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April 27, 2008 

3 killed in militant attack on Afghan president
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer Sun Apr 27, 2:26 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Militants firing rockets and automatic rifles attacked the Afghan president at a ceremony in Kabul on Sunday, missing their target but killing three and wounding eight others.

Afghanistan investigates deadly parade attack
by Bronwen Roberts
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan was Monday investigating how militants could get within 500 metres of President Hamid Karzai and other top leaders to carry out a brazen attack that left three Afghans dead.

Clinton: Afghanistan needs more US attention
By SARA KUGLER, Associated Press Writer
WILMINGTON, N.C. - Hillary Rodham Clinton said the assassination attempt Sunday on the Afghan president shows that the U.S. has failed to give proper attention to Afghanistan.

Germany's Merkel calls Karzai to express dismay, pledge ongoing support for Afghanistan
Associated Press / April 27, 2008
BERLIN: A spokesman for Angela Merkel says the German chancellor called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to express her dismay following an attack by suspected Taliban militants at a ceremony he was attending.

Afghanistan disappointed by German spying
Sun Apr 27, 1:47 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's government is saddened by the discovery that German intelligence spied on a minister but believes the saga will not harm future ties between the nations, a spokesman said.

24 Taliban lay down arms before government in S Afghanistan
KABUL, April 27 (Xinhua) -- Twenty-four Taliban militants, including a group commander, have surrendered to Afghan government in south province of Kandahar, a local official said Sunday.

US Marines deploying in Afghanistan for first time in years
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Sun Apr 27, 4:16 AM ET
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan - U.S. Marines are crossing the sands of southern Afghanistan for the first time in years, providing a boost to a NATO coalition that is growing but still short on manpower.

Afghanistan: Taliban Evolves Into Network Of Groups
By Ron Synovitz Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty April 26, 2008
When the Taliban began its rapid rise to power in Afghanistan in 1994, the vast majority of its members were young students of the Koran recruited from hundreds of madrasahs set up at Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. Fourteen years later

US Marines deploying in Afghanistan for 1st time in years
US Marines deploying in southern Afghanistan province to help tame violence
JASON STRAZIUSO AP News  / Apr 26, 2008 14:53 EST
U.S. Marines are crossing the sands of southern Afghanistan for the first time in years, providing a boost to a NATO coalition that is growing but still short on manpower.

Air strikes leave 15 suspected insurgents dead in Afghanistan
KABUL, April 26 (Xinhua) -- Air raids carried out by international troops on Taliban militants in Afghanistan's eastern Paktika province have left over a dozen suspected insurgents dead, spokesman of provincial administration said Saturday.

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3 killed in militant attack on Afghan president
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer Sun Apr 27, 2:26 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Militants firing rockets and automatic rifles attacked the Afghan president at a ceremony in Kabul on Sunday, missing their target but killing three and wounding eight others.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault that sent President Hamid Karzai and foreign ambassadors scurrying for cover, underscoring the fragile grip of his U.S.-backed government.

Gunmen opened fire as a 21-gun salute echoed over the capital at an anniversary ceremony to mark the mujahedeen victory over the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Hundreds of people, including army and police that had formed an honor guard inspected by Karzai minutes earlier, fled in chaos as shots rang out. The president was hustled away, surrounded by bodyguards, and left in a convoy of four black SUVs.

The gunfire apparently came from a three-story guesthouse, popular with migrant laborers, about 300 yards from the stands where Karzai was seated alongside Cabinet ministers and senior diplomats, who all escaped unharmed. A U.S. Embassy official confirmed U.S. Ambassador William Wood was also not hurt.

A lawmaker who was about 30 yards from the president was killed in the attack.

Residents reported that a 30-minute gunbattle broke out between security forces and gunmen holed up in the guesthouse, located in a neighborhood of ruined mud brick buildings.

Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak said three attackers were killed by security forces, and assault rifles and machine guns were confiscated.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujaheed said six militants were deployed to target the president, and three of those militants died in the attack. He said they were armed with guns, rockets and suicide vests although no suicide bombings were reported.

The initial moments of the attack, which came as a marching band played the finale of the national anthem, were broadcast live until TV transmissions were cut. Hundreds of dignitaries could be seen diving for cover. Two lawmakers were hit by the gunfire. One of the men slumped back in his seat, while the other lay on the ground.

Less than two hours later, Karzai appeared on state-run TV and said "everything is OK."

Appearing calm, Karzai said "the enemy of Afghanistan" tried to disrupt the ceremony but was thwarted by security forces. He said several suspects were arrested and smiled as he signed off his brief recorded statement.

About 100 people were rounded up for questioning, an Afghan intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

Associated Press reporters saw a half dozen people, who appeared to be migrant laborers from northern Afghanistan, sitting in the back of a police van outside the guesthouse, which was pocked with bullet holes. Windows were smashed, and police barred the reporters from entering.

The militant attack, the first in the capital since mid-March, came despite unprecedented tight security for Sunday's celebrations. In January, three Taliban suicide attackers hit Kabul's upscale Serena Hotel, killing eight people, including an American.

For days Kabul was ringed by checkpoints with security forces and plainclothes intelligence officials searching vehicles. The area where the ceremonies took place had been blocked by troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers, and was closed to the general public.

The live coverage of the assassination attempt will add to the sense of insecurity in the Afghan capital, which has been spared the worst of the violence as fighting has escalated between Taliban insurgents and NATO and U.S.-led forces.

The fighting left about 8,000 dead last year, mostly militants in the south and east of the country, where Karzai's government has only a tenuous grip and little public support.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer joined several foreign leaders, including some from neighboring Pakistan, in condemning Sunday's attack.

"The Taliban has demonstrated once again that they will use the most extreme violence to oppose Afghanistan's freedom and democratic development," de Hoop Scheffer said in a statement.

The presidency said Nasir Ahmad Latefi, a local Shiite leader, and a 10-year boy died in the attack. Lawmaker Fazel Rahman Samkanai died of his injuries at a hospital, Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said.

Taliban spokesman Mujaheed said the insurgents had managed to penetrate the security cordon and reach the national stadium near the parade area where the event was held.

He said BM-12 missiles a crude rocket launched from a small platform were used in the attack. He spoke to an AP reporter by phone from an undisclosed location.

Mohammad Saleh Saljoqi, a lawmaker at the ceremony, said there was continuous AK-47 fire, and one rocket, which he described as a rocket-propelled grenade, hit inside the Eid Gah mosque opposite where Karzai was sitting. Another rocket struck after the president had already left, about 50 yards away.

Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since soon after a U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime in 2001, has escaped several assassination attempts.

His narrowest escape since he became president came in September 2002 when a gunman opened fire at close quarters as he visited the southern city of Kandahar. Three people, including the gunman, died in that attack.
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Associated Press writers Matthew Pennington, Rahim Faiez, Fisnik Abrashi and Alisa Tang in Kabul and Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.
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Afghanistan investigates deadly parade attack
by Bronwen Roberts
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan was Monday investigating how militants could get within 500 metres of President Hamid Karzai and other top leaders to carry out a brazen attack that left three Afghans dead.

The insurgent Taliban movement said it launched Sunday's attack to show it had the power to strike even the nation's biggest annual military parade.

The event, which was supposed to showcase the Afghan army's growing strength after getting new training and equipment, mainly from the United States, had been weeks in the making with stepped-up patrols and roadblocks around Kabul.

Karzai immediately announced an investigation to find out how the militants breached security to hammer bullets into the back of the stage where he was seated with a host of Afghan and foreign dignitaries as well as launch rockets.

"First, it will investigate the plot and identify those behind the attack ... and second it will find out where the problem in providing security lay," Defence Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak told reporters.

The inquiry would comprise the ministries of defence and interior, the intelligence agency and the presidential security guard, the general said.

The attack erupted soon after Karzai had reached the platform following an inspection of troops and as a 21-gun salute was ringing out across the city to mark the 16th anniversary of the fall of the last communist government.

Security forces were nonetheless praised for their swift response.

Moments after the gunfire and explosions erupted, they had shot dead three attackers in a building about 500 metres (1,500 feet) from the stage where Karzai and other officials were seated.

The building, near the city's biggest mosque, is backed by a warren of bombed-out structures in one of Kabul's most shabby areas, known as a haunt of drug users and criminals.

The attackers, armed with machine guns that had grenade launchers attached, were caught with a solid supply of bullets and grenades, defence ministry officials said.

The militants killed two men -- a national parliamentarian and a tribal leader -- and wounded nearly 10, the defence ministry officials said. A 10-year-old boy was also killed, apparently in return fire.

Several people were quickly arrested, "one or two of them most likely involved in this terrorist attack," Wardak said.

Security forces had "identified some people who might have facilitated this act of terrorism," the minister added, without giving details.

Analyst Waheed Mujda said there was a chance elements of the security forces may have been involved, as has been suggested in the previous most dramatic attack in Kabul -- the Taliban's storming of a five-star hotel in January.

That strike, carried out by men in police uniform, left at least eight people dead, including three foreign nationals. It forced many venues frequented by foreigners to ramp up security.

Just like some ordinary Afghans support the "armed opposition," so do some members of the army or police, Mujda said.

"I think it would have been very difficult for them to carry out such an attack without supports from these elements," he said.

The 1996-2001 Taliban government was ousted in a US-led invasion for harbouring Al-Qaeda leaders after the 9/11 attacks.

They have regrouped to wage an insurgency that last year left 8,000 people dead, mostly rebel fighters but including 1,500 civilians.

A Western diplomat said the fact the attackers could hit such a "high-value target" was a propaganda victory, but it would be wrong to assume the strike was due to the incompetence of the security forces.

"You have got a city which has got four million-plus people, and what you never get any attention to is what does not happen," he said on condition of anonymity.

"The NDS (National Directorate of Security) is an extremely effective intelligence outfit and they have stopped a lot of attacks and have been very successful in frustrating many insurgent attempts to penetrate the city."

The diplomat added that only a small group was involved in Sunday's attack and they had only been able to come within "the end of effective range."

UN spokesman in Afghanistan, Aleem Siddique, said the Afghan security forces did a good job in securing Karzai and the other dignitaries.

"They acted calmly and swiftly took action," he said. Nonetheless, "We welcome the investigation that Karzai has announced to look at how this incident could have occurred."
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Clinton: Afghanistan needs more US attention
By SARA KUGLER, Associated Press Writer
WILMINGTON, N.C. - Hillary Rodham Clinton said the assassination attempt Sunday on the Afghan president shows that the U.S. has failed to give proper attention to Afghanistan.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault that missed President Hamid Karzai but killed three and wounded eight others at a ceremony in Kabul. Gunman opened fire as a 21-gun salute echoed over the capital at an anniversary ceremony marking the mujahedeen victory over the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Clinton noted how she had met Karzai, and said, "He is a brave man trying under very difficult circumstances to hold that country together, and we have not given him the resources he needs."

Afghanistan needs to get "as much, if not more attention" than Iraq, she added.

Clinton was speaking at an evening rally along Cape Fear in North Carolina, which, along with Indiana, holds its primary May 6. She returned to the southern state, where her opponent Barack Obama is favored, after spending two days campaigning in Indiana and appealing to working-class voters who have helped propel her to victory in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The polls show a much closer race in Indiana between the two Democratic candidates.

Speaking in a broadcast interview Sunday, Obama said race is not the reason he is struggling to attract working-class votes and insisted he can win over uncommitted superdelegates by showing he is "best able to not just defeat John McCain, but also lead the country."

Obama brushed aside a challenge from Clinton to debate before the May 6 primaries. "I'm not ducking. We've had 21" debates, he said.

Trailing in delegates and the popular vote, Clinton has been stepping up the pressure on Obama for more debates before the upcoming primaries, which are crucial to her candidacy. She also has been reaching out to uncommitted Democratic superdelegates in hopes of capitalizing on her Pennsylvania primary victory.

Clinton's Pennsylvania victory was buoyed by support from working-class and white voters, but Obama dismissed the notion that race will be a factor in the presidential election.

"Is race still a factor in our society? Yes. I don't think anybody would deny that," he said on "Fox News Sunday."

"Is that going to be the determining factor in a general election? No, because I'm absolutely confident that the American people what they're looking for is somebody who can solve their problems."

Addressing whether superdelegates should back the candidate with the most pledged delegates and popular vote, Obama said he believed voters will be frustrated if Democratic superdelegates choose to back the trailing candidate. He expressed confidence that he can convince superdelegates he is more electable.

"I think we should find that person who is going to be best able to not just defeat John McCain, but also lead the country. I happen to think I'm that person," Obama said. "I will make that argument forcefully to the superdelegates prior to the convention."

Speaking in Indiana to reporters, Obama declined to set expectations on a margin of victory in that state.

"I think winning is winning, 50 plus one," Obama said. "Indiana is a very important state, so is North Carolina, we're not taking that for granted. There's no doubt it's close."

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said superdelegates should make known their choices on the Democratic nominee for president by the end of June. Ultimately, he said he believes their decisions will be based on who is more electable, rather than who has the most pledged delegates, because that is what party rules stipulate.

"What's going to happen in the last nine primaries is there's going to be some feeling at some point that one of these candidates is more likely to win than the other and that person will get the nomination. I can't tell you who that is, I have no idea who that is, but that's what's going to happen," Dean said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The Democratic Party stepped up its attack on Sen. John McCain, using a new ad to cast the presumed Republican presidential nominee as a commander in chief who would keep troops in Iraq for 100 years. The ad is part of a half-million-dollar, three-week national cable television campaign aimed at linking the Arizona senator to the policies of President Bush.

The ad set to begin airing Monday accuses McCain of wanting to remain in Iraq for "maybe 100" years, a link to a remark McCain made in January while campaigning in New Hampshire. The ad concludes, "If all he offers is more of the same, is John McCain the right choice for America's future?"

Since then, McCain has repeatedly said he has no intention of extending the war into the next century, but would keep a U.S. military presence in Iraq much as the United States has in Germany, Japan and South Korea.

The Republican National Committee charged that the DNC ad distorted McCain's comments, and it asserted again that the ad was illegal because it was made in coordination with the Obama and Clinton campaigns. Dean has denied any coordination with the campaigns.

The Democratic candidates have also acknowledged they would keep non-combat troops in Iraq to ensure its stability. But they have said they would begin withdrawing combat troops promptly upon becoming president, a step McCain has said would be precipitous.
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Associated Press writers Mike Glover in Indianapolis and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.
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Germany's Merkel calls Karzai to express dismay, pledge ongoing support for Afghanistan
Associated Press / April 27, 2008
BERLIN: A spokesman for Angela Merkel says the German chancellor called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to express her dismay following an attack by suspected Taliban militants at a ceremony he was attending.

Merkel's spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm says the chancellor assured Karzai that Germany "will remain engaged close at Afghanistan's side." He says Merkel also asked Karzai on Sunday to express her condolences to the families of the three people killed in the automatic weapons and rocket attack.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack at an event marking the 16th anniversary of the end of Soviet-backed rule in Afghanistan. Back to Top

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Afghanistan disappointed by German spying
Sun Apr 27, 1:47 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's government is saddened by the discovery that German intelligence spied on a minister but believes the saga will not harm future ties between the nations, a spokesman said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called his Afghan counterpart Saturday to apologise and said those involved would be sacked or transferred, foreign ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen told AFP.

German media revealed last week that the country's intelligence service illegally monitored the e-mails of Commerce Minister Mohammad Amin Farhang and a reporter for the German news weekly Der Spiegel for several months in 2006.

Baheen said the government had been assured that "this was the only case and it would not be repeated."

"We are very sad about this issue, especially from a friendly government," he said.

"At the same time we are looking forward that this issue will not overshadow our relations with Germany which are strong and historical."

Farhang decline to comment.

German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said Friday at least two people would lose their jobs over the scandal and a disciplinary investigation had been launched.

Der Spiegel reported Thursday that Farhang had been the ultimate target of a spying operation that also involved one of its journalists.

The incident sparked Farhang's ire, and sharp criticism by a German parliamentary commission against Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and its chief Ernst Urlau for undermining faith in the agency.

Urlau has apologised to the Der Spiegel journalist in question, Susanne Koelbl, whose e-mails were read by BND agents from June to November 2006.

While it remains unclear why the BND set its sights on Farhang, who has a German passport and lived for several years in Germany, the Der Spiegel said he had been a secret source for several of its articles in recent years.
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24 Taliban lay down arms before government in S Afghanistan
KABUL, April 27 (Xinhua) -- Twenty-four Taliban militants, including a group commander, have surrendered to Afghan government in south province of Kandahar, a local official said Sunday.

The group of insurgents, fighting the government for the past four years, laid down their arms on Saturday in Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar, a known birthplace of Taliban, chief of the district Abidullah told Xinhua.

The Karzai administration has been calling on the militants to lay down arms and join the government's efforts in restoration of peace and reconstruction in the war-torn country.

In a recent development, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in an interview with the New York Times, had urged U.S. forces to stop arresting suspected Taliban and their sympathizers, arguing that the arrests and past mistreatment were discouraging Taliban from laying down their arms.

The U.S.-led Coalition forces Sunday said that during a search operation for a Taliban militant on Saturday in Tag Ab district of Kapisa province, north of the capital Kabul, they entered into a clash with an unknown number of militants and killed several "anti-Afghan" militants.

There were several civilian casualties during the battle, during which Afghan National Security Forces also provided reinforcements, the military said in a statement, without elaborating.
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US Marines deploying in Afghanistan for first time in years
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Sun Apr 27, 4:16 AM ET
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan - U.S. Marines are crossing the sands of southern Afghanistan for the first time in years, providing a boost to a NATO coalition that is growing but still short on manpower.

Some of the 2,300 Marines that make up the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit helped to tame a thriving insurgency in western Iraq.

The Marines are working alongside British forces in Helmand province the world's largest opium-poppy region and site of the fiercest Taliban resistance over the last two years. The director of U.S. intelligence has said the Taliban controls 10 percent of Afghanistan much of that in Helmand.

"Our mission is to come here and essentially set the conditions, make Afghanistan a better place, provide some security, allow for the expansion of governance in those same areas," said Col. Peter Petronzio, the unit's commander.

Thirteen of the 19 Marines in the platoon of 1st Lt. Adam Lynch, 27, served in 2006 and 2007 in Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar province in western Iraq. The vast region was once al-Qaida in Iraq's stronghold before the militants were pushed out in early 2007.

Lynch expects the Marines, who arrived last month on a seven-month deployment, will help calm Helmand as well.

"If you flood a city with Marines, it's going to quiet down," Lynch said in between sets of push-ups on Helmand province's sandy ground. "We know for seven months we're not here to occupy, we're just here to set conditions for whoever comes in after us."

Taliban fighters have largely shunned head-on battles since losing hundreds of fighters in the Panjwayi region of Kandahar province in fall 2006, and it's not clear that Taliban fighters will stay to face the Marines in regions they operate.

Lynch, a mobile assault commander, said he doesn't care if the militants flee: "Just get the Taliban out of here, that's the biggest thing."

Western countries, including the U.S. and other NATO nations, have been sending more troops to Afghanistan as violence has escalated.

More than 8,000 people, mainly militants, were killed in insurgency-related violence in 2007, the U.N. says.

The number of suicide attacks spiked in 2007, with the Taliban launching more than 140 suicide missions, the highest number since 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

The U.S. now has 32,500 troops in the country the most since the 2001 invasion. In late 2006, Afghanistan had 40,000 international troops. Today, that number is almost 70,000.

But Western officials have warned in recent months that the international mission could fail. Washington has lobbied for NATO nations to provide more troops in Afghanistan, and in particular to add forces in the southern and eastern areas which have seen most of the recent fighting against the resurgent Taliban.

Some 3,500 Marines arrived in Afghanistan last month; the 2,300 members of the 24th MEU are concentrating on counterinsurgency, while 1,200 Marines are helping to train the Afghan police force.

The Marines' presence in southern Afghanistan is a clear sign that neither Britain nor Canada which operates in nearby Kandahar province have enough troops to control the region. But commanders and troops say the countries are working well together.

British Capt. Alex West helped deliver supplies to a remote and dusty firebase in Helmand province about a week ago.

"We spent the last operations borrowing kit (gear) off you, so it's about time you borrow stuff from us," said West, 29, of Colchester, England. "All of us have been in operations where the American have helped us, so we're happy to help."

The Marines are known as the theater task force, meaning they fall under the direct control of U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, the commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan. McNeill can move the Marines to whatever flashpoint he wants. Most other U.S. troops are stationed at permanent bases in the east.

The Marines have been moving supplies and forces through Helmand by ground convoys the last several weeks, a draining and dangerous task. Some convoys have taken more than 20 hours to complete, and two Marines were killed by a roadside bomb April 15.

Lt. Col. Ricky Brown, the commander of the logistics battalion, gave a pep talk to a supply convoy last week, hinting at operations to come.

"You all are gonna move down there so the BLT (battalion landing team) can go in there and kick some Taliban butt," he said.

They have also been given directions to steer clear of the region's poppy fields so they don't risk alienating local farmers who rely on the cash crop for their income.

Counterinsurgency doctrine calls for forces to first clear a region of militants, hold that region and then build up government institutions and businesses. But the Marines are in the country for only seven months, meaning they don't have time to hold and build regions. But it's not clear if there are enough other NATO troops to hold areas, either.

While riding in a 47-vehicle convoy through the sands of Helmand province this past week, 1st Lt. Dan Brown said the terrain reminded him of other missions.

"If you didn't know any better you'd think you were in Anbar right now," he said, referring to western Iraq.
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Afghanistan: Taliban Evolves Into Network Of Groups
By Ron Synovitz Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty April 26, 2008
When the Taliban began its rapid rise to power in Afghanistan in 1994, the vast majority of its members were young students of the Koran recruited from hundreds of madrasahs set up at Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. Fourteen years later, the Taliban leadership and its supporters no longer consists of young students, as the movement has evolved into more of a network of divergent groups and individuals.

Drawn mostly from Afghanistan's majority Pashtun ethnic group, the original leadership of the Taliban chose the name for the movement because it denotes students of Islamic theology.

Barnett Rubin, a leading expert on Afghanistan and director of New York University's Center on International Cooperation, explains that the youngest of the original Taliban were Afghans who were born or grew up in refugee camps in Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

"The Taliban, of course, are an indigenous Afghan or Afghan-Pakistani organization which really grew up during the 20 years that there were millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan -- where the only education available for them was in madrasahs, often in [Pakistan's] tribal territories," Rubin says. "It recruited from those people and it really had a local agenda."

But the Taliban's supreme spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, is much older. Born sometime around 1959 in the village of Nodeh near Kandahar, Omar's family members were poor, landless members of the Hotak tribe -- one of many sub-tribes and clans within the Ghilzai branch of Pashtuns.

Omar became a village mullah in the Mewand district of Kandahar Province. He also fought against Afghan President Najibullah's communist regime from 1989 to 1992 as a member of Mohammad Yunus Khales' Hizb-e Islami -- a mujahedin group headquartered in Pakistan that had received Western aid and support during the 1980s that was channeled through elements of Pakistan's Interservices Intelligence (ISI).

Significantly, Mullah Omar's Ghilzai tribe is a historical adversary of another important ethnic-Pashtun group -- the Durrani tribe of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Religion To Politics

Antonio Giustozzi is a research fellow at the London School of Economics who has studied the evolution of the Taliban since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. Giustozzi tells RFE/RL it would be wrong to consider today's Taliban a single ethnic group or tribe.

"I would basically describe it as a religious network which turned into a political movement," Giustozzi says. "And then they started expanding -- co-opting other religious networks, and then gradually going beyond those religious networks to start forming alliances with local communities or local power players."

He explains that the Taliban lacks a strong organizational structure and is essentially still a network based on personal relations between the leadership and people at the local level.

"Mullah Omar is not an authoritative leader," Giustozzi says. "He is more like a broker among different members of the leadership who may have differences over issues of how to fight the war or whether to negotiate or not. So in a sense, it is modeled from their experience as clerics."

In his recently published book, "Koran, Kalashnikov And Laptop: The Neo Taliban Insurgency In Afghanistan," Giustozzi describes how the Taliban leadership has recently embraced new strategies and technologies, including computers and suicide bombings. Giustozzi's book also describes how the Taliban has reorganized and adapted to changing political conditions in Afghanistan since 2002.

"Of course, the top leaders are people who have been with the Taliban for a long, long time. So in that sense, the very top leaders are still the same," Giustozzi explains. "What is new is that they are trying to incorporate new constituencies and, therefore, represent different tribes and communities. So as their constituencies change, they also adapt to those constituencies."

He says the original Taliban were largely Ghilzai, from the Ghilzai confederation, while in 2003 and 2004, the majority of the leadership were actually Durannis.

"We actually are not totally sure today what the composition of their leadership is," Giustozzi adds. "But one can detect an attempt to represent the different constituencies at the level of the leadership."

Revised Goals

Giustozzi also notes that the goals claimed by the Taliban have changed, along with its fighting tactics, as the security and political situation in the country has evolved.

"Today, the Taliban are essentially a guerrilla movement, whereas in the 1990s -- even in the early days of 1994 or 1995 -- they were never something like that," Giustozzi says. "Even when they were fighting for power, they were not using these guerrilla tactics. They were more like an army moving along the highways and trying to occupy the provincial centers. In that sense, the main difference is the way they operate. It is not so easy to say what their actual aims are."

But he says that, too, might change.

"Essentially, they say what they want is just to get the foreigners out of the country," Giustozzi explains. "But even in the early days, they were claiming that their main aim was to pacify the country and bring back law and order -- not to become a kind of government which would stay in power indefinitely, which, of course, proved not to be correct once they actually took Kabul."

As for ordinary Taliban foot soldiers, recent research suggests that the Taliban has been recruiting a younger generation of Afghans to carry out suicide attacks and to fight within its rank and file.

Working for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Christine Fair last year studied the phenomenon of suicide bombings across Afghanistan. Her work led to important conclusions not only about suicide bombers, but also about the emergence of this new generation of Taliban fighters.

"The important big picture is Afghans like to tell you that this is a Pakistani phenomenon," Fair says. "As we all know, there is Pakistani involvement. There is recruitment across the border. In the tribal areas, madrasahs figure prominently. But even if Pakistan went away, you still have a largely Afghan-driven insurgency."

Fair describes the situation as a "cross-border phenomenon," and says that "the insurgency is not going to be resolved if you think that the problem stops either at one side or the other of the Afghan border."

Her findings are supported by a series of interviews with Taliban fighters in Kandahar Province that was published online last month by the "Toronto Globe And Mail."

Those interviews suggest NATO air strikes and drug-eradication programs have fed the insurgency in southern Afghanistan. Many Taliban soldiers said their family members had been killed in air strikes or that they had been opium-poppy farmers until their crops were destroyed by drug-eradication teams.

Some said family members who were killed were innocent civilians. Others admitted that they joined the insurgency to replace older male relatives who were killed while fighting in the Taliban ranks.

Complex Realities

Paul Fishstein, the director of the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit, an independent Kabul-based research organization that receives funding from the United Nations, the European Commission, and other international donors, says that researchers should be careful not to oversimplify the demographics of today's Taliban.

"We always have to be careful about referring to 'The Taliban,'" Fishstein says. "Often, anything violent -- anything bad that happens -- is attributed to either 'the enemies of Afghanistan' or, more generally, 'The Taliban.'"

Fishstein concludes that the structure of today's Taliban is complex -- and that foreign researchers often have difficulty understanding the rivalries and local agendas that have contributed to the resurgence of the movement.

"What we generically refer to as 'The Taliban' is a set of different individuals and groups who have differing grievances, differing motivations, differing attitudes -- and take a hostile attitude toward the [Afghan central] government," Fishstein says. "There's an awful lot of groups out there that either have personal grudges, political grudges, or actually profit from the lack of law and order in the country."
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US Marines deploying in Afghanistan for 1st time in years
US Marines deploying in southern Afghanistan province to help tame violence
JASON STRAZIUSO AP News  / Apr 26, 2008 14:53 EST
U.S. Marines are crossing the sands of southern Afghanistan for the first time in years, providing a boost to a NATO coalition that is growing but still short on manpower.

They hope to retake the 10 percent of Afghanistan the Taliban holds.

Some of the Marines that make up the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit helped to tame a thriving insurgency in western Iraq. The newly arrived forces hope to move into regions of Afghanistan now controlled by the Taliban.

The troops are working alongside British forces in Helmand province the world's largest opium-poppy region and site of the fiercest Taliban resistance over the last two years. The director of U.S. intelligence has said the Taliban controls 10 percent of Afghanistan much of that in Helmand.

"Our mission is to come here and essentially set the conditions, make Afghanistan a better place, provide some security, allow for the expansion of governance in those same areas," said Col. Peter Petronzio, the unit's commander.

Thirteen of the 19 Marines in the platoon of 1st Lt. Adam Lynch, 27, served in 2006 and 2007 in Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar province in western Iraq. The vast region was once al-Qaida in Iraq's stronghold before the militants were pushed out in early 2007.

Lynch expects the Marines, who arrived last month on a seven-month deployment, will help calm Helmand as well.

"If you flood a city with Marines, it's going to quiet down," Lynch said in between sets of push-ups on Helmand province's sandy ground. "We know for seven months we're not here to occupy, we're just here to set conditions for whoever comes in after us."

Taliban fighters have largely shunned head-on battles since losing hundreds of fighters in the Panjwayi region of Kandahar province in fall 2006, and it's not clear that Taliban fighters will stay to face the Marines in regions they operate.

Lynch, a mobile assault commander, said he doesn't care if the militants flee: "Just get the Taliban out of here, that's the biggest thing."

Western countries, including the U.S. and other NATO nations, have been sending more troops to Afghanistan as violence has escalated.

More than 8,000 people, mainly militants, were killed in insurgency-related violence in 2007, the U.N. says.

The number of suicide attacks spiked in 2007, with the Taliban launching more than 140 suicide missions, the highest number since 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

The U.S. now has 32,500 troops in the country the most since the 2001 invasion. In late 2006, Afghanistan had 40,000 international troops. Today, that number is almost 70,000.

But Western officials have warned in recent months that the international mission could fail. Washington has lobbied for NATO nations to provide more troops in Afghanistan, and in particular to add forces in the southern and eastern areas which have seen most of the recent fighting against the resurgent Taliban.

The Marines' presence in southern Afghanistan is a clear sign that neither Britain nor Canada which operates in nearby Kandahar province have enough troops to control the region. But commanders and troops say the countries are working well together.

British Capt. Alex West helped deliver supplies to a remote and dusty firebase in Helmand province about a week ago.

"We spent the last operations borrowing kit (gear) off you, so it's about time you borrow stuff from us," said West, 29, of Colchester, England. "All of us have been in operations where the American have helped us, so we're happy to help."

The Marines are known as the theater task force, meaning they fall under the direct control of U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, the commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan. McNeill can move the Marines to whatever flashpoint he wants. Most other U.S. troops are stationed at permanent bases in the east.

The Marines have been moving supplies and forces through Helmand by ground convoys the last several weeks, a draining and dangerous task. Some convoys have taken more than 20 hours to complete, and two Marines were killed by a roadside bomb April 15.

Lt. Col. Ricky Brown, the commander of the logistics battalion, gave a pep talk to a supply convoy last week, hinting at operations to come.

"You all are gonna move down there so the BLT (battalion landing team) can go in there and kick some Taliban butt," he said.

They have also been given directions to steer clear of the region's poppy fields so they don't risk alienating local farmers who rely on the cash crop for their income.

Counter-insurgency doctrine calls for forces to first clear a region of militants, hold that region and then build up government institutions and businesses. But the Marines are in the country for only seven months, meaning they don't have time to hold and build regions. But it's not clear if there are enough other NATO troops to hold areas, either.

"We are the clear piece," said Clinton. "There are others who will do the holding and building. We're clearing and doing some holding."

While riding in a 47-vehicle convoy through the sands of Helmand province this past week, 1st Lt. Dan Brown said the terrain reminded him of other missions.

"If you didn't know any better you'd think you were in Anbar right now," he said, referring to western Iraq.
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Air strikes leave 15 suspected insurgents dead in Afghanistan
KABUL, April 26 (Xinhua) -- Air raids carried out by international troops on Taliban militants in Afghanistan's eastern Paktika province have left over a dozen suspected insurgents dead, spokesman of provincial administration said Saturday.

"The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in efforts to eliminate insurgents carried out air raids on their hideout in Charbaran district yesterday evening (Friday evening) ,killing 15 armed enemies," Ghani Khan Mohammad Yar told Xinhua.

A number of arms and munitions have also been seized from the rebels, he further added.

Taliban insurgents have yet to comment.

Militancy and conflicts have left more than 400 people, mostly civilians, dead in Afghanistan since January this year.
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