in the region of Khyber... by the Mujahedeen (holy warriors) of the Taliban," said Azizuddin, according to an Arabic translation accompanying the video aired by the Dubai-based channel.

The Pakistani envoy said that he was held with his driver and bodyguard, and that they were living "in comfortable conditions and are looked after." Two men who appeared to be the other hostages sat next to Azizuddin, while three gunmen stood in the background.

"We have no problems. But I suffer health problems, like blood pressure and heart pain," said the bespectacled envoy who had a well-kept beard and appeared sitting on the ground in a hilly area dotted with shrubs.

Azizuddin called upon his government and Pakistan's envoys in Iran and China "to do all they can to protect our lives and to answer all the demands of the Mujahedeen of Taliban in order to secure our release."

Pakistan said recovering the ambassador was a top priority.

"The recovery of ambassador Tariq Azizuddin has been a matter of high priority for the government of Pakistan. All possible resources are being used to make his early return to his family possible," foreign office spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said in Islamabad.

The envoy disappeared while driving back to the Afghan capital Kabul from Islamabad following a conference of Afghanistan's donors in Tokyo. Taliban militants are active in the tribal region where he went missing.

The chief administrative official in Khyber, Rasool Khan Wazir, said on the day that Azizuddin disappeared that security forces had seen the envoy's car driven at speed through a checkpost with "local people sitting in the front seat".

The day of his kidnap coincided with Pakistani security forces seizing the senior Taliban commander, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah in southwestern Baluchistan province, also bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistani forces have fought increasingly fierce battles against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in the tribal belt since 2003.

The Taliban who took power in Afghanistan in 1996 were ousted by a US-led invasion in November 2001 after refusing to hand over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Taliban fighters are trying to topple the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai and oust tens of thousands of foreign soldiers based there to fight them back.

Pakistani Taliban on Friday urged their newly-elected government to abandon President Pervez Musharraf's pro-US policy and enforce Islamic Sharia law in tribal areas of the country.

At a meeting, convened by the Pakistan Taliban Movement and attended by tribal elders, religious scholars and local MPs, senior Taliban leader Maulawi Faqir Mohammad said the Taliban were observing a ceasefire offered to the new government but they would continue their fight against US and allied forces in Afghanistan.
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FACTBOX - Pakistan's kidnapped ambassador to Afghanistan
April 19, 2008
(Reuters) - Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan, who went missing in February in the Khyber region, appeared on Arabic television on Saturday saying he was being held by the Taliban and urged Islamabad to meet their demands.

Following are some facts about the case:

* Ambassador Tariq Azizuddin, 56, went missing on February 11 along with his driver and a guard as he was travelling from the northwestern city of Peshawar to the Afghan-Pakistani border. He was on his way back to the Afghan capital.

* He disappeared in the Khyber tribal region, one of seven semi-autonomous tribal regions in Pakistan populated mostly by ethnic Pashtuns who inhabit both sides of the border. The Khyber Pass is the main route between the two countries.

* The Khyber region has been notorious for kidnapping but Islamist militants, who operate in some other tribal regions on the border such as Waziristan, have not been prominent in Khyber.

* Two days after he went missing, a spokesman for Pakistani Taliban militants denied they had kidnapped Azizuddin and the Foreign Ministry denied media reports that the Taliban had demanded the release of captured Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Mansour Dadullah in exchange for the envoy.

* Azizuddin was appointed ambassador to Afghanistan in October 2005. He had served in the Pakistani embassy in Kabul from 1992 to 1994.

* Azizuddin was ambassador to Bosnia from 2001 to 2004.

(Writing by Robert Birsel)
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Afghans to probe whether U.S. used depleted uranium
Sat Apr 19, 2008 6:09pm IST By Tan Ee Lyn
KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan government plans to investigate whether the United States used depleted uranium during its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and if it might be linked to malformed babies born afterwards.

Parts of Afghanistan, particularly the mountainous region of Tora Bora in the east -- the suspected hideout of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden -- came under heavy U.S. bombing in late 2001 when the Taliban regime was ousted.

Depleted uranium is a heavy metal used in some weapons that can pierce armour. It has small levels of radioactivity associated with it.

Cases of malformed babies delivered in the heavily bombed Afghan areas have come to light, Faizullah Kakar, Afghan deputy public health minister for technical affairs said on Saturday, citing an unnamed U.S. expert.

Kakar told Reuters the Afghan government planned to investigate the matter.

"We have decided to do a study to see what is going on. We will take samples of soil, rocks, water in different areas where the war had taken place in the past and look in the same area to see if there is an excess of malformed babies," Kakar said.

"It's then that we can tell you what is going on. But until then it is still speculation," he said.

"In Afghanistan, we have so many problems with nutritional deficiency, like folic acid. So it's difficult to tell if it's due to depleted uranium or due to some nutritional problems or some other genetic issues," he said.

Asked if the United States had told Afghanistan if depleted uranium was used during the war, Kakar said: "They have not told us that they have used it, but my source said it was used."

Kakar said he would like to see the study done as soon as possible, but the Afghan government, which largely relies on Western aid and troops, needed to find ways of funding it.
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Afghanistan detains 68 Pakistani nationals
Sat Apr 19, 5:35 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The Afghan army detained 68 Pakistani men soon after they entered the country over suspected ties with Taliban-linked rebels, the defence ministry said Saturday.

Prior to the mass detention Friday near the border in the southern province of Kandahar, the ministry received intelligence that a group of Pakistanis with possible links to "terrorists" was entering the region, it said.

"The army ... detained yesterday 68 unarmed Pakistani nationals. They are being investigated," the ministry said in a statement.

General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, chief spokesman for the ministry, told AFP the army had reports that dozens of Pakistanis linked to Taliban-led insurgents were entering the troubled region.

"We had intelligence reports that a group of Pakistanis possibly linked to terrorists were entering. When our units encountered these Pakistanis, they detained them to find out if they're linked to terrorists," he said.

Authorities were trying to determine if the men were linked to the Taliban or if they were workers or Pakistani traders.

"When they were detained, they had no travelling documents," he added.

The border is porous and it is not uncommon for people to cross without documents.

Afghanistan, with the support of tens of thousands of foreign troops, is fighting a fierce insurgency led by remnants of the Taliban militia that was in government between 1996 and 2001.

Afghan authorities have long said the Islamic rebels have bases on the Pakistani side of the border that send militants, some of them Pakistanis, across the frontier to launch attack on Afghan targets.

Islamabad denies the allegations.

There are also scores of Pakistanis working in Afghanistan as labourers, engineers and road workers.
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Pregnant Spanish defence minister visits Afghanistan
Sat Apr 19, 8:42 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - Spain's newly appointed Defence Minister Carme Chacon, who is seven months pregnant, made a brief visit to insurgency-hit Afghanistan Saturday to meet Spanish troops, an official said.

Chacon, appointed six days ago, was scheduled to spend only a few hours with the soldiers based in the western city of Herat, a Spanish information officer told AFP.

She was briefed by Spanish commanders about their work as part of a NATO-led force helping Afghanistan fight the Taliban, the officer said. Spain is among 40 nations serving in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The minister was also given a rundown of Spain's work as the head of the Badghis province reconstruction team -- one of several military-civilian units set up around the war-torn country.

She toured a Spanish-run hospital at the Herat base, where she met Spanish patients, and was due to leave in the afternoon, said the officer, who asked to not be identified.

About 750 Spanish soldiers work alongside Italian troops in Herat, where the Italians are in command, and there are another 200 in Qala-e-Now, capital of neighbouring Badghis province, where Spain is the lead nation.

Spanish national radio RNE reported that 37-year-old Chacon, Spain's first woman defence minister, was accompanied by her gynaecologist and a medical team.

Her unannounced visit to Afghanistan came only six days after she was appointed in the new government line-up of Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Back to Top

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Afghanistan moves to center stage
By M K Bhadrakumar Asia Times Online / April 19, 2008
Three or four seemingly unconnected statements within the space of the past week, and the "war on terror" in Afghanistan acquires new shades of meaning. On Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said during a visit to the holy city of Qom that the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq "under the pretext of the September 11 terror attack".

A day earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, who was on a visit to London, publicly expressed skepticism over the conduct of the Afghan war by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He warned that NATO is "courting disaster". On Monday, addressing a student gathering in Beijing's Tsinghua University, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf urged Chinese and Russian help in stabilizing Afghanistan. But in the ultimate analysis, it is the sensational revelation by erstwhile Northern Alliance leaders about their ongoing contacts with the Taliban that makes nonsense of the battle lines of the Afghan war.

The United States' monopoly of the Afghan war is beginning to come under serious public challenge. The "lameduck" George W Bush administration in Washington faces an uphill task to gain mastery over the equations developing on multiple levels.

Meanwhile, some questions arise. Are these statements and public stances essentially more prudent and prophylactic than provocative? Do they stem from a genuine concern in the region that the US is simply unable to forge ahead in the war? Or do they signify the stirrings of a concerted regional challenge to the US mission?

Ahmadinejad's statement is the first time that Tehran has questioned frontally at the highest level of leadership the raison d'etre of the US intervention in Afghanistan. He suggests that terrorism is the pretext rather than the reason for the US intervention. The Iranian leader alleges that the US intervention was more geopolitical. Considering that Iran (under former president Mohammed Khatami) had provided logistical support for the US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, Wednesday's statement signifies an important rethink in Tehran. Ahmadinejad has implicitly absolved the Taliban regime of any role as such in the September 11 attacks on Washington and New York.

Compared with the nuanced Iranian statement, Babacan has taken a stance from the perspective of Turkey being a major NATO power. Babacan said in an interview with the London-based Telegraph newspaper that NATO is courting disaster by relying too much on force to defeat the Taliban. He distanced Ankara from the US counterinsurgency strategy by stressing that the shift to a "more militaristic approach would backfire and ultimately undermine the Afghan government".

Babacan forcefully rejected the US criticism that Turkey has refused to deploy troops in the troubled southern and eastern regions of Afghanistan. He insisted on the continued logic of Turkey's Afghan policy, which focuses on reconstruction activities aimed at "winning their [Afghans'] hearts and minds". Significantly, he warned that Afghans could "start to perceive the [NATO] security forces as occupiers" and that the situation would become "very complicated". But he, too, avoided any criticism of the Taliban as such.

Interestingly, Babacan made these remarks in an interview in which he underlined Turkey's growing alienation from Europe. Also, on Monday, another round of Turkish-Iranian consultations were held in Ankara regarding bilateral cooperation in regional security, which is already quite substantial.

Musharraf has gone a step even further. He expressed the hope that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) could play a role in stabilizing Afghanistan. He added, "If the SCO can come along, then we would need to ensure that there is no confrontation with NATO." SCO comprises China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as full members and Iran and Pakistan as "observers".

Musharraf is famous for making impromptu remarks, but the fact that he made such a statement in Beijing merits attention. Pakistan has been seeking full SCO membership. The indications are that Beijing is, in principle, supportive of the Pakistani claim. Reports had also just appeared that Washington is pressing for an intrusive role to monitor the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

Musharraf has virtually endorsed a call by Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov at the recent NATO summit meeting in Bucharest (April 2-4) to the effect that the "Six plus Two" format of the 1997-2001 period (with the "six" being the countries bordering Afghanistan and the "two" being Russia and the US), which aimed at bringing about intra-Afghan reconciliation between the Taliban and its opponents, be expanded into a new "Six plus Three" format that would now include NATO, along with China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and the US.

Moscow and Tashkent have a coordinated approach in this regard. Washington finds itself in a quandary to respond to the Uzbek offer of cooperation with NATO, which would mean virtual abandonment of alliance's plans to expand into the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia.

However, in a hard-hitting speech on Monday at Maxwell-Gunter air force base in Montgomery, Alabama, which was devoted entirely to the US strategy in Afghanistan, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice precisely invoked the great Cold War icons - George Marshall, Harry S Truman, George Frost Kennan and Dean Acheson. She sent a stunning message to Moscow that NATO's victory in Afghanistan is "not only essential, it is attainable".

Rice pointed out, "Successes in Afghanistan will advance our broader regional interests in combating violent terrorism, resisting the destabilizing behavior of Iran, and anchoring political and economic liberty in South and Central Asia. And success in Afghanistan is an important test for the credibility of NATO."

Rice coolly ignored the Russian-Uzbek offer of cooperation. Against the above background, this week's statement in Kabul by the top leadership of the erstwhile Northern Alliance (NA) merits close attention.

The NA leaders enjoy the support of Russia, the Central Asian states and Iran - and Turkey to an extent. Sayyed Agha Hussein Fazel Sancharaki, spokesman of these groups which now come under the umbrella of the United National Front (UNF), revealed to the Associated Press (AP) that former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani and the top NA commander from Panjshir, Mohammed Qasim Fahim (who also holds the position currently as a security advisor to President Hamid Karzai) have been meeting Taliban and other opposition groups (presumably, the Hezb-i-Islami led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) during recent months for national reconciliation. He claimed these meetings have involved "important people" from the Taliban.

Indeed, Fahim (who was the chief of intelligence under the late Ahmad Shah Massoud) and Rabbani (who belonged to the original "Peshawar Seven" - mujahideen leaders based in Pakistan in the 1980s) would have old links with Hekmatyar and top Taliban leaders like Jalaluddin Haqqani. Rabbani told AP that the six-year war must be resolved through talks.

"We in the National Front and I myself believe the solution for the political process in Afghanistan will happen through negotiations," he said. Rabbani added that the opposition leaders would soon discuss and possibly select a formal negotiating team for holding talks with the Taliban. He found fault with Karzai for not pursuing dialogue with the Taliban. "I told Karzai that when a person starts something, he should complete it. On the issue of negotiations, it is not right to take one step forward and then one step back. This work should be continued in a very organized way."

It stands to reason that regional powers - especially Russia, Uzbekistan and Iran - will be watching closely the intra-Afghan dialogue involving the UNF and the Taliban. What gives impetus to this dialogue is apparently that the NATO summit in Bucharest came up with only small troop increments, which puts question marks on the viability and prospects of the NATO operations. But is that all?

These various strands can be expected to run concurrently for a while until some begin to outstrip others. It seems the geopolitics of energy are already taking an early lead. Musharraf last Friday aired with Chinese President Hu Jintao the topic of a gas pipeline connecting Iran and China via Pakistani territory; Iran is pressing for SCO membership; a gas cartel is about to take shape at the seventh ministerial meeting of the gas-exporting countries scheduled to be held in Moscow in June.

China's National Offshore Oil Corporation has confirmed that talks are indeed progressing on a US$16 billion gas deal involving Iran's North Pars gas field, close on the heels of the $2 billion agreement signed in March between the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation and Iran for developing the latter's Yadavaran oil field.

A prominent expert, Igor Tomberg of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences, wrote recently, "Iran and Russia should probably not compete against each other but rather join hands on the gas market. The Iranian president has more than once suggested to his Russian colleague that their countries coordinate their gas policies and possibly divide gas markets. Moreover, there could be an agreement under which Russia will continue to supply gas to Europe, while Iran will export its gas to the East. This would undermine plans to diversify supply to Europe, which heavily depends on the United States."

Afghanistan is a key hub of resource-rich Central Asia and the Middle East. To use the words from Rice's Montgomery speech, "Let no one forget, Afghanistan is a mission of necessity for the US, not a mission of choice."

M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India's ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).
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Nato admits mistakenly supplying arms and food to Taliban
The Guardian (UK) / April 19, 2008 Anil Dawar and agencies
Nato forces mistakenly supplied food, water and arms to Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan, officials today admitted.

Containers destined for local police forces were dropped from a helicopter into a Taliban-controlled area of Zabul province.

The coalition helicopter had intended to deliver pallets of supplies to a police checkpoint in Ghazni, a remote section of Zabul late last month.

By mistake they were dropped some distance from the checkpoint where it was taken by the Taliban, the Internal Security Affairs Commission of the Wolesi Jirga the Afghan parliament's lower house was told.

Hamidullah Tukhi, a local politician from Zabul, told the parliamentary commission that the consignment had been taken by a local Taliban commander.

A Nato spokesman said the pallets were carrying rocket propelled grenades, ammunition, water and food.

Afghan politicians have said they do not believe the drop was an accident.

Nato's General Carlos Branco blamed it on "human error" when the navigator confused two very similar grid references.

A spokesman at Nato headquarters in Brussels denied the suggestion the alliance had deliberately armed the Taliban. "We are aware of it but we are not fired up about it. It sounds like someone made a mistake. It was a cock-up rather than a conspiracy.

"The forces on the ground are working to get the message across that we do not deliberately supply the Taliban with arms."
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German held by US in Afghanistan
By FRIEDER REIMOLD Associated PressSat Apr 19, 7:59 AM ET
BERLIN - U.S. authorities in Afghanistan have been holding a German citizen in custody since early January over accusations that he was on a U.S. base without authorization, Germany's Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

A ministry spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is in contact with the U.S. on the issue and is working to secure the release of the German, a man of Afghan origin.

He said that German Embassy staff in Kabul have been able to visit the man.

The ministry did not give further details.

U.S. military officials in Afghanistan did not immediately comment.

The weekly Der Spiegel, which did not cite sources, reported that the man whom it identified as Gholam Ghaus Z., 41 had traveled to Kabul to visit relatives and was arrested as he tried to buy a razor at a U.S. military supermarket.
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Canada wanted detainee kept out of Gitmo
By MICHAEL MELIA April 18, 2008
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) Canada asked the United States not to send former child soldier Omar Khadr to Guantanamo after he was captured in Afghanistan in 2002, according to a letter released on Thursday.

In the document dated September 2002, Ottawa argued that the prison camp in southeastern Cuba was an "inappropriate" place for Khadr, a Canadian citizen, because he was just 15 years old at the time.

The letter was submitted in court filings by defense attorneys who have urged the Canadian government to demand Khadr's return from Guantanamo Bay, where he is expected to face a military trial by this summer on charges of killing a U.S. soldier.

"It's certainly shocking as we sit here today that Canada is the last Western country to tolerate the detention of one of its citizens at Guantanamo Bay," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, Khadr's Pentagon-appointed lawyer. He has argued that his client cannot receive a fair trial at Guantanamo.

Canada's government has faced pressure to ask for Khadr's transfer, but the Foreign Affairs Department said it would be premature to intervene as long as he is facing charges.

The letter from the Canadian Embassy in Washington to the State Department was dated Sept. 13, 2002, during Khadr's detention at a U.S. military prison in Bagram, Afghanistan. The al-Qaida suspect had been captured two months earlier during the firefight in which he allegedly hurled a grenade that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer. He arrived at Guantanamo in October 2002.

The letter notes that the U.S. and Canada have laws providing for special treatment of young suspects.

"As such, the Government of Canada believes it would be inappropriate for Mr. Omar Khadr to be transferred to the detention facilities at the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay," the letter said.

The letter also expressed concern over "ambiguity" in early accounts of the Khadr's role in the events leading up to his capture. A section that apparently describes the conflict was redacted.

Khadr's lawyers are seeking access to additional diplomatic correspondence between the U.S. and Canada in search of evidence that could help exonerate him. They argue that no eyewitness saw Khadr throw the grenade.

Khadr, the son of an Egyptian-born alleged al-Qaida financier, is expected to be the first or second detainee to face a U.S. war-crimes tribunal since World War II. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted on charges including murder, conspiracy and supporting terrorism.

The U.S. military says it plans to charge about 80 of the roughly 275 detainees at Guantanamo, but so far no case has gone to trial.
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Afghan Commandos Emerge
U.S.-Trained Force Plays Growing Role in Fighting Insurgents
Washington Post, United States By Ann Scott Tyson Saturday, April 19, 2008
KHOST PROVINCE, Afghanistan -Night after night, commandos in U.S. Chinook helicopters descend into remote Afghan villages, wielding M-4 rifles as they swarm Taliban compounds. Such raids began in December in the Sabari District here, long considered too dangerous for U.S. patrols, and have already resulted in the death or capture of 30 insurgent leaders in eastern Afghanistan, according to U.S. commanders.

"The Americans are doing this," the Taliban fighters concluded, according to U.S. intelligence.

But though the commandos carry the best U.S. rifles, wear night-vision goggles and ride in armored Humvees, they are not Americans but Afghans -- trained and advised by U.S. Special Forces teams that are seeking to create a sustainable combat force that will ultimately replace them in Afghanistan.

"This is our ticket out of here," a Special Forces company commander said last month at a U.S. base in Khost, where his teams eat, sleep, train and fight alongside the commandos.

The creation of a 4,000-strong Afghan commando force marks a major evolution for U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan. After small teams of Green Berets spearheaded the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, they took the lead in combat, with the disparate Afghan militia forces they trained and paid playing a supporting role. Today, by contrast, the Special Forces advisers are putting the Afghan commandos in the lead -- coaching a self-reliant force that U.S. commanders say has emerged as a key tool against insurgents.

Three of six planned Afghan army commando battalions -- with 640 commandos each -- have begun operations over the past five months. U.S. commanders say hurdles remain, from basic logistical issues such as teaching the commandos to conserve water to the larger challenge of ensuring that they are well integrated into the regular Afghan army. Still, the program is a bright spot in the broader effort to train Afghan security forces, a crucial aspect of the NATO and U.S.-led strategy to stabilize Afghanistan -- one that is slowed by a shortage of thousands of trainers and recruits as well as equipment problems.
The new approach also offers the prospect of relief for the Special Forces, strained by years of deployments in Afghanistan, commanders say. At any one time, more than 2,000 Special Forces soldiers and support personnel are on the ground, many operating in 12-man teams partnered with Afghan forces in the country's most troubled districts.

In violent parts of Khost and elsewhere, the commandos play a narrow but critical role: They capture or kill insurgent leaders, financiers and bombmakers as the first phase of the strategy to clear areas of enemy cells, hold the territory and build security and governance. The need for an Afghan force skilled in attacking insurgent networks is particularly pressing, as roadside bombs and suicide attacks have increased since 2006.

In a training camp surrounded by mountains in Khost, Lt. Mohamed Reza, 29, of the 203rd commando battalion counts down for a mock helicopter landing. "One minute 30 seconds touchdown!" His platoon rushes forward, one soldier kicking open the door of a compound before the rest run inside, pivoting into each room. A commando grabs a U.S. trainer impersonating an insurgent, puts him in a painful finger lock and forces him out the door.

"Alaklat!" they yell. All clear!

Looking on, a Special Forces adviser makes sure that the commandos do not miss any rooms and that they deal readily with whatever challenges he throws in their path, such as stray goats or disguised fighters. These rehearsals -- starting with simple drills tracing tape on the ground and rising in complexity to assaults on multistory buildings -- exemplify the exhaustive training they receive.

Commandos compete for selection and go through 12 weeks of initial training at Camp Morehead, south of Kabul, before being assigned to a battalion attached to one of five regional Afghan National Army corps. They then begin a rotation with Special Forces advisers that includes six weeks each of training, missions and recovery.

"Our guys live with them and train with them every day, share all the hardships and are with them shoulder to shoulder on the objective," said Lt. Col. Lynn Ashley, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, which is mentoring the new force. "They really become brothers in arms."

Such a regimen hones the skills of commandos far beyond those of their Afghan army peers, U.S. combat advisers say. In marksmanship, for example, commandos fire more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition in their initial training alone, while the average Afghan soldier fires 60 rounds in training each year. "I've jumped into stacks and gone into a building shooting live rounds with commandos," a U.S. Special Forces communications sergeant said.

The commandos' high-quality gear and training is an advantage that few regular Afghan security forces have. The U.S.-led training effort in Afghanistan lacks about 3,500 trainers -- or more than 40 percent of its required manpower -- a shortfall that will be only partly made up by the 1,000 Marines arriving this month. Afghan police units suffer most from the shortage, with trainers present in only about 30 percent of Afghanistan's nearly 400 districts.

Special Forces advisers show the commandos videos of their missions, to build pride. "We are the best unit in Afghanistan right now," said Sgt. 1st Class Mohaber Rahman, 22, the platoon sergeant.
"We do everything quickly and accurately," added Pvt. Said Askar, 25, a medic and kung fu instructor.

The commandos also receive $50 in extra pay each month -- raising the total pay of a junior sergeant, for example, to $200 -- as well as better equipment than their regular army counterparts and a double ration of food. "Nobody wants to quit this unit," Reza said over a meal of flat bread, stewed meat and rice with raisins.

In many commando raids, the sudden arrival of an overwhelming force causes insurgents to surrender without a fight, U.S. advisers said. In December, about 200 commandos in Khost and dozens of Green Berets surrounded five targets in one night, detaining five insurgent leaders and 18 suspects involved with bombmaking cells -- all without firing a shot. And on Feb. 9, commandos captured Nasimulla, the leader of a Taliban bomb cell based in Sabari responsible for attacks on U.S. and Afghan forces.

"These are targets we would hit ourselves if they weren't here," said a Special Forces captain who, like other Special Forces soldiers, spoke on the condition of anonymity for security reasons. "They are going after the highest-level guys we can pull out of the area."

The Afghans are arguably better suited for the raids because they know the language and culture and can gather intelligence more easily and avoid friction with civilians, according to the advisers. In one instance recently, a commando found an insurgent hiding in a sheepfold after U.S. troops passed by, the company commander said. And when a suicide truck bomb struck the Sabari District center March 3, killing two U.S. soldiers, the Americans asked the commandos to help secure the area. "That was the first time I ever heard U.S. forces request Afghan assistance," said the company sergeant major. "There were Americans buried underneath the rubble."

But the commandos still have much to learn -- sometimes frustrating their U.S. advisers. "We yell at them for drinking too much [water], constantly eating, using their under-gun lights to walk to the bathroom," one U.S. adviser said, adding that the Afghans lacked effective methods for distributing and conserving resources. "They'll have 20 bottles of water, five guys and four days to go -- they'll just drink it and look at you and say, 'I need more water,' " the sergeant major said. The logistics problems, he said, are "across the board."

The commandos rely on U.S. forces to provide helicopters for transport, attack and medical evacuation, as well as satellite communications, intelligence and a range of other support.

A larger issue for U.S. advisers is how to integrate the commandos into the Afghan National Army. "My biggest concern is right now I need to get the rest of the ANA to really understand Afghan commando operations," which differ from conventional maneuvers, the company commander said. "We are trained to do so much more than to air assault into really treacherous areas and be an anvil for the hammer of the regular heavier forces to smash."

Ultimately, the goal is for Afghan commandos to rotate into regular infantry units to spread their skills, "like U.S. Army Rangers," Ashley said. Added Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, who until this month was the top U.S. commander for eastern Afghanistan, "They're professional, they're well led, they're well disciplined. And they're really setting the standards for the rest of the Afghan National Army."

For the Green Berets, many of whom have had several tours in Afghanistan, the commandos offer hope of an eventual respite. "We're not saying we're anywhere close to getting out of here," said the company commander, who has had five tours, while spending just five months with his 2-year-old daughter. Even as the Afghans step forward, he said, "it's going to take a long time."  
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Polish troops to take over Afghan Ghazni province
Xinhua, China www.chinaview.cn 2008-04-19
WARSAW-Polish forces in Afghanistan will concentrate in the province Ghazni, Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said Friday.

Klich said Ghazni had been chosen as in the case of the also-considered province Paktika the soldiers would have had to patrol dangerous border zones, Polish news agency PAP reported.

The minister, who is in Ghazni inspecting Polish troops, also announced the enlargement of Poland force in Afghanistan by 400 men and extra helicopters and transport vehicles.

Under earlier agreements Poland was to take over one of the Afghan provinces following the enlargement of its forces.

Currently Polish troops are stationed in Ghazni, Gardeza, Sharan, Wazi-Khwa, Bagram and Kandahar.
Editor: Mu Xuequan
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