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April 21, 2008 

Security and governance biggest Afghan problems: Solana
Mon Apr 21, 8:23 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Poor security and the lack of good governance are the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Monday.

U.S. General Sees Afghans Securing Own Land by 2011
The New York Times - World By CARLOTTA GALL  April 21, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan -The Afghan Army and police forces should be able to secure most of Afghanistan by 2011, allowing international forces to start withdrawing, the American commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan

Pakistan frees top militant leader: official
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) - Pakistan on Monday released a top militant leader with links to Afghanistan's ousted Taliban militia after nearly seven years of detention, an official said.

Afghan, Iran guards in deadly clash over land
Mon Apr 21, 2:15 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - An Afghan teacher was killed in a clash between Afghan and Iranian border guards over a small piece of land on the frontier, Afghanistan's interior ministry said.

Hit Indian soap opera pulled from Afghan TV
Mon Apr 21, 2:00 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - An Afghan TV station said it had pulled a popular Indian soap opera, branded "un-Islamic" by conservative clerics, on the orders of the government which also wants several others banned.

MP: turn off Indian soap operas or face attack
www.quqnoos.com Written by Mukhtar Soar Sunday, 20 April 2008
Warning to private TV stations as Ministry issues two-day deadline
THE MINISTRY of Information and Culture has told private television stations to stop broadcasting Indian soap operas within the next two days.

Afghanistan Eyes $50 Billion In Aid For National Development Plan
KABUL (AFP)--Afghanistan hopes a June donors' meeting in Paris will secure $50 billion in aid to implement a five-year development plan, Finance Minister Anwar-ul haq Ahadi said Monday.

Only 35 pct of Afghan schoolchildren are girls: aid group
Mon Apr 21, 5:21 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Only 35 percent of Afghan schoolchildren are girls and while the number of children going to school is going up, the proportion of girls in education has remained the same, an aid group said on Monday.

Karzai rejects call to end death penalty but says life sentencing better
The Canadian Press
KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai expressed reservations Monday about imposing the death penalty but rejected calls to abolish capital punishment in his country.

Defence secretary Gates says air force is 'stuck in old ways of doing business'
Elana Schor in Washington guardian.co.uk, Monday April 21 2008
The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, today fired the latest volley in his clash with the air force over equipment sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, criticising a branch of his own military as "stuck in old ways of doing business".

Pakistan recovers 2 UN employees after gunbattle near Afghan border
By RIAZ KHAN,Associated Press Writer AP - Tuesday, April 22
PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Pakistani security forces recovered two U.N. employees after a gunbattle Monday with their captors in a militant stronghold near the Afghan border, an official said.

Canadian spending on Afghanistan to top $1 billion in 2008
Mike Blanchfield  Canwest News Service Sunday, April 20, 2008
OTTAWA - Canada's yearly cost of the war in Afghanistan doubled in 2006 and was projected to crack the $1-billion mark this year, Canwest News Service has learned.

Oda in Kabul as Ottawa seeks to focus development efforts, set benchmarks
The Canadian Press
KABUL — The federal cabinet's march through Afghanistan continued its brisk pace Monday as International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda surfaced in Kabul, the latest emissary in Ottawa's ongoing push to refine the goals and objectives of Canada's Afghan mission.

Taliban says killed Dutch soldiers over film
Reuters India, India Mon Apr 21, 2008
LONDON-The Taliban said a deadly attack on Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan was in retaliation for an anti-Islamic film made by a politician from the Netherlands, a U.S. terrorism monitoring service said on Sunday.

Afghan army kills 7 insurgents in Afghan south
Mon Apr 21, 2008 10:22am EDT
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan soldiers killed seven insurgents in the southern province of Helmand, the Defence Ministry said on Monday.

Pakistan says efforts doubled to recover kidnapped ambassador
Islamabad, April 21, IRNA
Pakistan has doubled its efforts to recover its ambassador to Afghanistan, kidnapped by Taliban in February, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani has said.

NATO undermining opium fight, Khalid says
GRAEME SMITH Globe and Mail Update April 21, 2008 at 1:30 AM EDT
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — Foreign troops have undermined the Afghan government's poppy-eradication campaign in Kandahar, the governor says, and the lack of support has added to the risks of the operation.

Afghan governor blasts plot to oust him
In exclusive interview, embattled Kandahar chief says military officials fed Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister 'bad information'
GRAEME SMITH From Monday's Globe and Mail April 21, 2008 at 1:30 AM EDT
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — Asadullah Khalid says the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring to replace him as Kandahar governor is part of a plot hatched at a military base and represents the latest example of dangerous friction between

Germans say U.S. is holding innocent man
BERLIN, April 21 (UPI) -- German intelligence officials say they believe a German national held by the U.S. military in Afghanistan is innocent of terrorist charges.

UNHCR resumes Afghan voluntary returns as road reopens
KABUL, 21 April 2008 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency resumed its Afghan voluntary return operation via Peshawar in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on Sunday, 20 April.

France to deploy new Afghanistan force by August
Mon Apr 21, 2008 9:35am IST
PARIS (Reuters) - France will deploy the additional battalion of troops it has promised to send to Afghanistan before the end of August, Defence Minister Herve Morin said on Sunday.

Training bolsters leap forward for Afghan police
Ryan Cormier, Canwest News Service Sunday, April 20, 2008
Panjwaii district, Afghanistan - Security in the Panjwaii district and the expertise of the men who police it are soon both expected to take a much-needed leap forward when nearly 200 officers return better trained than when they left eight weeks ago.

Afghan minister arrives in Islamabad for four-nation talks on gas pipeline
www.chinaview.cn  2008-04-21 23:57:42
ISLAMABAD, April 21 (Xinhua) -- Afghan Minister for Mines and Industries Engineer Ibrahim Adil arrived in Islamabad on Monday to attend talks on the multi-billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India

Afghanistan struggles to provide decent healthcare
Mon Apr 21, 2008 10:22am EDT By Tan Ee Lyn
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan laborer Chaman traveled a whole day to bring his son to Kabul to have a kidney stone removed after doctors in their home province turned them away because they could not afford the fees.

Less than half of Dutch public support for Afghan mission
www.chinaview.cn  2008-04-21 23:45:48
BRUSSELS, April 21 (Xinhua) -- Public support for the Dutch military's involvement in Afghanistan is decreasing and a recent opinion poll among people in the Netherlands showed that less than half of the population supports the mission

Conflict, poverty can't sink Afghan pro's dream for his weedy Kabul Golf Club
The Canadian Press
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

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Security and governance biggest Afghan problems: Solana
Mon Apr 21, 8:23 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Poor security and the lack of good governance are the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Monday.

More than six years after U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban, violence has surged in Afghanistan and Western politicians and think-tanks have this year warned the country risks becoming a failed state and sliding into anarchy.

A major donors' conference on Afghanistan planned in France for June will focus on the issues of security and governance, Solana said. He said he discussed the two issues with President Hamid Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since the Taliban's 2001 ouster and relies on Western funds for 90 percent of his budget.

"When we talk about challenges, we have to talk about difficulties that prevent everything that is done ... one is security and that is important ... for the development of the country," Solana told a joint news conference with Karzai.

"The second thing is governance. The ownership of the process belongs to the country ... but together with ownership comes accountability, comes responsibility and comes good governance."

Karzai is under fire at home and in some Western capitals for failing to crack down on endemic corruption, not removing ineffective and corrupt officials and allowing warlords to extend their influence.

The EU is Afghanistan's second largest donor after the United States. Some $14 billion dollars has been pledged by donors to Afghanistan at several previous international conferences held since 2001, Afghan officials said.

But Karzai's government has control of only one-third of the money that has been pledged or spent, the officials said. Karzai said his government was ready to be held to account for any aid channeled through it.
(Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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U.S. General Sees Afghans Securing Own Land by 2011
The New York Times - World By CARLOTTA GALL  April 21, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan -The Afghan Army and police forces should be able to secure most of Afghanistan by 2011, allowing international forces to start withdrawing, the American commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, Gen. Dan K. McNeill, said Sunday.

“By about 2011 there is going to be some pretty good capacity in the Afghan National Army,” he said in an interview in the Kabul headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force.

“It will take them a few more years to get their air transport and air support platforms online, but they should be covering a lot of battle space by some time in 2011, in my view,” he said.

By then, barring any cataclysm, the countries contributing troops to the international force could look at whether such a large international force was still desirable, General McNeill said. “I think you begin to get to a juncture and say, ‘Probably not, maybe we should be starting to change the way this force works,’ ” he said.

The issue has been important to the discussion within NATO about its mission in Afghanistan. Some members of NATO, which has taken over much of the security for the country, have been reluctant to send troops, or to allow their troops to operate in areas where the insurgency is active.

General McNeill said that the United Nations-mandated force, which includes 47,000 troops from 40 countries, would be better named the Interim Security Assistance Force, in recognition of its temporary role until Afghan forces can take over.

The general, who will complete his second tour in Afghanistan this summer — he commanded American forces from 2002 to 2003 — said that Afghan forces had already effectively been managing the security for Kabul, the capital, for the last year, albeit with NATO support. He also expressed confidence that the Afghans would be able to secure the country well enough for the country to hold presidential elections in September 2009.

“Tactically, on the battlefield, the insurgents did not have a very good year last year,” he said. “The so-called toe-to-toe fights will probably be less common — smaller skirmishes — but the technique of choice for the insurgent will be the improvised explosive device and the suicide bomber.”

He said he had seen intelligence reports that more foreign fighters had been arriving recently in the tribal areas of Pakistan that border Afghanistan, where Pakistani and Afghan members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda continue to find sanctuary. “The reports are they are increasing,” he said.

“It quite possibly could mean, in the areas that are adjacent to the border, a more active spring or summer than we should have had,” he said.

“If there are sanctuaries for the extremists, for the miscreants, for the insurgents, that remain just out of reach of security forces, then it becomes a difficult problem and it makes achieving long-term security and stability within Afghanistan awfully hard to reach,” he said.

The long-term stability of Afghanistan also depends on the good will and help of all its neighbors, not just Pakistan, he said. “All neighbors have to be helpful, and there are quite a few neighbors around here,” he said.

NATO forces must improve their training to avoid roadside bombs, which have increased significantly in recent months, he said. But he said that the Afghan forces were the best protection against suicide bombers, since the bombers were usually strangers, and Afghans were likely to spot strangers much more quickly than foreign soldiers could.

Development of a national police force is critical to success in countering the insurgency, he said, adding that despite generous support from the United States Congress for police training, “The rate of progress is not fast enough for any of us.”  
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Pakistan frees top militant leader: official
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) - Pakistan on Monday released a top militant leader with links to Afghanistan's ousted Taliban militia after nearly seven years of detention, an official said.

Sufi Mohammad, the chief of banned group Tahreek Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM) and some 30 others were released under a peace agreement with tribal elders, provincial information minister Sardar Hussain Babek told AFP.

Mohammad was arrested in October 2001 as he entered Pakistan from Afghanistan with a group of armed men after US-led military launched a campaign to oust the fundamentalist Taliban regime.

"Sufi Mohammed and the jirga (tribal council) have given assurances that he and his companions will remain peaceful," Babek said.

"Our government wants all the issues to be resolved amicably through negotiations," he said.

A copy of the peace agreement issued to media late Monday said suicide bombings and the killing of innocent people had necessitated the accord.

Under the agreement, TNSM will continue to pursue a peaceful struggle for the enforcement of Islamic Sharia while respecting the law and condemning those commit violence.

Mohammad, who held sway in northwestern Swat valley of North West Frontier Province, allegedly sent hundreds of men into Afghanistan to fight in support of the Taliban against US-led military.

The Swat valley used to attract a large number of foreign visitors drawn by its Buddhist heritage and archaeological sites.

But the area in the province bordering Afghanistan has in the past two years become a stronghold of Mohammad's son-in-law, Mullah Fazlullah.

Fazlullah is also known as "Mullah Radio" for his fiery radio speeches in which he has called for the imposition of Islamic Sharia law and for a holy war on security forces.

The army pushed thousands of troops into Swat in October to counter followers of Fazlullah.

Pakistan's army said in February it had cleared most of the valley, which has experienced several suicide attacks in recent months.
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Afghan, Iran guards in deadly clash over land
Mon Apr 21, 2:15 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - An Afghan teacher was killed in a clash between Afghan and Iranian border guards over a small piece of land on the frontier, Afghanistan's interior ministry said.

Two Iranian guards were also wounded in the clash Saturday, it said, adding the fighting started after Iranian border security forces entered the western province of Nimroz.

"An Afghan civilian who was a teacher was killed in a clash between Afghan and Iranian border guards. The fighting took place after the Iranians entered and claimed a piece of land," the ministry said in a statement.

It did not say how much land the Iranians had claimed except that it was not large and added that the Afghan owner, who was using it for farming, had documents proving his ownership.

The Afghan troops sealed off the area and forced their Iranian counterparts to "escape," the ministry said.

The Iranians had left behind a vehicle which was returned to them, it said.

The long border between the two countries is porous and difficult to police. It has seen clashes before, sometimes related to the trafficking of Afghanistan's mammoth drugs production across the frontier.
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Hit Indian soap opera pulled from Afghan TV
Mon Apr 21, 2:00 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - An Afghan TV station said it had pulled a popular Indian soap opera, branded "un-Islamic" by conservative clerics, on the orders of the government which also wants several others banned.
 
The show, named "Kumkum" after the central character, is the first victim of a government order giving several stations until Tuesday to stop airing certain programmes it says undermine Afghan culture.

The stations had ignored a previous government order against the shows -- all of which touch on love stories and disputes among Hindu families -- by mid-April.

"Under pressure from the Ministry of Information and Culture, we had to stop running one of our famous shows, an Indian drama," said Abdul Qadir Mirzai, chief news editor and spokesman for leading private station, Ariana.

"It was a famous drama and had lots of fans," Norzai said.

"Kumkum" centres on the love story of an Indian Hindu couple. It aired most evenings and was stopped from Sunday, Mirzai said.

Its popularity had attracted advertisers and its loss would cause "significant" cash losses.

The culture ministry -- headed by the controversial and conservative Abdul Karim Khurram -- has meanwhile issued a "last" deadline to several other private TV stations to stop similar serials, a spokesman told AFP.

"If they don't stop by Tuesday, they will be referred to judicial authorities," spokesman Hamid Naseery told AFP.

Among the soaps ordered off are the hit "Kyon Ki Saas Bi Kabhi Bahu Thi" (Because a Mother-in-law once was a Daughter-in-law), also known as Tulsi, and "Kasauti Zindagi Kay" (Tests of Life), both on top station Tolo.

Tulsi, the tale of a beautiful Hindu housewife hated by her mother-in-law, was the first soap opera to be aired after the fall of the 1996-2001 Taliban government, which banned television as "un-Islamic."

It hit the television screens in 2006, winning over a legion of fans but angering conservative Islamic circles such as the powerful national Ulema (clerics) Council.

The heads of the country's electronic media met with Afghanistan National Journalists Union Saturday to find a "moderate solution to the problem," the union said in a statement.

They called for a meeting with President Hamid Karzai and religious leaders to find a way to allow the shows to air, it said, adding they may agree to "edit out culturally and religiously sensitive scenes."
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MP: turn off Indian soap operas or face attack
www.quqnoos.com Written by Mukhtar Soar Sunday, 20 April 2008
Warning to private TV stations as Ministry issues two-day deadline
THE MINISTRY of Information and Culture has told private television stations to stop broadcasting Indian soap operas within the next two days.

The order to turn off the “un-Islamic” programmes by Tuesday (April 22) is the second deadline the ministry has set: the first one passed last week, but TV stations continued to broadcast the Indian soaps.

Kabul Member of Parliament Mohammed Daud Kalakani threatened to attack television stations that disobeyed the ministry’s latest ultimatum.

Kalakani told the Lower House yesterday (Saturday) that about 100 of his constituents had complained to him about the “vulgar” soaps.

He said: “These constituents said that they will attack the TV stations.”

Also yesterday, the National Union of Journalists said it was seriously concerned about what it called anti-media propaganda on state-owned television.

The union criticised national and international organisations, including the United Nations and the European Union, for failing to speak out against what it called the government's attempt to curb freedom of speech.

At the union’s meeting, some members said that banning Indian soap operas would affect Afghanistan’s relationship with India, which plays a large part in rebuilding the country.

Some Kabul residents believe the government wants to gag the country’s private media ahead of next year’s presidential elections.

Razai, one of the city’s students, said: “If government wants to stop cultural aggression from outside, then it should first of all stop the CDs that arrive in the country uncensored, and the cable broadcasts”.

Another student, Hamedullah, said: “If these soaps were stopped then people start using the uncensored CDs and the cable networks.”

The Ministry of Information and Culture banned four private stations from showing Indian soaps, but all stations apart from one have continued to show the serials.

The stations argue that the ban was not voted on by Parliament and so is not legally binding.
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Afghanistan Eyes $50 Billion In Aid For National Development Plan
KABUL (AFP)--Afghanistan hopes a June donors' meeting in Paris will secure $50 billion in aid to implement a five-year development plan, Finance Minister Anwar-ul haq Ahadi said Monday.

The plan, called the National Development Strategy, or ANDS, was presented to donors at an "aid effectiveness" conference here.

Based on a year of wide-ranging consultations, it will be assessed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, Ahadi told reporters after the meeting.

The finalized strategy would become the basis of requests from donors at the June conference, he said.

"For this strategy, the Afghan government has asked the world for $50 billion in aid for five years," he said.

The ANDS was a comprehensive plan, the minister said. "All walks of government are included: security, good governance, financial growth, important issues such as counternarcotics, capacity building, equal rights of women ..."

One of the biggest projects in the strategy was for the production of electricity, which reaches only about 10% of Afghans.

There were also plans to build thousands of miles of roads as well as more dams and irrigation systems, the minister said.
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Only 35 pct of Afghan schoolchildren are girls: aid group
Mon Apr 21, 5:21 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Only 35 percent of Afghan schoolchildren are girls and while the number of children going to school is going up, the proportion of girls in education has remained the same, an aid group said on Monday.
 
The Taliban banned girls from school when they were in power from 1996 to 2001, but there are now more girls in education than there were boys at school under the hardline Islamists.

There are now more Afghan children in school than ever before.

"Great achievements have been made in the education sector in Afghanistan. However, more must be done to ensure that girls are not excluded from education," CARE International said in a statement.

Thirty-five percent of Afghan children enrolled at schools are girls, CARE said citing Afghan Education Ministry figures, but "despite an overall increase in numbers of enrolled children, the percentage of female students is not increasing."

The lack of women teachers, only 28 percent of the total, meant parents were often reluctant to send their daughters to be taught by men. Parents were also reluctant to send their girls to schools too far from the home, CARE said.

Nearly 150 students and teachers were killed and around 100 schools burnt down by Taliban militants in the Afghan year that ended in March, the Education Ministry said, but a record 5.7 million children were now in education.

CARE said around a third of state schools were exclusively for boys and the number of girls in education could be increased cost-effectively by alterations to these existing buildings to ensure segregation of the sexes demanded by conservative Afghan culture or by different time-tabling for boys and girls.

Parents also need to be convinced of the value that Islam places on the education of girls, it said.
(Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by David Fox)
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Karzai rejects call to end death penalty but says life sentencing better
The Canadian Press
KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai expressed reservations Monday about imposing the death penalty but rejected calls to abolish capital punishment in his country.

"I am very slow in approving the orders for executions," Karzai said. "I prefer life sentencing because that would serve as a better lesson."

The Supreme Court recently upheld rulings by lower courts to sentence about 100 people to death, despite concerns that the fledgling legal system does not ensure fair trials. Karzai must give final approval for executions to take place.

However, in cases such as kidnappings and killings of innocents, Karzai said he would follow Shariah, or Islamic law, which sanctions capital punishment.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said last week that Afghanistan does not meet international standards for due process and fair trials in capital cases, and urged Karzai to suspend the death penalty immediately.

The Taliban - which earned notoriety for conducting public executions during their rule - has demanded a halt in executions as some of their captured fighters are believed to be on death row.

But any move to end the death penalty could back fire politically for Karzai. Capital punishment enjoys strong support among Afghanistan's deeply conservative population.

In October 2007, 15 people convicted of crimes were executed by gunfire inside a prison complex outside Kabul. The 15 were Afghanistan's first state-sanctioned executions since the ouster of the Taliban by U.S.-led forces in the late 2001.

The United Nations criticized the executions, but Afghan authorities said they would continue the practice.
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Defence secretary Gates says air force is 'stuck in old ways of doing business'
Elana Schor in Washington guardian.co.uk, Monday April 21 2008
The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, today fired the latest volley in his clash with the air force over equipment sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, criticising a branch of his own military as "stuck in old ways of doing business".

Gates has prodded the air force since last year to add more of the unmanned planes called Predators, which specialise in surveillance video, to the two war efforts. Predator capacity has increased to 22 from 12, but Gates said today that more progress is needed.

"Because people were stuck in old ways of doing business, it's been like pulling teeth" to secure more unmanned planes from the air force, Gates said in a speech to military university students.

"While we've doubled this capability in recent months, it is still not good enough."

Also called a "drone", the Predator flies as high as 25,000 feet, carrying missiles and infrared cameras. Air force leaders have chafed at the pace of Predator pilot training requested by Gates, fearing that the rush would leave the force unqualified.

"[T]he chief goes, 'Okay, they want more, here's what we're going to do: Shut down the schoolhouse, shut down test and training … chain the operators to the consoles, give them a coffee can to pee in'," one senior air force official told the Los Angeles Times last month.

But Gates has pressed on in his commitment to the Predators. The Pentagon chief said today he has set up a military-wide task force "to find more innovative and bold ways to help those whose lives are on the line".

The clash over unmanned planes is not the only contentious issue surrounding the air force this spring. The Pentagon inspector general released a scathing report last week that documented the rigging of a $50m contract for entertainment at the branch's popular Thunderbirds air shows.

In addition, the air force has become mired in the political fallout from its award of a $40bn tanker contract to a team that included European aircraft company EADS, rather than US-based Boeing's team.
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Pakistan recovers 2 UN employees after gunbattle near Afghan border
By RIAZ KHAN,Associated Press Writer AP - Tuesday, April 22
PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Pakistani security forces recovered two U.N. employees after a gunbattle Monday with their captors in a militant stronghold near the Afghan border, an official said.

One paramilitary soldier was killed and four were wounded in the clash in Khyber tribal region, said Mohammed Iqbal, a local government official. The two employees of the World Food Program, both Pakistanis, escaped unharmed, he said.

Unidentified gunmen captured the U.N. workers earlier Monday as they traveled by road to Torkham, U.N. spokeswoman Amina Kamal said. Torkham is the main international border checkpoint linking northwestern Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It was not clear whether the gunmen belonged to an Islamic militant group or were criminals kidnapping for ransom.

Iqbal had no information on whether any of the gunmen were killed or wounded in the gunbattle.

The U.N. spokeswoman said the two employees were now back in Peshawar, capital of North West Frontier Province.

Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan was abducted in Khyber on Feb. 11 as he headed by road to Kabul.

The ambassador, Tariq Azizuddin, appeared on a video aired Saturday on Al-Arabiya television saying he was kidnapped by Taliban militants, and urging the government of Pakistan to take steps for his release.

Since then, Pakistan has said it was making efforts for the recovery of Azizuddin.

The abductions have underscored the precarious security along Pakistan's frontier with Afghanistan after years of clashes between Taliban fighters and Pakistani forces.

Pakistan's new civilian government is seeking dialogue with militants in a bid to bring peace to the region.
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Canadian spending on Afghanistan to top $1 billion in 2008
Mike Blanchfield  Canwest News Service Sunday, April 20, 2008
OTTAWA - Canada's yearly cost of the war in Afghanistan doubled in 2006 and was projected to crack the $1-billion mark this year, Canwest News Service has learned.

An internal Defence Department report of the Afghanistan mission's costs, dated this past Jan. 25, shows that the incremental cost of the Afghan mission spiked noticeably to $803 million in the fiscal year of 2006-2007, nearly doubling the $402 million from the previous year.

This sharp increase in spending coincides with the massive escalation of the Taliban insurgency in 2006, which set off a wave of unprecedented violence across southern Afghanistan.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg. It shows what mission creep is really doing," said NDP defence critic Dawn Black, who obtained the new figures through Access to Information.

Black was critical of the fact the cost of the war to taxpayers was not fully debated and said that the figures should have been disclosed to the House of Commons before the Liberals supported the Conservative government motion to extend the mission to 2011 on March 13.

"It's wrong that the cost of the war has never been part of the debate. These numbers were available before this motion was passed in the House of Commons with the help of the Liberals."

The NDP opposes Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan and wants the country's 2,500 troops, mostly based in Kandahar province, brought home immediately.

The figures show that for the first nine months of this recently ended fiscal year, from April 1, 2007 to Dec. 31, 2007, the incremental cost of the war was $871 million.

Another $206 million was pegged as the incremental cost for final quarter of the fiscal year that ended on March 31, bringing the year's total to $1.007 billion.

The $1-billion-a-year price tag is expected to hold for another year. The report projects the incremental cost for 2008-09 to be $1.009 billion.

The Defence Department defines incremental cost as "the cost, which is over and above the amount that would have been spent for personnel and equipment if they had not been deployed on the task. The incremental costs include items such as the additional ammunition required, mission specific pre-deployment training, strategic transport and redeployment, and operating cost for the capability deployed in theatre."

The Canadian Forces have had to bolster the mission with dozens of armoured vehicles to counter the growing threat of roadside bombs.

An Ottawa Citizen investigation revealed this past November that the military had purchased a record amount of guns and ammunition between February and June 2007. The $54 million the government spent in that brief time frame on small arms, big guns, ammunition, explosives, grenades and other miscellaneous weapons exceeded what the military spent on those items in all of 2005 and 2006 combined.

The Citizen analysis established that for every dollar spent on a gun, at least $20 was spent on ammunition.

The Jan. 25, 2008 Defence Department report said that the incremental costs are projected to decrease by 2011, totalling just $411 million in the next two fiscal years.

But Black questioned that estimate, noting that it was prepared prior to Parliament voting to extend the mission to 2011 and before the independent panel headed by John Manley released its report calling on Canada to supply medium-lift helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles as a condition for extending the mission in Kandahar by two years.

The report said that the total incremental cost of the mission dating back to 2001 is projected to reach $5 billion by the end of 2011.

That represents an increase of $500 million over previous estimates, the report said.

The extra costs are due to a projected $337-million spending increase in "enhanced force protection assets" and another $165 million to cover the costs of vehicle and equipment refurbishment over the next two years.

During testimony before the Commons defence committee in late November, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the total Afghanistan incremental costs stood $3.1 billion since 2001.

According to the Jan. 25, 2008 report, that figure stood at $3.4 billion as of Dec. 31, about one month after MacKay testified.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was asked during a news conference at the recent NATO leaders' summit in Bucharest, Romania for a cost estimate of Canada's involvement in Afghanistan.

"I don't have one off the top of my head. I could get it for you," the prime minister immediately replied.

"I think the cost of our military engagement probably amounts to about a billion a year, but probably half of that would be consumed anyway."

The Jan. 25 report showed that in 2006-2007 the full cost of the mission was $1.915 billion, of which $803 million was deemed incremental. Between April 1 and Dec. 31 last year, the $871 million incremental cost was part of an overall cost of $2.076 billion.

The Defence Department's annual $18.2 billion budget is projected to increase to more than $19 billion this coming year.

In Bucharest, Harper also noted that, "we're up to several hundred million dollars already on the development front."

The federal government has pledged $1.3 billion in development spending to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2011, making it Canada's largest aid recipient. That includes $300 million added by the Conservatives to the earlier $1-billion pledge by the former Liberal government.

"So it's a big, big mission, both military and civilian, by any measure," Harper said in Bucharest. "Both No. 1 military and No. 1 civilian development mission in the world."
Ottawa Citizen
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Oda in Kabul as Ottawa seeks to focus development efforts, set benchmarks
The Canadian Press
KABUL — The federal cabinet's march through Afghanistan continued its brisk pace Monday as International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda surfaced in Kabul, the latest emissary in Ottawa's ongoing push to refine the goals and objectives of Canada's Afghan mission.

Following closely on the heels of Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, Oda's stated objective in Afghanistan is to help establish new "benchmarks, timelines and objectives" that dovetail with existing international goals and also fit within Canada's new 2011 timeline.

"We believe it is time for us to ensure we are making a particular and focused contribution to development in Kandahar" province, where Canadian forces are deployed, Oda told delegates at a donor conference at the Afghan Foreign Ministry.

"We can and must do a better job of building up mechanisms to better inform policy-making and budget decisions, and to keep track of progress and results achieved."

Her visit comes less than a week after much the same message was delivered by Bernier, who was himself preceded by MacKay last month.

"We have to ensure we are more focused, that we are going to outline the benchmarks that we want to achieve," Oda said.

"We've accelerated the pace; that's why I'm here, and why we've had other ministers visiting as well."

At a newly minted teacher's college in the bustling capital, funded with Canadian help, Oda was greeted with flowers and open arms by grateful administrators and Afghan Education Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar.

A hand-painted banner over the door to the school, flanked by Canadian and Afghan flags, read: "We welcome the Canadian delegation from the bottom of our heart."

Alongside Atmar and Arif Lalani, Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan, Oda toured the facility and listened to the stories of its students, which included - as such visits often do - pleas for more financial help for their troubled country.

Oda and her handlers beamed when Atmar pointed out that Canada is already the top donor to the Education Quality Improvement Project, or EQUIP, Afghanistan's largest education program.

"Already, (Oda) was kind enough, with the ambassador, to support your programs," he told the students.

"Your national centre for teacher training and your provincial colleges . . . will all be supported with significant (funds) that come from Canada."

Last October, Atmar was in Montreal with Oda as she announced $60 million over four years to better allow schools and communities to manage teaching and learning activities, build facilities and hire personnel, all with a special emphasis on educating girls.

"We now see young girls and young women attending teacher's college - they have curriculum developed, they've got textbooks now, as well as teacher training manuals," Oda said later.

"This (Atmar) kindly attributed to Canada's contribution."

Care International reported Monday that only 35 per cent of the students in Afghan schools are girls, a fact the aid group attributes in part to a shortage of female teachers.

The new school year began last month with 6.2 million students, but Care said the proportion of girls enrolled is still likely to be just over a third of all students as it has been since 2002.

Care said 3,400 of the country's 9,062 schools are exclusively for boys, versus only about 1,300 for girls. It said 28 per cent of Afghan teachers are female, with most working in urban areas.

Education ministry spokesman Hamid Helmi said the government hopes to boost female enrolment by improving security, training female teachers and building more schools in remote areas.

"Instead of one big school in the centre of the district, we want to have 10 small schools near the villages, which will help girls go to school easier," Helmi said.

The ministry's goal is that within four years 60 per cent of all girls will be in classes and 75 per cent of all boys - up from roughly 50 per cent now.

A key component of Canada's new development strategy in Afghanistan is to ensure the Afghan government is "in the driver's seat" and pushing its own development agenda, Oda said.

Donor countries must push development and reconstruction in those parts of the country "where they are well established and best placed to do so," she added.

"I've met with various ministers to get a sense of their assessment of the progress made and where they would like to see greater progress," Oda said.

"I've been able to talk to them about their contributions and their plans, and as well to get a picture of the realities of what is possible within the time frame we've laid out for ourselves."
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Taliban says killed Dutch soldiers over film
Reuters India, India Mon Apr 21, 2008
LONDON-The Taliban said a deadly attack on Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan was in retaliation for an anti-Islamic film made by a politician from the Netherlands, a U.S. terrorism monitoring service said on Sunday.

The son of the new chief of the Dutch military and another Dutch soldier serving with NATO-led forces were killed when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on Friday.

The attack was one of "a sequence of missions taking revenge for the insulting film", the Taliban said in a message in Arabic on its website, according to the terrorism monitoring service of a U.S. author and analyst who goes by the pseudonym Laura Mansfield.

Dutch MP Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration Freedom Party, launched the anti-Koran film "Fitna" -- an Arabic term that can mean strife -- on the Internet last month.

The film urges Muslims to tear out "hate filled" verses from the Koran, and includes a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb under his turban.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has repeatedly said that the government rejects Wilders' views.
(Writing by Keith Weir, editing by Ralph Boulton)
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Afghan army kills 7 insurgents in Afghan south
Mon Apr 21, 2008 10:22am EDT
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan soldiers killed seven insurgents in the southern province of Helmand, the Defence Ministry said on Monday.

The insurgents had infiltrated the village of Haji Amin, in the district of Garmser on the Helmand River, when they were killed by Afghan National Army troops backed by air support from international forces, the ministry said.

Helmand, where mostly British and Afghan troops are fighting the Taliban insurgency, is a largely desert province cut in two by a strip of lush fertile land along the Helmand River that produces almost half the world's opium.

In a separate incident, five Afghan soldiers were wounded when their vehicle hit a roadside mine in the southern province of Zabul on Sunday.

The Taliban regularly use roadside bombs in their fight to topple the Afghan government and drive the international forces that back it out of the country.

(Writing by Jonathon Burch, Editing by Alex Richardson)
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Pakistan says efforts doubled to recover kidnapped ambassador
Islamabad, April 21, IRNA
Pakistan has doubled its efforts to recover its ambassador to Afghanistan, kidnapped by Taliban in February, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani has said.

The ambassador Tariq Azizuddin appeared on Al-Arabiya television on Saturday saying he was being held by the Taliban.

He urged the Pakistani government to accept Taliban demands to free some people.

The ambassador did not name the persons Taliban want to be freed for the release of the ambassador.

But local media has reported that Taliban want to swap the ambassador with 10 prisoners including Mansoor Dadullah, brother of slain Taliban commander Dadullah and another Taliban leader Maulvi Ubaidullah.

Mansoor was arrested last month in the southwestern Balochistan province after a gun-battle with Pakistani security forces.

Taliban kidnappers had also called for the release of former prayers leader of Islamabad's Red Mosque Maulvi Abdul Aziz, who has been under detention since July after the security forces stormed the mosque killing his brother and 90 students.

A tribal elders said that Taliban have also called for the release of Maulvi Sufi Muhammad, chief of the banned group, Tehrik, who was arrested in 2001 after returning from Afghanistan.

He said Taliban captors have also called for the release of suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

They include Sher Zaman Mesood, Rafaqat, Hasnain Gul, Aitzaz Shah and Noor Khan, who are stated to be supporters of the Baitullah Mehsood, the chief of Pakistani Taliban Movement.

However, spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban Movement Maulvi Umar has denied any relations with the kidnappers.

It is still a mystery if the ambassador is held hostage by Pakistani or Afghan Taliban either in Pakistani or in Afghanistan.

Sources said that Pakistan had earlier agreed to free five Taliban leaders but the idea was dropped later.

The ambassador was kidnapped on February 11 along with his guard Amir Sultan and driver Gul Nawaz from Pakistan's Kheyber agency.

"We were kidnapped by Taliban Mujahideen from the Ali Masjid area in Kheyber agency when we were heading to Afghanistan in official car," the ambassador said in Urdu language statement in the Arabic TV channel video.

Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani directed all relevant authorities to double the efforts for safe recovery of the Ambassador and the two other persons, an official statement said.
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NATO undermining opium fight, Khalid says
GRAEME SMITH Globe and Mail Update April 21, 2008 at 1:30 AM EDT
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — Foreign troops have undermined the Afghan government's poppy-eradication campaign in Kandahar, the governor says, and the lack of support has added to the risks of the operation.

At least 13 police have been killed and one reported missing during poppy eradication so far this month, and the task has been more difficult, Governor Asadullah Khalid said, because his NATO allies refuse to help and, in some cases, appear to be blocking the effort.

The governor was especially upset about a firefight on the morning of April 6 that killed nine officers in the district of Maywand, west of Kandahar city.

He said his office notified the Canadian military three weeks ahead of time that his teams would be visiting certain locations in Maywand to destroy the opium fields. But on the appointed day, he said, NATO troops stationed nearby failed to help his men during an hour-long battle against Taliban fighters.

“They didn't help us, even though they were very close,” Mr. Khalid said. “We gave them all the plans and programs beforehand. They were informed, and they promised us they will help us if something happens to our police.”

The foreign troops have been similarly unhelpful in Panjwai district, he said, where NATO soldiers warned his officers that no assistance would be available if they got into trouble. In Zhari district, he said, NATO troops stopped his teams from working. In Maywand, he said, tribal elders were told that the foreign troops are not against opium cultivation.

“They said, ‘We don't want to make enemies for ourselves,'” Mr. Khalid said. “It's very bad for eradication when you're telling the elders, we are not against your poppy. It means we have different policies.”

Growing opium is illegal in all parts of Afghanistan, but governors are encouraged to follow the National Drug Control Strategy when conducting their spring eradication programs. The strategy calls for targeted eradication of fields where farmers might be able to grow other crops, in part, to avoid victimizing the poorest farmers, who often suffer more eradication because they cannot pay bribes.

“Experts work with over 70 data sets to produce the target maps,” said David Belgrove, head of the British counter-narcotics team in Kabul.

But governors often stray from the experts' maps as they feel pressure from power brokers or other local influences, observers say. The governor of Helmand province aimed 60 per cent of his eradication at the targeted areas this year, Mr. Belgrove said, while in neighbouring Kandahar, the governor only followed the maps for 8 per cent of his campaign.

“We've managed to stay in the target areas in Helmand because we have a good dialogue with the governor and the task force there,” Mr. Belgrove said.

“Unfortunately, Governor Khalid's eradication has been outside of those areas,” he said. “It's very sad that it's been in some insecure areas where it's caused deaths.”

Canadian troops are usually instructed to avoid interfering with opium cultivation or eradication; Canadian drug policy focuses on alternative livelihoods for farmers.

A Canadian military spokesman read a transcript of Mr. Khalid's comments and responded that there isn't any dispute between the Canadians and their counterparts in the local government or the Afghan National Security Forces.

“The spirit of co-operation between Canadian forces, Afghan government and ANSF is very strong and there are a growing number of mechanisms in place at the provincial and district level which are leading to ever closer co-operation and co-ordination,” said Lieutenant-Commander Pierre Babinsky. “We meet regularly with the governor of Kandahar province on security and other issues.”
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Afghan governor blasts plot to oust him
In exclusive interview, embattled Kandahar chief says military officials fed Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister 'bad information'
GRAEME SMITH From Monday's Globe and Mail April 21, 2008 at 1:30 AM EDT
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — Asadullah Khalid says the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring to replace him as Kandahar governor is part of a plot hatched at a military base and represents the latest example of dangerous friction between himself and his Canadian allies in southern Afghanistan.

In his first interview since Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister suggested he should be removed, the embattled governor defended himself against charges of corruption and voiced his own complaints about his international allies, saying they broke their promises to help his police when they were locked in deadly firefights with the Taliban.

Mr. Khalid said unspecified officials at Kandahar Air Field must have given “bad information” to Maxime Bernier before Canada's Foreign Minister started a diplomatic storm last week by suggesting that firing the governor would reduce corruption in the province.

Only the elected government of Afghanistan should make such decisions, Mr. Khalid said, and only the Afghan government should investigate its own corruption cases. He recently invited the Afghan Attorney-General's office to examine the administration in Kandahar, he added, and that investigation had cleared him of wrongdoing.

The Harper government retracted Mr. Bernier's comments, and Mr. Khalid says a Canadian official later called him to apologize. While saying he's pleased by the quick reversal, Mr. Khalid thumped his fist against the wall of his office in quiet frustration as he described how his relationship with Canada became so troubled.

“It was not a mistake of Mr. Bernier,” he said. “It was a mistake of maybe one, two, three people in the KAF.”

Two Afghan sources say Mr. Khalid had anticipated moving to another job in the near future, but that the undiplomatic statement by Mr. Bernier has embarrassed President Hamid Karzai, who has decided to keep Mr. Khalid in his position for now.

Perhaps realizing that he must continue working with Canada, Mr. Khalid seemed eager to repair the relationship. He was polite and gracious with a visiting Canadian reporter during lunch at his palace in Kandahar city, and spoke about the need for better co-operation with his NATO allies.

“We know now that we need more co-ordination,” he said. “And co-ordination is not just this: To have meetings. We need real co-ordination.”

Some of the recent disagreements have turned deadly, he said. On Feb. 18, Afghan police warned the Canadian troops to avoid visiting the town of Spin Boldak because of intelligence showing a suicide bomber ready to strike a convoy; the soldiers went into town despite six warnings, Mr. Khalid said, and 38 people were killed.

“If they don't listen to us, we will have the kind of tragedy you saw in Boldak,” he said.

More recently, Mr. Khalid referred to a series of bloody incidents in which he sent eradication teams to destroy poppy fields west of Kandahar city, resulting in firefights against local insurgents that killed at least a dozen police. He blamed NATO for failing to provide backup.

Canadian and British officials disagreed with the governor's version of events, saying he was sending Afghan forces to eradicate poppy outside of designated zones. A Canadian official did agree, however, that the foreigners could work better with Mr. Khalid: “We will engage him more in future.”

One of the ways that Canada had planned to deepen its engagement with the provincial administration in Kandahar was adding civilian advisers to the Joint Provincial Co-ordination Centre, a small Canadian military outpost inside the walls that protect the governor's palace in downtown Kandahar city. The proposal called for Canadian experts to live and work in close proximity with Mr. Khalid and help him run an effective government.

But Mr. Khalid expressed little enthusiasm for the idea.

“In each sector, when we need something, capacity building, reconstruction, or something, the Afghan side should tell them this is what we agree with, this is what we should do,” he said. “No one can put something on us, to do like this.”

Although the governor never spelled out his suspicion about why he believes the Canadian Foreign Minister spoke out against him, he hinted broadly that it's connected to a campaign to install a Canadian interpreter in his place.

“There was a guy named Pasha, he was working as an interpreter with your military,” Mr. Khalid said. “There was a program to make him governor.”

Pasha is a pseudonym for a 28-year-old Afghan-Canadian who has become a well-known figure in Kandahar as an interpreter and cultural adviser for Canadian Brigadier-General Guy Laroche. Some observers see his bid for the governorship as a long shot, but Mr. Khalid said he has been hearing rumours about such a plan for the past three months.

“I met the interpreter himself,” Mr. Khalid said. “I told him, look, it will be better if you follow the Afghan way and meet with the President. Maybe they will need you in the government. But this is not the way. We have our own government, elected government, and our own freedom.”

A senior Canadian official ridiculed the idea of a conspiracy to replace the governor with a military interpreter. “The business about Pasha being hatched as a plan to replace him is really far-fetched,” the official said. “It's puzzling and unfortunate and certainly patently untrue.”
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Germans say U.S. is holding innocent man
BERLIN, April 21 (UPI) -- German intelligence officials say they believe a German national held by the U.S. military in Afghanistan is innocent of terrorist charges.

U.S. soldiers arrested the man, identified as Gholam Ghaus Z, a German citizen of Afghan dscent, when he tried to enter Bagram Air Base to buy cheap American goods, Der Spiegel reported Monday.

A search uncovered foreign telephone cards, a brochure of London's Tower Bridge and foreign currencies totaling more than $1,500. U.S. officials suspected he was involved in a terror plot.

German intelligence officials said they found no evidence the man, who has been held since January, was linked to terrorism and point to his history of mental illness as possibly raising the suspicions of the U.S. military.

In March, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier took the case to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who promised to look into it, officials said.
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UNHCR resumes Afghan voluntary returns as road reopens
KABUL, 21 April 2008 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency resumed its Afghan voluntary return operation via Peshawar in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on Sunday, 20 April.

This comes after a five-day suspension (15-19 April) in assisted returns through NWFP to Afghanistan due to a blockade on the Peshawar-Torkham border road. UNHCR’s Hayatabad Voluntary Repatriation Centre (VRC) was closed during that period and Afghans were requested not to come forward for repatriation via Peshawar until further notice.

The road is now clear and open to traffic. As a result, Afghans can now approach Hayatabad VRC for repatriation.

Several hundred Afghan families who had been processed for repatriation at UNHCR’s Hayatabad Voluntary Repatriation Centre (VRC) but were unable to leave in the last few days, have now left for Afghanistan. UNHCR had provided some 300 of these families with hot meals, plastic sheets and blankets during the time they were stranded.

In south-western Pakistan, assisted returns were not affected by the recent road block and have been continuing through UNHCR’s Baleli Voluntary Repatriation Centre in Balochistan.

Between1 March and 20 April 2008, nearly 30,000 Afghans have returned home with an enhanced repatriation package averaging $100 per person.
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France to deploy new Afghanistan force by August
Mon Apr 21, 2008 9:35am IST
PARIS (Reuters) - France will deploy the additional battalion of troops it has promised to send to Afghanistan before the end of August, Defence Minister Herve Morin said on Sunday.

"They will leave this summer, in July-August," Morin told Europe 1 radio.

President Nicolas Sarkozy promised earlier this month to send a battalion of around 700 soldiers to eastern Afghanistan, allowing U.S. troops there to be sent to reinforce a 2,500-strong Canadian contingent in the south.

France currently has around 1,500 troops in Afghanistan as part of a 2,200-strong contingent serving in the region with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission and the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom.
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Training bolsters leap forward for Afghan police
Ryan Cormier, Canwest News Service Sunday, April 20, 2008
Panjwaii district, Afghanistan - Security in the Panjwaii district and the expertise of the men who police it are soon both expected to take a much-needed leap forward when nearly 200 officers return better trained than when they left eight weeks ago.

The Afghan National Police have always been a far-flung second to the Afghan National Army in both skill and professionalism. However, now that rag-tag police officers are being pulled from their posts and uniformly trained district-by-district, there is hope they can gain some ground and manage defined and separate responsibilities from the army. 

"They're both fighting the same foe right now. What we're trying to do is bring the police towards the more usual community-policing role you see in Canada," said Col. Jean-Francois Riffou, commander of the Canadian Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team, or OMLT. "The army should focus on the fighting the insurgents."

The Panjwaii district, west of Kandahar City, has a history of Taliban activity. Territory that coalition forces had won was lost last spring and summer, partly because of poor policing in the area. Afghan security forces could not hold the ground on their own and Canadian soldiers returned to assist.

The Afghan National Police have had problems with what the Canadian Forces call "survivability."

Put simply, they were dying. Stations were ravaged and overrun by insurgents. In Kandahar last year, 27 police officers were killed for every one casualty in the Afghan army.

This past week, 11 police officers were killed by Taliban who snuck up on them while they slept in an outpost north of Kandahar City.

Riffou has heard the criticism that there should have been more initial focus on the police than the army, or at least equal focus. The coalition has now recognized the need for better police and taken steps to straighten out the thin blue line.

In September, the OMLT expanded its work to include the police, placing Canadian soldiers among local officers in sub-stations in Panjwaii and Zhari.

The new training is called Focused District Development and includes basic police work, investigative skills and scenario-training. They come back with a new set of skills, new status and a new title - Afghan Uniformed Police.

The Panjwaii officers are due back at the end of April.

As officers are pulled district by district, they are replaced by members of the Afghan National Civil Order Police, who are reportedly elite, but few in number. Canadian officers compare them to SWAT teams seen in North America in terms of their hierarchy within the ranks, but not necessarily their capability.

Once Afghan Uniformed Police return from training, the civil order ranks move on to a new district so those officers can go to the same two-month course.

The newly trained officers should make an immediate impact, Riffou said Sunday.

"Instead of less than a dozen people on a checkpoint with very limited potential to patrol, they'll be coming back in groups of 40 to 45," he said. "They'll be able not only to maintain a foothold in the police station itself, where the population can interact with them, but also have a greater ability to patrol wider areas."

There will be fewer police stations, but more opportunities for officers to reach out to the community around them.

That will be of particular benefit to the locals, said Panjwaii-based Capt. Torry White of the OMLT, because they will see familiar faces behind the uniforms.

"They are from around here, so there will be some advantages to that. The locals are going to see that people they grew up with have become a professional organization. I think they'll be proud of that."

Canadian military leaders hope an increased police presence will help coax back some of the population in the area that have fled over the last few years of conflict.

The district-focused training, done largely by a U.S. private contractor DynCorp, is also expected to help professionalize the police. In past years, there have been concerns about corruption, infighting, mistreatment of suspects and general incompetence.

Although Canadian Forces would like to see more fully trained police officers, accommodating nearly 200 at one time is a challenge in itself.

"We have to prepare to receive them, house them, feed them, and get them organized with their equipment and mentors to put them back out on the police sub-stations," Riffou said. On one of his weekly trips out from the Kandahar Airfield to discuss issues with his troops in Panjwaii and Zhari, the organization and accommodation of the police was at the top of the list.

Canada has almost two dozen police officers, mostly RCMP, attached to training efforts across Afghanistan. A training centre for senior officers opened just last week at the provincial reconstruction team site in Kandahar City.

Capt. Slade Lerch of the OMLT points out the best reason for the police to improve - the better-trained army simply can't do their job for them.

"The military has to stay away from dealing with the civilian population. Dealing with civilians is a police job. Dealing with the enemy is a job for the army. As soon as the army starts treating civilians as the enemy, that's a key indicator that something is drastically wrong."
Edmonton Journal
rcormierthejournal.canwest.com
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Afghan minister arrives in Islamabad for four-nation talks on gas pipeline
www.chinaview.cn  2008-04-21 23:57:42
ISLAMABAD, April 21 (Xinhua) -- Afghan Minister for Mines and Industries Engineer Ibrahim Adil arrived in Islamabad on Monday to attend talks on the multi-billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.

The two-day ministerial level talks will last from April 23 to 24. Indian oil minister Murli Deora will also attend the TAPI meeting, which is planned to officially induct India into the project.

The project, now at its preliminary stage, is predicted to be completed by 2018.

The capital of the pipeline, that is to originate from Turkmenistan's Daultabad gas field, is currently reported to have been revised to four billion dollars from 3.3 billion dollars in 2003.
Editor: Yan Liang 
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Afghanistan struggles to provide decent healthcare
Mon Apr 21, 2008 10:22am EDT By Tan Ee Lyn
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan laborer Chaman traveled a whole day to bring his son to Kabul to have a kidney stone removed after doctors in their home province turned them away because they could not afford the fees.

The two-year-old boy, who suffered excruciating pain for three days, finally had the stone removed in a charity hospital funded by Turkey.

"The private hospitals are only for rich businessmen. Poor people have to use government hospitals and if they can't help, the children die," said the young father from Ghazni province as he unwrapped a piece of paper to show a brown pebble measuring half a centimeter in diameter. Ghazni is southwest of Kabul.

Foreign donors have given some $15 billion in aid to Afghanistan since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, but several times more was spent per person in other conflict zones such as Bosnia and East Timor.

The U.S. military alone spends $100 million a day fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan while the total spending by all donors is only $7 million a day, aid groups say.

Nevertheless, the number of health facilities in Afghanistan has risen from 550 in 2001 to 1,429 now.

The government says free basic healthcare is available within two hours walking distance to 85 percent of the population, from just 9 percent in 2003. But people say they are far from adequate and decent healthcare is available only to those who can afford to pay, travel to the capital city, or go overseas.

"My friend's son died last year from pneumonia because he could not borrow enough money in time to take him to Kabul. In Ghazni (where they were living), good medicines aren't available in the public hospitals," said Afghan driver, January

Afghanistan has one of the world's highest infant and child mortality figures. Out of 1,000 live births, 128 die before they are a year old, and one out of every five children will not live beyond the age of five, according to official statistics.

Thirty-nine percent of children under five are malnourished due to poverty and 54 percent of Afghan children are stunted and 40 percent are underweight, according to UNICEF.

LOTS OF CRYING
"Every 24 hours, 10 to 15 children under five die in the pediatric ward," said Sister Mary Francis, a volunteer nurse from India who works at the 500-bed Herat General Hospital.

"They die of meningitis, infections, pneumonia or because they are premature. The children are very anemic because of malnutrition which makes them very susceptible to infections."

"There is a lot of crying (by parents). It is very sad."

Healthcare workers and NGO groups say many government hospitals are poorly equipped and often, doctors do not have the skills or equipment to perform some surgeries.

Institutions fell apart over the last 30 years of violence, leaving few facilities to train recruits with.

"There is only oxygen available in ICUs (intensive care units) and there is no equipment even to monitor heart rates," Francis said, referring to the Herat hospital.

While many seek treatment in Kabul, hospitals here are grim. At the Indira Gandhi Children's Hospital, a leading pediatric facility in the country, patients need to buy their own sutures, gauze, medicines, and even surgical gloves for their doctors.

"We don't have the budget, we only provide the bed and the doctor. We don't even have enough detergents to clean the floor," said a doctor, who declined to be identified. He earns $100 a month.

Many doctors run their own private practice. The facade of tattered buildings in downtown Kabul is plastered with signs advertising the many tiny clinics inside.

Observers, however, say there has been marked improvement in Afghan healthcare compared to the bleak decades of the past.

"You have to put it in perspective, this country has just come out of 25 years of devastation and war, health facilities will take time to build up," said Eric Sinclair, chief operating officer of the Cure International Hospital in Kabul.

Cure is one of several foreign aid groups helping Afghanistan run some of its hospitals. These are to be handed back eventually with more skilful medical staff and better facilities.
(Editing by David Fox)
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Less than half of Dutch public support for Afghan mission
www.chinaview.cn  2008-04-21 23:45:48
BRUSSELS, April 21 (Xinhua) -- Public support for the Dutch military's involvement in Afghanistan is decreasing and a recent opinion poll among people in the Netherlands showed that less than half of the population supports the mission, Dutch media reported Monday.

According to a survey at the weekend by Dutch pollster Maurice de Hond, only 46 percent of the respondents support the deployment in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, down from 51 percent six months ago and 56 percent a year ago.

Sixteen soldiers have died since the Netherlands sent its troops to Uruzgan in August 2006. Some 1,700 Dutch soldiers are stationed in the volatile province and the mission expires at the end of 2010.

In recent months, an increasing number of Dutch soldiers have been killed by road side bombs. The latest such incident came Friday, when two soldiers were killed, including the son of the newly-sworn in Dutch commander-in-chief of the armed forces Peter van Uhm.

Many Dutch people have lost their faith in the mission. A reader commented on Dutch paper De Telegraaf's website, "During the war they were called cannon fodder; no one ever benefited from that. Let's bring our boys back!"

Another reader said, "It's sad about the soldiers who have died, but they should not be there. These political motives are definitely not worth the lives of our boys, no matter what fine story (Dutch Prime Minister) Balkenende makes up."

Dutch military union AFMP called on the number of troops in Afghanistan to be doubled because the current troops are "not enough to keep the area under control."

Another military union ACOM said that either the Dutch troops should all return or more troops be sent out to beef them up.

The monthly survey by the Dutch Defense Ministry showed that the Uruzgan mission have never been popular since it began in 2006. The percentage of supporters has varied between 30 and 40 percent and the percentage of opponents fluctuates within the same margins.
Editor: Yan Liang 
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Conflict, poverty can't sink Afghan pro's dream for his weedy Kabul Golf Club
The Canadian Press
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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