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April 20, 2008 

Iranian, Afghan forces clash at southwestern border
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan police clashed with Iranian forces at the southwestern border between the two countries, leaving one civilian dead and two Iranian officers wounded, officials said Sunday.

Taliban urge U.N. to block Afghan executions
Sun Apr 20, 4:03 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents urged the international community and right groups to stop Afghan President Hamid Karzai approving the execution of about 100 prisoners whose death sentences were approved by the supreme court.

AFGHANISTAN: Unexpected floods hit more than five provinces
KABUL, 20 April 2008 (IRIN Radio) - Officials say that drought is likely to be Afghanistan's big problem this year. Snowfall was less then expected in many areas and much has evaporated. So far it's not clear if spring rains have been

Afghan child among several dead in Taliban unrest: police
ASADABAD, Afghanistan (AFP) - An Afghan child was killed in a militant rocket attack on an army base in eastern Afghanistan Sunday, police said, as six Taliban and a police officer died in the country's south.

Afghan police seize 4.7 tons opium
www.chinaview.cn  2008-04-20 17:57:53
KABUL, April 20 (Xinhua) -- Police in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province confiscated more than 4 tons opium, according to a press release of Interior Ministry issued here on Sunday.

U.S. Commanders Seek to Widen Pakistan Attacks
By MARK MAZZETTI and ERIC SCHMITT The New York Times April 20, 2008
WASHINGTON — American commanders in Afghanistan have in recent months urged a widening of the war that could include American attacks on indigenous Pakistani militants in the tribal areas inside Pakistan, according to United States officials.

Tripartite summit to discuss regional peace in June
By Baqir Sajjad Syed Dawn (Pakistan)
ISLAMABAD, April 19: Pakistan and Turkey agreed on Saturday to hold the second tripartite summit of Pakistani, Afghan and Turkish leaders in June to discuss peace and stability in the region.

India committed to reconstruction works in Afghanistan
New Delhi (PTI): Notwithstanding militants' attacks on its nationals in Afghanistan, India on Saturday said it was committed to the reconstruction of the war ravaged nation.

Afghan ministry denies evidence of depleted uranium
KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan Public Health Ministry denied on Sunday a media report that there was evidence of nuclear contamination in the Tora Bora mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

AFGHANISTAN: Toxic wheat flour kills 10 in Herat
20 Apr 2008 13:30:09 GMT
HERAT, 20 April 2008 (IRIN) - At least 10 people have died and 130 others are sick in western Afghanistan because of a liver and stomach disease which is widely believed to be caused by contaminated wheat flour, according to Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).

Interview - Scarred and depressed, more Afghans turn to drugs
By Tan Ee Lyn
KABUL, April 20 (Reuters) - Scarred by decades of turmoil and grief, 66 percent of Afghans suffer from depression or some form of mental disorder, and an increasing number are turning to illegal drugs, a top health official said.

Khalilzad Changes Approach From Hawk to Bridge-Builder
By Colum Lynch Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, April 20, 2008; A23
UNITED NATIONS -- At his residence at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York, Zalmay Khalilzad displays a banged-up AK-47 assault rifle from Saddam Hussein's arsenal: a souvenir from a war Khalilzad supported

Elite of Afghan police force train, learn under guidance of Canadian soldiers
The Canadian Press,  Afghanistan
PANJWAII DISTRICT, Afghanistan — In a makeshift gymnasium at an outpost in the heart of Afghanistan's dusty Panjwaii district, a local police officer grabs a set of cables as he tries to emulate his brawny Canadian mentors.

Conflict, poverty can't sink Afghan pro's dream for his weedy Kabul Golf Club
The Canadian Press / April 20, 2008
KABUL — The weedy desert fairways and oil-and-sand "browns" of Kabul Golf Club are a long way from the emerald hues of the Masters and Augusta National, but thanks in part to a Canadian benefactor, the game's irrepressible

Women's group supports Taliban peace talks
Written by www.quqnoos.com Saturday, 19 April 2008
Head of women's assembly urges UN to sponsor peace negotiations
THE HEAD of the Afghan Women Assembly (AWA) has urged the UN and the international community to join her organisation in supporting peace talks between the government and the Taliban.

Bullets, blood and bravery on the 999 run in Afghanistan
The Sunday Times April 20, 2008
Stuart Webb joins Britain’s elite combat medics on a relentless series of dangerous flights to rescue the injured – both friend and foe There’s a battle under way in the Helmand desert and we are flying straight into it. I would normally worry

Teachers demand their jobs back
www.quqnoos.com Written by Ghafoor Saboory Saturday, 19 April 2008
Thousands forced to teach subjects they know nothing about
THOUSANDS of teachers who lost their normal jobs when the Ministry of Information closed down the illiteracy department two weeks ago have said they face an uncertain future.

There is no quick-fix for Afghanistan
Spring is in the air and with it a slew of yet more strategies which only serve to add to population's festering grievances and alienation
The Observer, UK Nick Grono April 19, 2008
It's spring again in Afghanistan. At this time of year, events follow a familiar pattern: the mountain snows melt, Nato gears up for expected Taliban attacks in the south, and experts tell us it is our "last chance" to keep the country from falling

Bus crash kills seven and wounds 16
Written by www.quqnoos.com Sunday, 20 April 2008
Deadly crash as bus veers off road and nose dives into river
AT LEAST seven people have been killed and 16 more injured when the bus they were travelling in careered off a road in Maydan Wardak and plunged into a river.

Herat tops list of government earners
www.quqnoos.com Written by Anwar Hashimi Sunday, 20 April 2008
Province on Iranian border collects the most tax in the country
HERAT made the most money for the government last year, with the provinces of Balkh and Nangarhar coming in second and third place respectively.

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Iranian, Afghan forces clash at southwestern border
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan police clashed with Iranian forces at the southwestern border between the two countries, leaving one civilian dead and two Iranian officers wounded, officials said Sunday.

The incident in the village of Pul-e-Abreshum in Nimroz province happened Saturday after an Iranian patrol entered Afghanistan, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Afghan police dispatched a unit to the village and a gunbattle ensued. A teacher from the village was killed during the firefight, said provincial police chief Gen. Ayub Badakhshi.

Two Iranian officers were wounded, the statement said.

The long and porous border between the two countries is used by smugglers to traffic drugs into Iran. Many Afghans also cross illegally into Iran from the area. Border clashes are common.

Separately, in eastern Kunar province, a rocket attack killed a 15-year old-boy and wounded five other children Sunday, said Abdul Sabur Allayar, the deputy provincial police chief.

He blamed "the enemies of Afghanistan" for the attack, which killed the children as they collected grass for their sheep in the provincial capital Asadabad.

More than 1,000 people, mostly militants, have died this year in insurgency-related violence, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Afghan and Western officials. Many of those killed were civilians caught up in insurgent attacks.
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Taliban urge U.N. to block Afghan executions
Sun Apr 20, 4:03 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents urged the international community and right groups to stop Afghan President Hamid Karzai approving the execution of about 100 prisoners whose death sentences were approved by the supreme court.

The Taliban, fighting to overthrow the pro-Western Afghan government, have executed dozens of captured troops and civilians since U.S.-led and Afghan forces ousted the Islamist movement in 2001. The Taliban also executed dozens of criminals, often in public, while they were in power from 1996 till 2001.

Human Rights Watch said on Thursday Karzai should refuse to confirm the death penalties of about 100 convicted prisoners because of concerns they had not received a fair trial.

The Taliban's leadership council said 80 percent of those sentenced to death were members of the Taliban jailed by the government and should not be executed as they had been "detained on charges of fighting for freedom."

"We ... demand the UN, the European Union, Red Cross and human rights organizations to take quick steps for stopping this barbaric act and stop the killing of innocent prisoners," said a statement posted at the weekend on the militants' Web site.

The statement said some of the 14 convicts executed last year by Kabul were also Taliban prisoners.

The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said the Supreme Court's recent announcement of about 100 death sentences showed a "disturbing disregard for the right to life."

Supreme Court officials said those sentenced to death had been convicted of serious crimes, such as murder and rape, kidnapping, hostage taking and armed robbery.

Human Rights Watch said legal experts and human rights organizations in Afghanistan have long expressed concern that international due process and fair trial standards were generally not met in capital cases.

Afghanistan's judiciary, like much of the government, is criticized for endemic corruption and red tape.

The Afghan government, set up after the ouster of the Taliban, has retained the death sentence but only 15 people have been executed since 2001.

Under the Afghan criminal code, death sentences handed down by criminal courts are reviewed by an appeals court. If the sentence stands, it must be confirmed by the Supreme Court.

Confirmed death sentences must then be endorsed by the president. Karzai has commuted some death sentences.

(Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; editing by Bill Tarrant)
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AFGHANISTAN: Unexpected floods hit more than five provinces
KABUL, 20 April 2008 (IRIN Radio) - Officials say that drought is likely to be Afghanistan's big problem this year. Snowfall was less then expected in many areas and much has evaporated. So far it's not clear if spring rains have been sufficient in areas reliant on rain-fed cropping. But despite these concerns, in other areas floods are causing problems. According to the figures from the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA), last week five people were killed, around 10 people injured and many houses damaged in the provinces of Herat, Daikundi, Bamyam, Kunar and Nuristan. The disaster management authority officials say that Herat is the worst affected province so far. IRIN's Zia Entezar reports….
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Afghan child among several dead in Taliban unrest: police
ASADABAD, Afghanistan (AFP) - An Afghan child was killed in a militant rocket attack on an army base in eastern Afghanistan Sunday, police said, as six Taliban and a police officer died in the country's south.

Two other children were injured in the rocket attack on a US-run military outpost near Asadabad in the troubled eastern province of Kunar, police official Abdul Sabour Alahyar said.

"A rocket fired by the armed opposition hit a civilian home. One child was killed and two others were injured. The attack was aimed at a US military base nearby," Alahyar said.

Four Taliban militants were killed separately Sunday in a gun battle with Afghan security forces in the southern province of Kandahar, a hotbed of Taliban-led militant activities, an army official said.

The fighting in Kandahar's Panjwayi erupted after the Islamic rebels attacked Afghan and international soldiers on patrol, Colonel Shirin Shah told AFP.

A day earlier, an Afghan policeman and two Taliban fighters were killed in a similar firefight in Panjwayi, Shah said.

More than two dozen suspected militants were captured in an ensuing operation by troops searching for the attackers, he said.

Taliban, who were in power in Afghanistan between 1996 to 2001 before being ousted in a US-led invasion, are leading an insurgency against the US-backed government in Kabul.

The unrest from the Taliban-led insurgency has gain pace over the past two years.
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Afghan police seize 4.7 tons opium
www.chinaview.cn  2008-04-20 17:57:53
KABUL, April 20 (Xinhua) -- Police in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province confiscated more than 4 tons opium, according to a press release of Interior Ministry issued here on Sunday.

"Our police in Shirzad district discovered 4,700 kg opium and have arrested two persons in this case," the press release said.

However, it did not mention the exact date of confiscating the contraband. The Afghan government has called on its citizens to replace with poppy with legal crops in the country.

Afghanistan with an output of 8,200 tons opium poppy in 2007 topped poppy growing nations in supply the raw material used in manufacturing heroin in the world, according to local media reports.
Editor: Wang Hongjiang 
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U.S. Commanders Seek to Widen Pakistan Attacks
By MARK MAZZETTI and ERIC SCHMITT The New York Times April 20, 2008
WASHINGTON — American commanders in Afghanistan have in recent months urged a widening of the war that could include American attacks on indigenous Pakistani militants in the tribal areas inside Pakistan, according to United States officials.

The requests have been rebuffed for now, the officials said, after deliberations in Washington among senior Bush administration officials who fear that attacking Pakistani radicals may anger Pakistan’s new government, which is negotiating with the militants, and destabilize an already fragile security situation.

American commanders would prefer that Pakistani forces attack the militants, but Pakistani military operations in the tribal areas have slowed recently to avoid upsetting the negotiations.

Pakistan’s government has given the Central Intelligence Agency limited authority to kill Arab and other foreign operatives in the tribal areas, using remotely piloted Predator aircraft. But administration officials say the Pakistani government has put far greater restrictions on American operations against indigenous Pakistani militant groups, including one thought to have been behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

American intelligence officials say that the threat emanating from Pakistan’s tribal areas is growing, and that Pakistani networks there have taken on an increasingly important role as an ally of Al Qaeda in plotting attacks against American and other allied troops in Afghanistan, and in helping foreign operatives plan attacks on targets in the West. The officials said the American military’s proposals included options for limited cross-border artillery strikes into Pakistan, missile attacks by Predator aircraft or raids by small teams of C.I.A. paramilitary forces or Special Operations forces.

In recent months, the American military officials in Afghanistan who are urging attacks in Pakistan discussed a list of potential targets with the United States ambassador in Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson, officials said.

The requests by the American commanders for attacks on targets in Pakistan were described by officials who had been briefed on the discussions but who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions involved possible future operations.

The discussions are the latest example of a recurring problem for the White House: that the place where the terrorist threat is most acute is the place where American forces are most restricted from acting.

Officials involved in the debate said that the question of attacking Pakistani militants was especially delicate because some militant leaders were believed to still be on the payroll of Pakistan’s intelligence service, called the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or another part of Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus. Among the groups thought to be targets was one commanded by Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of the legendary militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, as well as the network led by Baitullah Mehsud that is believed to have been behind Ms. Bhutto’s death.

For years the intelligence services have relied on a web of sources among Pakistani militant groups to collect information on foreign groups like Al Qaeda that have operated in the tribal areas.

A Pentagon adviser said military intelligence officers in Afghanistan had drawn up the detailed list of potential targets that was discussed with Ambassador Patterson. It is unclear which senior officials in Washington were involved in the debate over whether to authorize attacks.

One administration official said the internal discussions in Washington involved President Bush’s top national security aides, and took place earlier this year.

Military and intelligence officials say Al Qaeda and its affiliates now have a haven to plan attacks, just as they used camps in Afghanistan before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, said last month that the security situation along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border “presents clear and present danger to Afghanistan, to Pakistan and to the West in general, and to the United States in particular.”

American officials involved in the discussions said that they had not ruled out striking Pakistani militants in the tribal areas. American forces in Afghanistan are authorized to attack targets in Pakistan in self-defense or if they are in “hot pursuit” of militants fleeing back to havens across the border.

American-led forces in Afghanistan fired artillery at what they suspected was a Haqqani network safe house on March 12 that an American spokesman said posed an “imminent threat.” But the Pakistani Army said the strike killed only civilians.

Administration officials say the risk of angering the new government in Pakistan and stirring increased anti-American sentiment in the tribal areas outweighs the benefits of dismantling militant networks in the region.

“It’s certainly something we want to get to, but not yet,” said one Bush administration official. “If you do it now, you can expect to do it without Pakistani approval, and you can expect to do it only once because the Pakistanis will never help us again.”

Spokesmen for the White House and State Department declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for Ambassador Patterson in Pakistan.

Intelligence officials say they believe that leaders of the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups have in recent months forged closer ties to the cadre of Qaeda leaders in the tribal areas. Officials have said that they thought the leader of the Taliban there, Jalaluddin Haqqani, may have died last year. But Mr. Haqqani recently released a video denying those reports and made reference to a military attack in eastern Afghanistan that happened this March. Mr. Haqqani’s son, Sirajuddin, has also made aggressive efforts to recruit foreign fighters from the Persian Gulf and elsewhere in Central Asia.

“The relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda and other groups such as the Haqqani network, are stronger today than they were, and they’re primarily based on the Pakistani side of the border,” said Seth Jones, an analyst with the RAND Corporation, in Congressional testimony this month after his trip to Afghanistan.

The Haqqanis are suspected of organizing a suicide attack on March 3 that killed two American soldiers at an Afghan government office. Sirajuddin Haqqani is also suspected of orchestrating a suicide bomb attack in January at the Serena Hotel in Kabul that killed six people.

The discussions over how to combat Al Qaeda and Pakistani militant networks in the tribal areas have been going on for nearly two years, as American policy makers have weighed the growing militant threat in the border area against unilateral American action that could politically weaken President Pervez Musharraf, a close ally in the global counterterrorism campaign.

A few weeks after Ms. Bhutto’s assassination in December, two senior American intelligence officials reached a quiet understanding with Mr. Musharraf to intensify secret strikes against suspected terrorists by Predator aircraft launched in Pakistan.

American officials have expressed alarm that the leaders of Pakistan’s new coalition government, Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League (N), are negotiating with militants believed to be responsible for an increasing number of suicide attacks against the security forces and political figures.

The new government has signaled that in its relations with Washington, it wants to take a path more independent than the one followed by the previous government and to use military force in the tribal areas only as a last resort.

In Congressional testimony this month, a former top American commander in Afghanistan said the need for more action was urgent. “A senior member of the administration needs to go to Pakistan and take the intelligence we have on Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Haqqani network inside of Pakistan and lay it out for their most senior leadership,” said the retired commander, Lt. Gen. David W. Barno.

He said the American envoy should “show them exactly what we know about, what they don’t know about what’s going on in their tribal areas and say, this is not a tolerable situation for you nor for us.”

“And,” he added, “we need to sit down and think through what we can collectively do about this.”

Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.
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Tripartite summit to discuss regional peace in June
By Baqir Sajjad Syed Dawn (Pakistan)
ISLAMABAD, April 19: Pakistan and Turkey agreed on Saturday to hold the second tripartite summit of Pakistani, Afghan and Turkish leaders in June to discuss peace and stability in the region.

“Turkey has once again expressed the desire to hold a summit to further discuss and strengthen inputs for peace and stability in the region,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said at a press briefing along with his Turkish counterpart at the Foreign Office.

“Turkey is ready to have these meetings, realising the willingness on the part of both countries (Pakistan and Afghanistan),” said Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan.

The tripartite mechanism was established last year on the initiative of the Turkish president to provide for an exchange of views on Afghanistan-Pakistan ties and their repercussions for the region. It was aimed at promoting regional stability and security.

Last year’s summit had led to a joint strategy by Afghanistan and Pakistan against threats from the Taliban.

Mr Qureshi said Pakistan and Turkey agreed that peace and stability in Afghanistan was in “our mutual interest and military means are not the solution to Afghan problems and the approach towards the issue needs to be revisited”.

The two foreign ministers agreed to hold a meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG) of the three countries in May. The group was set up during last year’s summit with a view to monitoring progress on measures worked out at the meeting.

The JWG has already held two rounds of talks. The third round, which was scheduled for January, could not be held because of the political situation in Pakistan.

Mr Babacan said: “Pakistan’s geo-strategic location has the ability to influence political and economic dynamics of South and Central Asia.”

“I have suggested that we develop a strategic dialogue to enhance our contacts and further improve our warm relations,” Mr Qureshi said.

The two countries discussed measures to boost economic and trade ties. “We have decided to take our bilateral trade to $1 billion in the next two years,” Mr Qureshi said.

The volume of bilateral trade between Pakistan and Turkey stands currently at $690 million. Pakistan and Turkey also discussed proposals for co-production in the defence sector.
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India committed to reconstruction works in Afghanistan
New Delhi (PTI): Notwithstanding militants' attacks on its nationals in Afghanistan, India on Saturday said it was committed to the reconstruction of the war ravaged nation.

"Our commitment is quite clear. I think what is important in Afghanistan is we should not look at it as a mere law and order situation," Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said at the India Global Forum here.

Noting that India has committed over 850 million dollars in terms of assistance to Afghanistan, he said the real challenge for the international community is to enable creation of plural group and a stable society and economy in the restive nation.

"We have presence all over Afghanistan -- almost 4,000 Indians working there," Menon said pointing out that India's work in Afghanistan is truly crucial for the international effort.

On Sri Lanka, Menon said India wanted to help the situation in the island nation to create an involvement conducive for a negotiated political settlement without interfering in its internal affairs.

"We haven't succeeded yet and we will keep trying. The way forward, I think, is to keep trying to create an environment but we cannot be seen as trying to interfere in the internal politics," he said.
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Afghan ministry denies evidence of depleted uranium
KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan Public Health Ministry denied on Sunday a media report that there was evidence of nuclear contamination in the Tora Bora mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

The radio report said the ministry was investigating claims the Tora Bora mountains had been contaminated with radioactive material, the ministry said in a statement.

"The Public Health Ministry, so far, has no information from any official source about the presence of nuclear contamination in Tora Bora and has launched no investigation about it. The ministry even has no plan for such an investigation."

The Tora Bora mountains in the east of Afghanistan were heavily bombed by U.S. planes in late 2001 targeting al Qaeda leaders believed to be sheltering in caves there.

The radio report followed a report by Reuters quoting Afghan deputy public health minister for technical affairs Faizullah Kakar saying the ministry would study whether levels of depleted uranium were higher than normal in the environment after the 2001 war. But Kakar made no reference to Tora Bora.

"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.

He also cautioned that Afghanistan suffered from major health problems that could have been the cause of any possible rise in the number of cases of malformation.

"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.
(Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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AFGHANISTAN: Toxic wheat flour kills 10 in Herat
20 Apr 2008 13:30:09 GMT
HERAT, 20 April 2008 (IRIN) - At least 10 people have died and 130 others are sick in western Afghanistan because of a liver and stomach disease which is widely believed to be caused by contaminated wheat flour, according to Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).

Public health officials in the western province of Herat say the disease might have been caused by a toxic weed, locally called "charmak", which grows alongside wheat and may have been mistakenly collected and milled with locally harvested wheat. Charmak is said to contain alkalis that impair the liver.

"Four out of the 10 deaths were children below 12 years of age, two were women and four were elderly men," Gulam Saeed Rashid, head of the health department in Herat Province, said.

"We have sent samples of the wheat flour outside the country for technical tests in order to find out whether the flour has been contaminated by any toxic substance," Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman for the MoPH, said, adding that a team of World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologists based in Geneva had been invited to assess the situation.

Officials have also imposed a temporary ban on the movement of wheat flour and other cereals from Heart's Gulran District, where the outbreak occurred, to other parts of the province.

Lack of treatment

Aziz Noorzai, head of Gulran's 20-bed hospital, told IRIN that because doctors had so far been unable to diagnose the disease, they had provided patients only antibiotics and painkillers. "People are frightened and seriously worried about their health and safety," Noorzai added.

However, public health specialists in Kabul say the disease is not communicable and the health ministry assured that appropriate medicine would quickly be made available as soon as the disease is diagnosed.

Ten patients, among them children and women, were taken to the capital on 20 April for hospitalisation and extended treatment, according to the MoPH.

With over 130 confirmed cases, local health officials are concerned that the disease may have affected many other rural inhabitants who do not have easy access to health services.

Aid response

Amid widespread health concerns, many families in Herat have stopped eating locally produced wheat flour and are demanding food aid, the administrator of Gulran District, Gulam Faroq Majroh, told IRIN by phone.

The Afghan Red Crescent Society and an Italian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team have reportedly already delivered several tonnes of food to vulnerable families in Herat. Provincial officials said more relief has been requested from UN agencies.

Dozens of people in Herat reportedly died from a similar disease in the 1970s and it took the country several months to curb a nationwide outbreak. A like disease was also reported in November 2007 when two children reportedly died from largely swollen stomachs and liver problems.
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Interview - Scarred and depressed, more Afghans turn to drugs
By Tan Ee Lyn
KABUL, April 20 (Reuters) - Scarred by decades of turmoil and grief, 66 percent of Afghans suffer from depression or some form of mental disorder, and an increasing number are turning to illegal drugs, a top health official said.

Afghan deputy health minister for technical affairs Faizullah Kakar said mental illness and drug abuse were the most urgent health problems that the country now needs to tackle.

'It's like a bunch of very dry wood, something very little can ignite a population that's depressed (resulting in violence). It affects many institutions, people in government, parliament,' Kakar said in a wide-ranging interview with Reuters.

'Sixty-six percent doesn't spare those of us who work in the government, it affects progress. Depressed people don't like to work. The immediate problems are suicide ... family violence, drug addiction,' he said over the weekend.

'Depressed people like to take drugs and they get more depressed, it's a vicious cycle, this is what we see in Afghanistan. Drugs have mixed up with depression and we have an expansion of the number of people who are at risk.'

Afghanistan is the world's number one producer of opium, from which heroin is derived. It had an estimated 920,000 drug addicts a few years ago. 'This may be greater now,' Kakar said.

With only two psychiatrists working in the state sector in a country of 26 million people, it is hard to imagine how Afghanistan can cope.

'We must train doctors in the basics of mental health so they can go to villages and identify patients with mental problems and help them. This is the most urgent health issue,' Kakar said.

More public education is needed as most Afghans have never even heard of anti-depressants, he said.

FIGHTING TO REACH EVERYONE
Afghanistan's health sector has made big improvements since U.S.-led and Afghan forces ousted the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Foreign funds have helped increase the number of healthcare facilities to 1,429 from just 550 in 2001.

The government has pushed for better care for pregnant women and children, two groups very vulnerable in the last three decades of violence. But there are no recent statistics to show whether figures like maternal mortality, which stood at a staggering 1,600 per 100,000 live births in 2005, have come down.

Eighty-five percent of the population has access to free primary healthcare, up from 9 percent in 2003, Kakar said.

This costs $100 million a year, or $4.50 per person - but that is still a fraction of decent standards.

'The World Health Organisation says $28 per head per year is needed, or $800 million, but we have only $100 million,' he said.

The government plans to build 290 small clinics and 23 'mobile clinics' this year that will move from village to village to cover more of the population.

'These will be staffed by a doctor, nurse or a midwife,' he said, adding that they will give vaccinations, prenatal care and take sputum samples to screen for tuberculosis. Those who need more sophisticated help will be advised to go to hospital.

The picture is grim in parts of the country's south and west where Kakar said government healthcare workers have not been able to provide service because of the ongoing Taliban insurgency.

'Forty of our doctors and workers died in the south, so many people are scared to go to the south to work. When we try to build a clinic in the south, it's hard to find a company that will build it. Maintaining it is a challenge.'

Twenty-five percent of Afghanistan's population live in these problem areas.

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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Khalilzad Changes Approach From Hawk to Bridge-Builder
By Colum Lynch Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, April 20, 2008; A23
UNITED NATIONS -- At his residence at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York, Zalmay Khalilzad displays a banged-up AK-47 assault rifle from Saddam Hussein's arsenal: a souvenir from a war Khalilzad supported and a regime he helped topple.

But as President Bush's chief envoy to the United Nations, Khalilzad has spent the past year trying to repair some of the diplomatic wreckage that followed the U.S.-led invasion. He has won over colleagues with a willingness to compromise and listen -- in a half-dozen languages -- that was lacking from his pugnacious predecessor, John R. Bolton. "He doesn't have this attitude that we are the Americans . . . so take it or leave it," said South Africa's U.N. ambassador, Dumisani Shadrack Kumalo, reflecting a view held widely at U.N. headquarters.

Khalilzad's supporters say his stints as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations have taught him that the go-it-alone strategy of his neoconservative allies had run its course. "He's a neocon who got mugged by reality," said Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. diplomat who advised Iraqi Kurds after the fall of Hussein.

Yet others have derided Khalilzad's transition from war hawk to bridge-builder as an act of political opportunism. "This is one of the great PR snow jobs of the Bush administration's second term," said Flynt Leverett, a former National Security Council Middle East specialist during President Bush's first term. "It's hard to say in the end what he really believes in terms of political convictions, beyond ingratiating himself with the powers that be in any given situation."

Khalilzad's professional journey over the past decade tracks the Bush administration's after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: a bold quest to reshape the Middle East through U.S. military power that mellowed into a diplomatic effort to reconnect with Washington's estranged allies. "He is not what he was," said William Leurs, president of the United Nations Association, crediting Khalilzad with easing the "anger and polarization" between Washington and the global body.

Khalilzad, 57, was born in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, the son of a government bureaucrat in the Afghan monarchy, and first came to the United States as a high school exchange student, eventually earning a doctorate in political science at the University of Chicago. Friends say his style owes much to his Afghan roots -- courtesy, pragmatism and a flair for cultivating personal relationships.

He emerged on the U.S. political scene in the late 1970s, writing op-eds under the pseudonym Hannah Negaran to attack Soviet policy in Afghanistan. Since then, he has changed his nationality (becoming a U.S. citizen), his party (flirting briefly with the Democrats) and his foreign policy views (supporting engagement with the Taliban before advocating its overthrow). Colleagues even speculated that he might run for the Afghan presidency, a rumor Khalilzad denies.

Khalilzad has gravitated toward powerful figures, cultivating close ties with Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser. He has developed strong working relationships with President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "In Afghanistan, you have to have a patron if you want to get anywhere in life," said Ahmed Rashid, a journalist who has known Khalilzad for more than 20 years. "This neocon stuff -- yes, he certainly believed it -- but he was also looking for the patronage" from powerful conservatives.

Khalilzad began working for the State Department in 1984 under President Ronald Reagan and soon focused on Afghanistan policy. He advocated military aid for the mujaheddin, pressing the administration to arm them against the Soviets.

The following decade, Paul D. Wolfowitz, then undersecretary of defense for policy, tapped Khalilzad to draft a 1992 Defense Planning Guidance that outlined plans for post-Cold War military superiority, calling for a major military buildup and a doctrine of preemptive force. Though rejected by the White House, the draft consolidated Khalilzad's standing among conservatives and would later influence the Bush administration's war strategy, according to James Mann, author of "Rise of the Vulcans," which chronicles Bush's war cabinet.

Khalilzad, a senior Pentagon official during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, said, "We didn't do the right thing with the Iraqis by leaving them with Saddam and sanctions." In 1998, he signed a letter with 17 other conservatives urging President Bill Clinton to overthrow Hussein. Many of the signatories -- including Wolfowitz, Donald H. Rumsfeld and Richard Perle -- would later lay the groundwork for the military invasion of Iraq.

Khalilzad later joined Bush's National Security Council and, on the eve of the invasion, was tasked with convening a national assembly to establish an Iraqi government. But Khalilzad's plan was scrapped in favor of a U.S. military occupation, and Khalilzad was dispatched to Afghanistan as ambassador.

His work in Afghanistan and later in Iraq earned him bipartisan respect. "He's taken on dangerous jobs, he's done them well," said Douglas J. Feith, the Pentagon's top policy official during the invasion, who recently published a book countering allegations that he distorted prewar intelligence. But Feith expressed puzzlement over Khalilzad's ability to thrive while others have seen their careers shredded over Iraq: "It's rather a mystery as to why some people get some kind of treatment and other people get another."

But Khalilzad's diplomatic style has rankled subordinates, who describe him as a disorganized manager. As ambassador in Kabul, he infuriated staffers by recruiting U.S. executives to help run Afghan ministries. Former staff members have criticized him for keeping colleagues in the dark. "Zal would talk to [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai two or three times a day without an interpreter and never write a record of the meeting," said Hillary Mann Leverett, Flynt Leverett's spouse and former Afghanistan director at the National Security Council.

At the United Nations, Khalilzad pressed the body to expand its role in Iraq and Afghanistan, and oversaw imposition of moderately stronger sanctions against Iran. But he also led a botched effort for a Security Council resolution endorsing the U.S.-backed Mideast peace process launched in Annapolis last year. Israel objected, forcing the United States to withdraw the proposal and eliciting accusations by senior U.S. officials that Khalilzad was freelancing. "You can say something about coordination and so on," he responded, "but I was specifically authorized . . . to go and do this."

Khalilzad was criticized for participating in a debate with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at the World Economic Forum in January. He acknowledges that some in the administration frowned on the move, but said that "the clash of ideas" is smart diplomacy.

In the General Assembly, Khalilzad has been willing to compromise, yielding to demands by developing countries to protect pro-Palestinian programs and reversing Bolton's refusal to contemplate Security Council expansion until U.N. management improved.

Khalilzad "has been able to charm even his adversaries," said Pakistan's U.N. ambassador, Munir Akram, who opposed the invasion of Iraq. Akram said few here hold Khalilzad's hawkish views against him: "The whole of the United Nations is littered with ironies."
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Elite of Afghan police force train, learn under guidance of Canadian soldiers
The Canadian Press,  Afghanistan
PANJWAII DISTRICT, Afghanistan — In a makeshift gymnasium at an outpost in the heart of Afghanistan's dusty Panjwaii district, a local police officer grabs a set of cables as he tries to emulate his brawny Canadian mentors.

"That guy doesn't have a clue," one soldier smirks as he watches the skinny young member of ANCOP, the country's elite new national police force, struggle through a couple of lat pulldowns.

"He sees our guys doing it, and figures he wants to do it too."

That, in a nutshell, is what Canada's soldiers are doing at this spartan police sub-station near the village of Zangabad, deep in Taliban territory: showing Afghans how it's done.

ANCOP, or the Afghanistan National Civil Order Police, is a SWAT-team-style police force designed to widen the government's influence in the volatile south of the country.

At this particular outpost, 10 members of ANCOP are bunked in with a contingent of Canadian infantrymen and military police, learning on the fly the skills they will need to one day defend Afghanistan without the help of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

They are the best Afghanistan has to offer, fierce fighters from Afghanistan's warrior culture, hand-picked from the north to ensure they have no vested interests or loyalties among the often territorial tribes in the province of Kandahar.

ANCOP police are put through a more rigorous training regimen than their Afghan National Police cousins - long derided as corrupt, lazy and disloyal - to create an elite squad to which young police officers in Afghanistan can aspire.

"It's to give them the pride in the area they're working in, pride in their Afghanistan, because it is their Afghanistan," said Master Cpl. Kevin Nanson, 35, of A Company, 3 Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, based in Edmonton.

"They're highly trained, they're highly motivated, they crave learning; they're always wanting to learn something new. They come from up north, for the most part, so this is a whole new area to them, as well as a whole new area for everyone here, so it's a big learning process."

Sayed Mir, an 18-year-old recruit who has just 10 months' experience as a police officer, represents a clean slate for the training effort. He's young, ambitious and motivated, and clearly understands the opportunity ANCOP affords.

"I like to work with Canadians, together," Mir said with the help of an interpreter.

"We have training, and I learn more things about Canadians - patrols, IEDs, searching, training about ambushes, how to attack. We learn a lot of things from Canadian soldiers."

The officers go out on daily patrols with their Canadian mentors, all of whom are linked together under the umbrella of the Police Operational Mentor and Liason Team, or POMLT - a new subset of the OMLT concept coalition forces have been using to train members of the Afghan National Army.

There are perils, however.

Police in Afghanistan remain woefully vulnerable, bouncing across the countryside in pickup trucks with AK-47s on their shoulders and machine-guns mounted on the roof.

Their limited defences, combined with their symbolic alliance with the government, makes them easy pickings for Taliban insurgents, who routinely ambush officers on patrol, at checkpoints or during poppy eradication efforts - even when they're asleep.

On Monday, Taliban militants killed 11 ANP officers and wounded a 12th when they opened fire on a group of officers who were sleeping on the floor of a mud-walled police compound in Maranjan, 24 kilometres north of Kandahar city in the district of Arghandab.

They stripped the compound of its weapons and set fire to a police truck and a motorcycle.

Guests in the compound earlier that night may have drugged the officers to allow their attackers access to the compound, said Kaleemullah Nakeebi, an Arghandab community elder.

More than 1,000 police officers were killed in attacks last year, the deadliest year since the Taliban launched their insurgency in the wake of a U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Despite the best efforts of countries like Canada and the United States to get security forces up to speed, police in southern Afghanistan still feel sorely neglected, said Amanullah Khan, Kandahar province's deputy chief of police.

"The police are carrying the heaviest load on their shoulders," Khan said. "Our government can't do anything for the police because it is itself (a) beggar."

The ANP needs additional resources that go beyond new police sub-stations and training, he added.

"I am sure they are constructing a lot of places and roads for us, but now it is the time that Canadians must focus on the police."

The POMLT was launched last September in conjunction with Afghan authorities and coalition forces to "develop the professionalism and autonomy" of the police and "extend the legitimacy and authority of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan."

The idea is that eventually, with the help of the Afghan National Army, Afghan police will be able to help not only to maintain security in the area but to reinforce the notion among skeptical villagers that the Afghan government can improve the quality of life in southern Afghanistan.

"They're already ANCOP, which is one step above your normal police, so they already have that status to them," Hanson said of his group of officers.

"They're always craving that extra training and extra bit of information."

They seem to crave attention, too.

At the sight of a western journalist, they crowded around like autograph hounds, mugging for the camera and posing proudly with their green Ford Ranger, a machine-gun mounted on the back and the word ANCOP emblazoned on the hood.

A crude, hand-lettered cardboard sign at the entrance to their bunker makes clear their allegiance - "ANCOP: Long Life, Afghanistan and Canada."

As the officers prepared for an afternoon patrol, they suited up in their grey uniforms - complete with a special ANCOP insignia on the sleeve - and protective vests, each pocket brimming with machine-gun magazines.

Mir's helmet and sunglasses, with a black scarf pulled over his face, gave him a menacing stormtrooper appearance that belied his youthful, boyish features.

Afghanistan's police still aren't ready to go it alone, he acknowledged.

"If (the Canadians) will leave Afghanistan, we can't defend our country. When we get some practice, after that we can defend against our enemy," he said.

"We are proud of Afghanistan and proud of the Afghanistan people."

- With files from A.R. Khan in Maranjan
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Conflict, poverty can't sink Afghan pro's dream for his weedy Kabul Golf Club
The Canadian Press / April 20, 2008
KABUL — The weedy desert fairways and oil-and-sand "browns" of Kabul Golf Club are a long way from the emerald hues of the Masters and Augusta National, but thanks in part to a Canadian benefactor, the game's irrepressible spirit is very much alive in Afghanistan.

It resides in Muhammad Azfal Abdul, quite probably Afghanistan's only golf professional - a man whose unwavering tenacity, patience and passion for the game despite impossible odds mirrors the interminable struggles of his birthplace.

"Everyone knows my name as a player in Afghanistan," Abdul, 46, says matter-of-factly, his pro shop a battle-scarred shack that has served as both a Soviet military outpost and a Taliban barracks.

"Most of the foreigners and local Afghans, they are just waiting for this ground to be cleaned and (completely) green, then they will definitely come. I am very hopeful for the future."

Abdul was but a boy when Kabul Golf Club opened its doors in 1967, catering to moneyed western diplomats, ambassadors and scions of the country's royal family.

Back then, there was grass on the fairways and greens and a fully furnished clubhouse. But Abdul, who took up the game at 10 and eventually became Kabul's golf pro, was forced to shutter the course in 1978 on the eve of the Soviet invasion.

Decades of military and civil conflict, culminating in the fall of the Taliban in 2001, conspired against Abdul's boyhood playground, which lay along a tactically vital route into Kabul.

Over the years, tanks and armoured vehicles ripped up the grass; rocket and mortar fire pitted the fairways, levelled trees and littered the course with unexploded shells.

It wasn't until 2003 that security in Kabul had improved to the point where Abdul and his partners could breathe new life into the course, dragging off the rusting relics of the Soviet occupation and calling in crews to clear the grounds of anti-personnel mines.

A year later, Kabul Golf Club was still a shadow of its former self. But Abdul and his partners threw open the doors anyway, attracting international attention and foreign benefactors, including at least one from Canada, in the process.

"It was my childhood game, and I like it very much, and I made it my profession - I spend as much money as I have on this game," says Abdul - a confession familiar to many western golf fanatics.

"I would keep this mission as long as I have the energy. I would face any problem to keep this game, because it's my profession, my aim, my goal."

Sticklers for the rules of golf might find the Kabul course hard to take. Rutted, rock-strewn fairways of hardpan and thistle demand a tee or a mat of artificial turf for every shot.

The cups and pins are made of old car parts and rusty steel rebar. Caddies smooth the putting surfaces, made of compacted oiled sand, with a rug.

The glory days of the early 1970s far behind him, Abdul today relies on the charity of foreigners who send him used balls and clubs.

Of the battered, age-old sets in the caddy shack, 24 of them are from Canada, by Abdul's count.

Kabul Golf Club is not without its charms. Players are accompanied not only by a caddie who carries the bag, tees the ball and selects clubs, but also a forecaddie who sprints ahead to show golfers the line of play.

It costs US$15 to pay the nine-hole course, or $30 to go around twice. The club also raises funds by selling sells hats and shirts for $20 and $30 respectively.

With barely a handful of players each day, pace of play is not an issue. Curious Afghan onlookers travelling to the nearby Qargha picnic area stop their cars to watch.

"Just enjoy being a celebrity and wave politely as if this happens every time you play," the club's website advises. "Then try not to flub your next shot."

Even the legacies of golf greats like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus have made their way to Afghanistan, where fledgling players like Hasmatullah - an 18-year-old with a natural, graceful swing that belies the fact he's been playing for less than a year - have their own dreams of greatness.

"They are the winners, they are the champions - and I would like to show them that I have the talent, that I can play as well," Hasmatullah says.

"I would love to play with them, and I am very hopeful and I want them to come here, see our golf course and give us some advice, and help us if possible."

When asked what Kabul Golf Club needs the most, Hasmatullah is blunt. "Gloves, balls, all the kit - tees, we need these things," he says.

"And plus, grass."

On this day, Hasmatullah is playing with Jorg Herrera, a 43-year-old German expat stationed in Kabul who visits the course at least once every two weeks.

"You can tell they practice every day," Herrera says with a rueful smile as Hasmatullah gracefully lashes a powerful drive down the middle.

For Herrera, however, golf in Afghanistan has little to do with well-struck drives or birdies and bogeys.

For him, like so many other things in Afghanistan, it's about the spirit of the game, about the tenacity of believers like Abdul, about the place's potential for future growth and success given a chance at peace, stability and prosperity.

"Here, for me, golf is a different concept," he says.

"I come here to meet people, to play with the people. Being here with the kids, for them I think it's a great opportunity. The more people come here and just behave naturally and play, the better it is for the development of the people who are here."

If nothing else, the course is providing a living of sorts to the young boys who work as caddies, scrounging for tips from the wealthy diplomats and embassy officials who are satisfied even with the chance to swing the club and hit a few balls.

"For them, it's work and fun, and this can develop into something really nice," Herrera says.

"If 10 of these kids can become really good caddies, or really good golf players, hey, this is fantastic, this is something the place has never seen."

"There's a lot of potential for this game here that people are not aware of."
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Women's group supports Taliban peace talks
Written by www.quqnoos.com Saturday, 19 April 2008
Head of women's assembly urges UN to sponsor peace negotiations

THE HEAD of the Afghan Women Assembly (AWA) has urged the UN and the international community to join her organisation in supporting peace talks between the government and the Taliban.

The head of the AWA, Fatana Ishaq Gailani, said women were vital to the success of peace talks between the two warring sides.

At a meeting on Thursday, Gailani called for the UN to support the AWA in its search for a peace deal.

Gailani blamed foreign interference for the long war in Afghanistan, and called on foreign countries to help the Afghan government to restore peace and security in the country.

She told foreign troops to stop searching people’s houses during military operations and criticized the lack of co-ordination among the various foreign forces based in the country.

For their part, Afghans must put aside tribal and religious differences before peace negotiations could begin, she said.

She also said that donor countries must increase economic aid, instead of military aid, in order to create more job opportunities.
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Bullets, blood and bravery on the 999 run in Afghanistan
The Sunday Times April 20, 2008
Stuart Webb joins Britain’s elite combat medics on a relentless series of dangerous flights to rescue the injured – both friend and foe There’s a battle under way in the Helmand desert and we are flying straight into it. I would normally worry about hitting turbulence; now I’m worried about being hit by ground fire. An injured American special forces soldier needs rescuing urgently, but he is stuck in the middle of the firefight.

“We’d fly in under fire to save one of the guys,” says RAF pilot Dan Padbury. But as we approach he is told to hold his Chinook helicopter close by while US special forces fight the Taliban on the ground and clear the airspace for an assault by “fast air” – military slang for the jet fighters that are about to attack.

The battle rages on. Meanwhile, we are kept in an extreme holding pattern. In fact, the Chinook is circling so low that you could almost stick your hand out of the open windows and touch the ground. There are 16 people in here with me – members of the forces’ medical emergency response team (MERT) – risking their lives in the hope of saving one.

Among them are a paramedic, a trauma nurse and two doctors – one of whom is also an anaesthetist. Their skills and equipment make the MERT the most advanced first-response airborne combat medical team in the world.

Today’s team leader, trauma nurse Squadron Leader Charlie Atherton, tells me that she was called out on Christmas Eve to rescue a Royal Marine commando who had stepped on a mine. She found him lying in the crater caused by the explosion. He had lost three limbs, so Charlie’s first instinctive response was to hold his one remaining hand.

For Surgeon Commander Dan Connor, it’s his first day on this tour. He’s a military doctor, but normally works in a National Health Service hospital in Portsmouth. I wonder what his civilian counterparts would say if they could see him now, preparing drips in the cabin of a twisting helicopter on the edge of a firefight with the Taliban.

As we continue to circle, an Apache attack helicopter rides shotgun. A quick response force of British soldiers ready their weapons and steel their nerves. They know that when the Chinook lands they will be first out of the door, protecting the helicopter and crew from whatever is out there. Most wear white surgical gloves which contrast oddly with the black barrels of their guns. These soldiers often help with the stretchers – and it can be a bloody business.

Finally, after 45 minutes of circling, the fighting eases and the Chinook is ordered in. The rescue is over in seconds but there’s no time to waste: some civilians in a car have hit a roadside bomb. Two are considered “critical”; up to seven are dead.

As the helicopter lands, a pile of bodies comes into view. Once the survivors are loaded aboard, the team immediately swing into action. But with the quick response force, the bomb disposal team and the Chinook’s RAF gunners in the cabin, there’s barely space to move.

It’s also extremely cold. The daytime temperature in the helicopter during the winter is around -5C and at night it often drops another five. It’s so cold that equipment often becomes brittle and breaks and the drips need to be preheated before coming aboard. On top of this, there’s all the deafening noise.

By the time we land at the British military hospital at Camp Bastion, all three patients have been stabilised. Later the crew find out that the two civilians they have rescued are in fact Taliban, blown up while planting their own roadside bomb.

The crew have already missed lunch and as we prepare to go for dinner, the “red phone” in the MERT’s “ready room” rings again. Night has fallen as the hungry crew race to the helipad.

A man has been shot four times and is bleeding to death. He will die within the hour if we don’t take off – and even though he is a Taliban fighter, the team decide to launch. Though these are military rescue flights, the MERT team are just as likely to be out saving a member of the Taliban as one of their own troops.

We are now flying in an area strewn with hills, cliffs and mountains – in total blackout conditions. The risk of ground fire means that no cabin lights are allowed as we skim through the darkness. I can only just make out the soldiers sitting in front of me in the cabin and can see nothing through the windows. As we get closer I feel the sensation of the helicopter dropping for the final run in.

Two US special forces soldiers come along to guard their captive, but he’s not going anywhere; in fact, he has almost bled to death. He has been shot three times in the leg and once in the arm, the high velocity rounds shattering his thigh bone and severing the artery.

Unable to find a vein for the drip, the medical team use a new method, perfected in combat medicine, which involves drilling directly into the hip bone to administer fluids straight into the marrow. By the time they get the Taliban fighter to Camp Bastion, they have stabilised him, effectively saving his life. The damage to his leg is so severe, however, that it will later have to be amputated.

The next morning, Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Sheridan, one of the other MERT doctors, visits the Taliban fighter – who could be a commander and therefore useful for intelligence. “It’s amazing what Afghans can survive,” he says. “They’re really tough. I’m constantly seeing them survive injuries that would kill people back home.”

I can see what he means. Despite being a whisker away from death last night, the Taliban fighter is now awake and alert. “The first thing he asked for when he woke up was his mobile phone,” says Sheridan. We both know he will never get it back. The intelligence people will already be scanning it for Taliban contacts.

Surgeon Commander Ben Siggers now joins the helicopter team. I had already bumped into him last night as he came out of surgery, just after operating on an Afghan National Army soldier who had accidentally shot himself three times in the foot.

The Afghan’s gun had been set to automatic. Siggers had tried to hide a smile as he told me about it. “I don’t suppose he’ll do it again,” he said.

As the new day passes, the team manage to have breakfast and lunch without being interrupted by a call. But the red phone rings again in the afternoon and I soon find myself in the back of a Land Rover with Siggers, hurtling towards the helipad.

His smile has been replaced by a look of intense concentration: “We’re being told it’s a mine strike,” he says, “and there are two casualties, both serious.”

This time an American convoy has hit a roadside bomb. As soon as the casualties are stretchered aboard, it’s clear that one of the soldiers is in a very bad way.

Ground medics have incorrectly inserted an airway tube into his stomach instead of his lungs. The team immediately replace the airway and frantically battle to save his life. But he’s quiet and motionless. Seeing him splayed out at my feet, I am hit by a wave of sadness. His life seems to be slipping away, but the team fight for him all the way back to base.

As the helicopter lands in a cloud of dust, Siggers jumps out and then accompanies the stretcher the short distance to the hospital, where he quickly briefs the waiting surgeons. They lift the American onto the treatment table and try to resuscitate him. Despite everyone’s best efforts, it soon becomes evident that he is dead.

The medics are deflated as they slowly make their way out of the hospital. They know that, thousands of miles away, an American family will soon be told that they have lost their son. A life cut short; a family shattered.

Next to me, Siggers stands with the blood of the dead soldier on his uniform. Outside in the peace and quiet, away from the noise of the helicopter, I start to feel a little shell-shocked. I’m not the only one. The trauma nurse who fought so hard to save the soldier starts to cry. This is her first day in the job.

Atherton sums up the feelings of the team: “Not a good day for us, but we did everything we could.”

We make our way back to the MERT ready room and have just gone through the door when the red phone rings again. For a moment, everyone is open-mouthed in disbelief. Then they all run for the helipad.
— Stuart Webb is a journalist for Channel 4 News
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Teachers demand their jobs back
www.quqnoos.com Written by Ghafoor Saboory Saturday, 19 April 2008
Thousands forced to teach subjects they know nothing about

THOUSANDS of teachers who lost their normal jobs when the Ministry of Information closed down the illiteracy department two weeks ago have said they face an uncertain future.

Many teachers, responsible for teaching millions of men and women who cannot read or write, have been without their jobs ever since the closure.

Others say the Ministry of Education has forced them to teach subjects they know nothing about or to travel to schools in remote areas.

Many complain that they spend most of their Afg3000 per month salary on transport to and from the country’s remote areas.

About 60% of men and about 80% of women in Afghanistan are illiterate, according to the UN.

The Ministry of Education refused to comment on the illiteracy department’s closure or the uncertain future of the 4,000 teachers who once taught people how to read and write.
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There is no quick-fix for Afghanistan
Spring is in the air and with it a slew of yet more strategies which only serve to add to population's festering grievances and alienation
The Observer, UK Nick Grono April 19, 2008
It's spring again in Afghanistan. At this time of year, events follow a familiar pattern: the mountain snows melt, Nato gears up for expected Taliban attacks in the south, and experts tell us it is our "last chance" to keep the country from falling into the abyss and propose new strategies to forestall this.

But Afghanistan does not need yet more new strategies. Too often in Afghanistan, when something doesn't go right, straight away, we are told it is not going work, so a different strategy is required. Too often, experts propose quick fixes to deep-rooted problems that are simply not amenable to rushed solutions. The latest such proposal gaining much currency in Kabul and some western capitals is that of a grand bargain with the Taliban. The talk is of identifying the "moderate" Taliban leaders, and luring them over to the government's side. While there may well be a need to attract the Taliban's foot-soldiers - often disenfranchised and alienated Afghan youths - away from extremist leaders, talk of high-level deals in fact risks exacerbating the problem it is trying to solve.

The sad reality is that Afghanistan has suffered from sustained conflict for almost 30 years. The enduring paradigm is that of abusive power-holders preying on the local populations. The power-holders change - absolute monarchs, Afghan communists, Soviet military, mujahideen, Taliban, and now re-empowered warlords - but the problem remains the same: highly personalised rule, a culture of impunity, and the abuse of large sections of the population on ethnic, regional, tribal, or sectarian grounds.

The US and its allies reinforced this pattern of grievance and impunity in 2001 and 2002 by outsourcing the fighting and stabilisation operations to discredited and largely disempowered warlords and commanders. When they entrenched themselves in their former fiefdoms, they reverted to their old practices of human rights abuse, corruption and drug production, working once again to build their own networks at the expense of central government authority.

The result is festering grievances and an alienated population that often has little faith in its leadership and offers rich pickings for insurgent recruitment.

Quick fixes, such as arming local militias, empowering discredited power-holders, making deals and giving impunity to extremists, don't address these problems - they worsen them. The local population understands the hypocrisy of such policies, and knows that they will continue to be the victims of these power-holders.

Indeed, Kabul and the international community should be doing what they have said they would do for the last six years, but haven't. They need to implement the strategy that they have all signed up to - namely building representative, participatory institutions that provide good governance and economic development and enforce rule of law.

What does this mean in practice? The international community must commit for the long haul. It needs to hold the Afghan government and itself to commitments already agreed - such as the vetting process for governors, police chiefs and other senior officials. Institution building and accountability must take priority over favoured individuals in every area if stability is to prove sustainable. We must focus on a proper presidential and parliamentary election process, including a credible complaints mechanism. We must work with Kabul to properly empower legitimate provincial councils and hold long overdue district council elections, to help this highly centralised state deliver services at the local level, where it really matters. We must get the judicial system working, particularly at the local level, so it can deal with the prevalent land, water and tribal disputes that cause so much localised conflict.

None of this requires a radical new strategy. The necessary steps are set out in the Afghan Compact (pdf), agreed with much fanfare by Kabul and its international partners back in 2006. The next big international conference for Afghanistan, in Paris in June, presents the opportunity for a frank assessment of progress to date, particularly on appointment vetting, transitional justice and disarmament, all of which appear to have been forgotten. Properly prioritise and implement these commitments and we will see real improvements in the lives of ordinary Afghans in all parts of the country. Then we won't need talk of doing deals with the Taliban, because their reluctant constituency will have already turned against them.
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Bus crash kills seven and wounds 16
Written by www.quqnoos.com Sunday, 20 April 2008
Deadly crash as bus veers off road and nose dives into river

AT LEAST seven people have been killed and 16 more injured when the bus they were travelling in careered off a road in Maydan Wardak and plunged into a river.

Four dead bodies had already been fished out of the Logar River last night (Saturday), but three were still missing, the province’s spokesman, Abdul Wadod, said.

The wounded, which included women and children, were rushed to Saidabad hospital, close to where the tragedy occurred.
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Herat tops list of government earners
www.quqnoos.com Written by Anwar Hashimi Sunday, 20 April 2008
Province on Iranian border collects the most tax in the country
HERAT made the most money for the government last year, with the provinces of Balkh and Nangarhar coming in second and third place respectively.

The revenue office in Herat raised about Afg5.8 billion in tax last year, but officials say they expected more.

Revenue officer Said Ziaullhaq Sakha believes that a ban on importing low quality cars, which were designed before the year 2000, and a ban on right-hand drive vehicles meant that his office failed to meet its target.

He also said that some businessmen were forced to use Nimroz to import goods because of the brutally cold winter in Herat last year, which killed scores of local people.
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