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April 30, 2008 

7 killed during raid on militant hideout in Afghan capital
By RAHIM FAIEZ and MATTHEW PENNINGTON, Associated Press Writers Wed Apr 30, 3:04 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Hundreds of intelligence agents on Wednesday raided the hideout of militants with suspected links to an attack on President Hamid Karzai, as the Afghan capital was sucked deeper into the war against the Taliban.

Pentagon officials may beef up command role in Afghanistan
By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer
WASHINGTON - Pentagon officials are quietly considering a significant change in the war command in Afghanistan to extend US control of forces into the country's volatile south. The idea is partly linked to an expectation of a fresh infusion

Interview: Afghan stability will take a generation-US general
FORT BRAGG, N.C., April 29 (Reuters) - Stabilizing Afghanistan will need an international commitment lasting a generation, the general who has just spent more than a year commanding U.S. forces there said on Tuesday.

Afghans face looming food crisis
Press TV (Iran) Wed, 30 Apr 2008 11:35:00
With wheat prices almost doubling, a severe food crisis is at hand in Afghanistan; a destabilized country already deeply troubled.

Death in childbirth: A health scourge for Afghanistan
By Tan Ee Lyn Tue Apr 29, 10:08 PM ET
FAIZABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A woman hemorrhages to death as she lies screaming in agony in a Spartan hut in a remote region of Afghanistan. There is no doctor or midwife to help and the hospital is several days journey away.

Blaming the victim: Abused Afghan women often end up in jail
By ALISA TANG, Associated Press Writer Wed Apr 30, 12:09 PM ET
JALALABAD, Afghanistan - Trafficked across the border from Pakistan with her 3-year-old son, Rukhma was handed to an Afghan who raped and abused her, then beat the toddler to death as she watched helplessly.

Gas pipeline to provide money, jobs, energy: Afghan minister
Tue Apr 29, 11:51 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A planned gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to India will provide hundreds of millions of dollars in fees, as well as jobs, for Afghanistan and give the country much-needed power, Kabul's mining minister said.

Taliban regaining hold on Afghanistan, report says
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Taliban in Afghanistan -- whose government was toppled by U.S.-led forces after the September 11 attacks in 2001 -- has strengthened its military and technical capabilities even while suffering heavy combat losses

Czech parliament approves deployment of 100 elite troops in Afghanistan
The Associated Press April 30, 2008
PRAGUE, Czech Republic: The lower chamber of the Czech parliament approved a government plan on Wednesday to deploy about 100 elite troops to Afghanistan to serve in the U.S.-led operation against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

Push comes to shove in Afghanistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad May 1, 2008 Asia Times Online, Hong Kong
KARACHI - In what has been described as "a good public relations exercise", Prince William, second in line to the British throne, has visited Afghanistan to meet British troops in Kandahar province.

Afghan 'health link' to uranium
By Dawood Azami One Planet, BBC World Service Wednesday, 30 April 2008 15:58 UK
Doctors in Afghanistan say rates of some health problems affecting children have doubled in the last two years.

Hunger on rise in Afghanistan despite aid
GRAEME SMITH From Wednesday's Globe and Mail April 30, 2008 at 5:12 AM EDT
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — Afghanistan's food crisis may turn into a festering problem as prices remain stubbornly high, a United Nations official says, and local authorities are already complaining that emergency measures are not enough to handle the rising hunger.

Torkham border crossing closed by Afghan officials
By Sudhir Ahmad Daily Times, Pakistan - Apr 29, 2008
LANDIKOTAL: Afghan border officials closed the Pak-Afghan Torkham border crossing for three hours on Tuesday morning in protest over the alleged misconduct of the Pakistani Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel deployed there, sources told Daily Times.

Canada 'risk averse' on spies, ex-MI-6 head says
Rethinking on CSIS in order, he says, but doubts Canada has will to pass laws allowing foreign spy service
COLIN FREEZE From Wednesday's Globe and Mail April 30, 2008 at 4:50 AM EDT
The former head of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service says a recent Federal Court decision that may block Canadian agents from intercepting conversations of domestic targets abroad cements Canada's reputation as a "risk averse" nation.

An Afghan officer, NATO behind him, leads an assault
In Afghanistan's troubled south, one mission shows how far the Afghan Army has come –and what remains to be done.
By Text by Gordon Lubold and Photos by Andy Nelson from the April 30, 2008 edition
ZHARI DISTRICT, Afghanistan - It is just after dawn when the Afghan soldiers creep into lush fields splashed with morning light. Their job is to turn back an insurgency whose members lurk among the grapevines, almond trees

Ministers survive assassination vote
www.quqnoos.com Written by Mukhtar Soar Tuesday, 29 April 2008
Ministers take rap for failing to secure president before gunmen attacked
TWO SENIOR ministers and the head of the intelligence service have survived a vote of no confidence after Members of Parliament called for the three men to resign from their posts following Sunday’s attack on the president.

Tale of two cities: Canada's fortune in Kandahar depends on action in Kabul
The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — In Kandahar, a poverty-racked city of mud walls and thatch roofs, suicide bombers prowl and a charismatic young governor derided by critics as corrupt and immoral has lost the confidence of both his constituents

Prince William's Afghanistan visit gets mixed response
April 30, 2008
LONDON (AFP) - Prince William's visit to meet troops in Afghanistan this weekend drew a mixed response Wednesday, with some condemning it as a public relations exercise and others praising the future king.

UN envoy seeks new Afghan aid strategy
Special representative to hold talks in Ottawa with Bernier, MacKay
Toronto Star, Canada Allan Woods Ottawa Bureau Apr 29, 2008
OTTAWA-Canada will be asked to revamp its Afghan aid strategy when a top United Nations envoy arrives in Ottawa for two days of high-level meetings with government officials.

Is Afghanistan worth it? A brigadier general answers
The Globe and Mail DENNIS TABBERNOR Special to Globe and Mail Update April 29, 2008
I was recently asked if Afghanistan was worth the death of a Canadian soldier. It is a question that goes to the root of our nation's involvement in this vitally important region, a question made all the more poignant by the losses here that our nation has endured.

U.S. military criticizes Iran but says no strike plan
By Kristin Roberts
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military on Wednesday dismissed speculation that it was drafting new plans to attack Iran but again charged Tehran with supporting Iraqi militias and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

UN: Herat culture will rot unless protected
www.quqnoos.com Written by M Reza Sher Mohammadi Tuesday, 29 April 2008
UN threatens to wipe Herat off culture list unless officials protect complex
THE UNITED Nations has threatened to wipe Herat from its list of cultural heritage sites unless government officials preserve the city’s ancient monuments.

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7 killed during raid on militant hideout in Afghan capital
By RAHIM FAIEZ and MATTHEW PENNINGTON, Associated Press Writers Wed Apr 30, 3:04 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Hundreds of intelligence agents on Wednesday raided the hideout of militants with suspected links to an attack on President Hamid Karzai, as the Afghan capital was sucked deeper into the war against the Taliban.

Terrified residents hid from booming guns and grenades that destroyed the mud-brick house. The battle claimed seven lives — a woman and a child who were in the house, three intelligence agents and two militants.

One of the dead militants had supplied weapons used in Sunday's attack on Karzai, intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh told reporters.

Afghan security services are under pressure to crack militant cells after the assassination attempt, which came during a military parade in Kabul that was also attended by foreign ambassadors. The attack highlighted the president's weak grip on the country.

The U.S.-backed leader escaped injury, but a lawmaker and two other people were killed.

Saleh said Wednesday's raid on a densely populated hillside in western Kabul was part of a wider operation in which six other militant suspects were detained elsewhere in the city.

He said the border regions of neighboring Pakistan were the source of the militant threat.

Saleh alleged that militants involved in the gun and mortar assault on Karzai were exchanging cell phone text messages with people in Pakistan's Bajur and North Waziristan regions and the main northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.

Although he did not directly implicate Pakistan's government, Saleh's comments could dampen recently improved relations between the countries, relations often strained over allegations that Pakistan helps the Taliban.

"We have no evidence whether ... the operation has had any mercy or go-ahead from the government of Pakistan and (its) special agencies," Saleh said. "There (is) very, very strong evidence suggesting that Pakistan's soil once again has been used to inflict pain on our nation."

Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas called the allegation "baseless."

"Anybody can say that militants (in the tribal areas) have done this or that," he said. "How can one validate such claims?"

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attempt on Karzai's life.

It was at least the fourth attempt to assassinate him since he came to power six years ago. That attack exposed how despite the presence of more than 40,000 U.S. and NATO-led troops and rapidly expanding Afghan security forces, Karzai is struggling to contain the insurgency.

At least 1,000 people have died in fighting in 2008. The U.N. says more than 8,000 people, most of them militants, died in insurgency-related violence in 2007.

The Taliban, whose hard-line regime was driven from power by U.S.-led forces in late 2001, are now strongest in the volatile south and east of the country. Kabul has often been hit by Taliban suicide bombers, but gunbattles between security forces and militants are still rare in the capital.

Wednesday's operation began in the early hours. The first gunfire rang out before dawn.

Standing about 500 feet away, an Associated Press reporter watched armed agents gradually close in through the warren of homes on the hillside near the historic Babur Gardens, a popular public park.

The two sides traded assault rifle and machine-gun fire. Puffs of dust burst up from around the targeted house during the battle.

Some families evacuated their nearby homes, but most stayed as explosions reverberated and gunfire pierced the air.

The firing subsided after 8 a.m. following three big explosions — two from rocket-propelled grenades fired by agents and a third, larger blast that apparently collapsed part of the two-story mud-brick building. By about 10 a.m., the fighting was over.

Saleh said security forces used heavier weapons fire when it was clear the militants in the house would not surrender.

"In the beginning we thought that this could be solved by a soft-knock," Saleh said. "However we found out very soon that we needed to use various types of weapons to dislodge them."

Residents emerged from their homes as calm returned.

Mohammed Ajmal, a man in his mid-20s, appeared pale and shaken.

"We kept hearing gunfire and the intelligence officials would not let us out of the house," he said. "But we knew they were firing at this one house, not at us."

Ajmal said people inside the targeted house had rented it three months ago, but he did not know them or where they came from.

"They looked like regular people and we thought they were very poor," he said.

Afghan lawmakers on Tuesday passed a vote of no-confidence against the country's three top security officials — including Saleh — after they revealed they had been aware of the assassination plot against Karzai but failed to stop it. The officials retained their jobs.
_____
Associated Press writer Amir Shah contributed to this report.
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Pentagon officials may beef up command role in Afghanistan
By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer
WASHINGTON - Pentagon officials are quietly considering a significant change in the war command in Afghanistan to extend US control of forces into the country's volatile south. The idea is partly linked to an expectation of a fresh infusion of US combat troops in the south next year.

Taliban resistance has stiffened in the south since NATO took command there in mid-2006, and some in the Bush administration believe the fight against the Taliban could be strengthened if the US, whose span of control is now limited to eastern Afghanistan, were also in charge in part or all of the south.

The internal discussions about expanding the US command role were described in recent Associated Press interviews with several senior defense officials who have direct knowledge but were not authorized to talk about it publicly. All said they thought it unlikely that a decision would be made anytime soon.

Giving the US more control in the south would address one problem cited by US officials: the NATO allies' practice of rotating commanders every nine months — and their fighting units every six months, in some cases. The 101st Airborne, by comparison, is in eastern Afghanistan on a 15-month deployment. In the US view, nine-month commands are too short to maximize effectiveness.

US combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq are to shrink to 12 months starting in August.

The idea of changing the command structure has not yet developed into a proposal to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The internal discussions reflect concern at a lack of continuity among NATO forces and a view that, in the long run, NATO may be better off focusing mainly on areas of Afghanistan, like the north and west, where there is less fighting but a great need for noncombat aid.

Changing the command structure to give a US general more control in the south would, in effect, mark a partial "re-Americanization" of the combat mission. That could be politically controversial, given US interests in maintaining close ties with NATO in fighting terrorism.

NATO now has overall responsibility for the mission in Afghanistan, and that would not change if a US general were to be put in charge in the southern sector. But it would give the Americans a greater degree of control.

Settling the command issue has implications not only for the success of the overall mission in Afghanistan but also for the NATO allies' willingness to join with the US in future military ventures beyond Europe's borders.

The defense officials doubted a decision would be made before fall and possibly not until a new administration takes office in 2009. Two officials said there appears to be no high-level advocate for making such a change in the near term, although there is growing concern that while higher US troop levels in Iraq have helped reduce violence there, the trends in Afghanistan are less positive.

In the meantime, as an interim step, there are plans to beef up the NATO command headquarters in southern Afghanistan with additional NATO and US staff, one senior official said.

There are now about 34,000 US troops in Afghanistan — the most at any time during the war, which began in October 2001. They include 3,400 Marines who arrived this month as reinforcements for combat missions in the south and to help train Afghan security forces. Those Marines are scheduled to leave in October, but if replacements are not offered by NATO allies soon the Pentagon likely will either extend the Marines' deployment or tap another unit to fill the void.

At a NATO summit in early April, President Bush told the allies the United States would send many more troops to Afghanistan in 2009. He mentioned no numbers, but US commanders say they need at least two more brigades, or 7,500 troops.

In early stages of the war, the US military commanded forces across Afghanistan. NATO's security role initially was limited to heading an International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, in Kabul, the capital; but it spread, starting in 2004 — first to the north, then west and, in 2006, to the south and the east.

The overall ISAF commander is an American general, Daniel McNeill, but the only sector headed by a US general is the eastern area, where the 101st Airborne is in charge. If the southern sector were to be put under US command, the American in charge there would still be subordinate to NATO.

Last week Gates was asked at a news conference if he expects any changes in the command structure.

"If there were to be any discussion of changes in the command structure, it would require some pretty intensive consultations with our allies and discussion about what makes sense going forward," Gates replied. "There have been no such consultations so far."

The Pentagon chief acknowledged, however, that the subject has been talks about internally.

"I've made no decisions," he said. "I've made no recommendations to the president. We're still discussing it."

The topic is politically sensitive. A US move to limit NATO's role in the south, where the alliance has taken its heaviest casualties over the past two years, could be seen by the allies as implying US superiority. It could be seen in the same light as Gates' comments to the Los Angeles Times in January about the NATO allies not being as well trained as US forces to fight an insurgency. Those remarks were seen in some European capitals as a slap, which Gates said was not his intent.

A new twist may be added with Bush's decision to nominate Gen. David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, to head Central Command, which is responsible not only for US operations in Iraq but also Afghanistan. Petraeus will have a chance to air his views on the troop-command issue in the south when he testifies at his Senate confirmation hearing, possibly before the end of May.

David Barno, a retired Army lieutenant general who commanded US forces in Afghanistan from October 2003 to May 2005, says the US command structure is not being used to its full potential. He said in congressional testimony April 2 that the US two-star headquarters at Bagram air base north of Kabul, the capital, is capable of "a broad counterinsurgency fight all across southern Afghanistan."

In an interview Monday, Barno said the Europeans did not get what they expected when NATO agreed to extend its reach in 2006 from the less-volatile north and west into the south, where it looked then like a mission focused more on economic reconstruction and humanitarian aid than on combat.

"NATO came into Afghanistan under one set of expectations and now is faced with a very different reality, and that's not playing well politically at home — not terribly well with many of the governments but even less well with the populations in many countries," Barno said.

Among the NATO nations fighting in the south are Canada, Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark. A Canadian general is commander of the southern region now and he is scheduled to be replaced by a Dutch general later this year, part of a rotational pattern that Barno and some senior Pentagon officials believe gives the commander and his staff too little time on the ground to be fully effective.
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Interview: Afghan stability will take a generation-US general
FORT BRAGG, N.C., April 29 (Reuters) - Stabilizing Afghanistan will need an international commitment lasting a generation, the general who has just spent more than a year commanding U.S. forces there said on Tuesday.

Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division, said Afghan and international organizations had to work together closely to improve all aspects of daily life to win over ordinary Afghans.

'Everything is interrelated,' he said in an interview at his headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

'There's no separation in the minds of the people out there,' Rodriguez said. 'It's the opportunities they have, it's the security they have and it's the ability to provide for their children.'

Violence involving the Taliban and other insurgents has risen sharply in Afghanistan over the past two years, particularly suicide attacks and car bombings.

But Rodriguez, who returned home this month after some 14 months commanding the U.S. contingent of NATO's security force in Afghanistan, said he was optimistic about the future, although change would take time.

'As the government and security forces improve... people will see and have confidence that this is the way ahead,' he said. 'They're increasing that confidence every day but they still have a long way to go.'

Asked how long it would take to create lasting stability in Afghanistan, Rodriguez replied: 'In some way, shape or form ... I think it's a generation.'

PROGRESS IN EAST
Rodriguez said the size of foreign military forces in Afghanistan would decline over time, but the country would still need international help in other areas such as building infrastructure and government capacity.

'We've done this many times before,' Rodriguez said of efforts to stabilize countries such as Korea, Japan and Germany after wars.

'It's been between 20 and 30, sometimes 50, years,' he said.

The United States has some 34,000 troops in Afghanistan, split between NATO's 47,000-strong force and other missions.

Despite the overall increase in violence in Afghanistan, Rodriguez has won praise for progress in security and governance in the U.S.-led sector in the east of the country.

Rodriguez stressed the importance of understanding Afghan society and said U.S. troops had developed a Wikipedia-style internal Web site of information about the country.

'Everybody gets to input -- it's just like Wikipedia,' he said, referring to the Internet encyclopedia that takes contributions from readers. 'A young corporal figured out how to do that.'

Earlier this year, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said troops under the general's command were 'doing a terrific job' and had counterinsurgency skills 'down pat.'

Such skills, aimed at winning the trust of local people, are very different from those often associated with the 82nd Airborne Division, among the most famous in the U.S. Army.

Its paratroopers, known for their maroon berets, have a history of tough combat missions going back to World War Two.

But Rodriguez said he believed the wide range of skills his soldiers used in Afghanistan -- from mentoring local security forces to helping local officials contract for reconstruction projects -- would be necessary in future conflicts too.

'I think we're going to need to do that -- to be multi-functional and pentathletes, to do everything and anything it takes to make a difference and accomplish the mission,' he said.
(Editing by David Wiessler)
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Afghans face looming food crisis
Press TV (Iran) Wed, 30 Apr 2008 11:35:00
With wheat prices almost doubling, a severe food crisis is at hand in Afghanistan; a destabilized country already deeply troubled.

The price of a 50kg bag of flour has risen from 700 Afghanis ($14) at the start of the year, to 1,250 Afghanis ($26) four weeks ago. This week it passed 2,500 Afghanis ($50) for the first time crippling the market and leaving the Afghan people wondering where and how to procure bread for their families.

A month's supply of wheat for an average Afghan family now costs the same as the total monthly wage of most civil servants.

Isolated and landlocked, Afghanistan has come to depend on Pakistan for its wheat, but with the global crisis, exports have been stopped leading to big demonstrations in the eastern city of Jalalabad, where the wheat used to enter Afghanistan and which has felt the increase even more than other parts of the country.

Recent reports are spreading fear across the globe that the world is heading towards a major famine. The disaster is such that World Food Program executive director Josette Sheeran, has dubbed the situation 'a silent tsunami'.

Fidel Castro warned world leaders that more than three billion people in the world are being condemned to a premature death from hunger and thirst last year.

Soaring food prices have already triggered angry protests in several countries.
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Death in childbirth: A health scourge for Afghanistan
By Tan Ee Lyn Tue Apr 29, 10:08 PM ET
FAIZABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A woman hemorrhages to death as she lies screaming in agony in a Spartan hut in a remote region of Afghanistan. There is no doctor or midwife to help and the hospital is several days journey away.

Women die this way every day in Afghanistan, a country with one of the world's highest maternal mortality rates.

About 1,600 Afghan women die in childbirth out of every 100,000 live births. In some of the most remote areas, the death rate is as high as 6,500. In comparison, the average rate in developing countries is 450 and in developed countries it is 9.

Virtually everyone in Afghanistan can recount a story about a relative dying in childbirth, often from minor complications that can be easily treated with proper medical care.

Sharifa's sister, a mother of six, bled to death after giving birth at home.

"There is no clinic, no cars, no proper roads. It is a remote village, we could not take her to hospital. She remained at home for one day and one night, then she died," recalled Sharifa, who identified herself only by her first name.

Afghanistan's government aims to reduce maternal mortality by 20 percent by 2020 but there are many obstacles to overcome such as a reluctance by women to be examined by male doctors and a lack of female doctors, nurses and midwives.

Then there are the vast distances in this war-torn country where hospitals are generally poorly equipped and medical help is inaccessible to those living in remote locations.

HOME BIRTHS
It is an age old practice for Afghan women in rural areas to deliver babies at home. Trained midwives are rarely in attendance. If there are complications, it might take hours, even days to reach the nearest clinic.

Even when women with labor complications get to hospital alive, there are often no doctors or medical equipment to perform caesarean sections and other life saving procedures.

"In some places, there aren't even operating theatres and women just wait for their death," said Rona Azamyan, who coordinates the Midwifery Education Programme in Faizabad.

Among the prime complications of childbirth in Afghanistan are bleeding, infection, hypertension and obstructed labour.

It is not uncommon for girls as young as 13 to marry in Afghanistan and there are often complications when they give birth.

"The mothers are very young, so their (pelvic) bone development is immature," said Karima Mayar, a family planning team leader at the Ministry of Public Health.

Poor and malnourished, many pregnant women in Afghanistan are severely anemic.

"If they get post-partum hemorrhage, they will die 100 percent of the time," said Mayar.

Women's access to healthcare has generally been poor in deeply conservative Afghanistan.

Afghan men prefer their women to consult only women doctors, but that is easier said than done in a society where there are few female doctors and nurses and little emphasis is placed on educating girls.

The problem got worse during the Taliban regime, when girls were banned from schools and there were severe restrictions placed on women leaving their homes.

During those years, from 1996 to 2001, there were only around 1,000 female healthcare workers in the whole country, staffing female-only hospitals.

But the situation is still far from ideal now, more than six years after the fall of the Taliban, even in places such as the northeastern province of Badakhshan where the town of Faizaban is located. The area is far from fighting with Taliban insurgents.

Only 66 percent of basic healthcare centers have at least one female health worker. Women make up only 23.5 percent of the country's healthcare workforce and 27 percent of its nursing staff.

MATERNAL DEATH
"One woman dies every 27 minutes in Afghanistan due to complications in childbirth & and the tragedy doesn't stop with the mother's death," said Mayar.

"When the mother of a newborn dies, 75 percent of these babies die. Who will feed them, keep them warm? There's an Afghan saying: 'When the mother dies, the child is sure to die'."

The government plans to distribute the drug misoprostol to pregnant women in 13 provinces this year.

"We will distribute this to women in their seventh month of pregnancy and they must take it right after delivery. It will remove the placenta and prevent hemorrhage," Mayar said.

In the pipeline are plans to set up more midwifery schools and assign more female students to medical and nursing schools.

"To reduce maternal mortality, we need 8,000 midwives by 2010 to cover needs of all pregnant women," said Mayar. There are 2,143 midwives in the country of 26 million people.

But years of neglecting girls' education is taking its toll.

"In the provinces, the maximum level of education is the 10th grade, but the minimum requirement for entry into nursing school is 12th grade," said Fatima Mohbat Ali of the Aga Khan Foundation, an aid group in Afghanistan.

Some progress has been made in recent years, owing to government and NGO efforts to improve rural healthcare.

In Badakhshan's Eshkashem district, which borders Tajikistan, Afghan women have been frequenting the health clinic, the most modern looking facility in a town where most of the 13,000 residents live in mud houses.

From headaches to prenatal checkups, childbirth and advice on contraception, women have been bringing their complaints to the clinic's female doctor for the last three years.

"Ever since we got an ambulance, a lady doctor, two midwives and an operating theatre three years ago, we have not had a single case of maternal mortality," said Abdi Mohammad, head of the Eshkashem health clinic and an obstetric surgeon.
(Editing by Megan Goldin)
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Blaming the victim: Abused Afghan women often end up in jail
By ALISA TANG, Associated Press Writer Wed Apr 30, 12:09 PM ET
JALALABAD, Afghanistan - Trafficked across the border from Pakistan with her 3-year-old son, Rukhma was handed to an Afghan who raped and abused her, then beat the toddler to death as she watched helplessly.

He was jailed for 20 years for murder, but Rukhma ended up in prison too.

Rukhma, who doesn't know her age but looks younger than 20, had put up with her mistreatment for three months last summer before seeking protection and justice from authorities. Instead she was given a four-year sentence on Dec. 5 for adultery and "escaping her house" in Pakistan, even though she says she was kidnapped and raped.

The fall of the Taliban six years ago heralded new rights for Afghan women: to go to school or get a job, and be protected under the law. Women's rights are now enshrined in the constitution.

Yet except for a small urban elite, a woman fleeing domestic violence or accusing a man of rape herself often ends up the guilty party in the eyes of judges and prosecutors.

"Why am I here? I'm innocent," Rukhma said, crying in a musty jail cell and cradling a baby daughter by her previous marriage whom she bore in prison. "It is cruel to have your son killed before your eyes and then to be imprisoned."

In parts of Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, where stern social codes prevail, a woman who runs away from home is typically suspected of having taken a lover and can be prosecuted for adultery. Simply leaving her house without her family's permission may be deemed an offense — as in Rukhma's case — although it is not classified as such under Afghanistan's penal code.

The chief prosecutor of eastern Nangarhar province who oversaw Rukhma's case suggested she got off lightly.

"If my wife goes to the bazaar without my permission, I will kill her. This is our culture," Abdul Qayum shouted scornfully during an interview in his office in the city of Jalalabad.

His colleagues laughed approvingly. "This is Afghanistan, not America," Qayum said.

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission registered 2,374 cases of women complaining of violence in 2007, compared with 1,651 in 2006 — a sign that more are seeking help.

Family response units have been established in the police force, and there are tentative signs of sympathy in officialdom — at least in the relatively liberal capital, Kabul.

At a Kabul hospital, a 16-year-old girl who is too scared to give her name is recuperating from reconstructive surgery after her husband cut off her nose and ears, bashed out all but six of her teeth with a stone, and poured boiling water on her.

In-laws from southern Zabul province want to take the girl home, but the hospital director refuses to hand her over.

"This brother-in-law comes every day. He says, 'Let me take her home. She's OK now,'" Dr. Ghairat Mal said. "I don't trust him. The Ministry of Women's Affairs brought her to us, and I won't let her go unless they take her."

Kamala Janakiram, a U.N. human rights officer in eastern Afghanistan, said that in 70 to 80 percent of the cases she has seen, a woman complaining of domestic violence is charged as a criminal for running away from home.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said many rape victims are forced to marry their attackers or are jailed for adultery because proving rape is virtually impossible.

Women can end up in prison simply on the basis of gossip, said Manizha Naderi, the director of Women for Afghan Women, an aid organization. "It's a horrible, horrible practice."

Fear of returning to a violent spouse drives some women to suicide.

Janakiram cited the case of a young village woman in Laghman province who was shot by her husband and left to die.

She survived, but the provincial judge refused to hear her plea for a divorce and insisted that local elders resolve the matter.

Janakiram said the woman was so scared of being forced to return to her abusive husband that on Jan. 30, she set herself ablaze in front of the Laghman court. She had burns on 98 percent of her body and died a week later.

Naderi told of a 16-year-old girl kidnapped from her engagement party by three men and raped, after which her fiance called off the engagement.

"The whole village blacklisted her and said, 'It's your fault. Why did you go with them?' She was a lost soul because she was raped," Naderi said.

Rather than approach police, some women seek a reconciliation through village elders or aid organizations.

Orzala Ashraf, an Afghan women's rights activist, said that usually gets the woman home but can leave her vulnerable to abuse or even death at the hands of male relatives bent on saving family honor.

"The woman will be more humiliated than before because she violated the family rules: You never discuss family problems outside the family circle," Ashraf said.

Rukhma, who goes by only one name, is still hoping an appeals court will free her.

Sitting on the prison floor with a black scarf over her hair and shoulders, she described being married in Pakistan as a preteen to an abusive man, who fathered her son, Bilal.

She said she divorced him and married another Pakistani man by whom she became pregnant last year. Then, she says, a female neighbor kidnapped her and delivered to an Afghan man named Yarul who claimed her as his wife and raped her for three months.

One day she overheard Yarul finalizing a deal to sell her to another man, who wanted her but not her son.

Scared of losing Bilal, she ran away one day late last summer. When Yarul found her and took her home, he beat her and the toddler relentlessly.

She said the boy was placed under a blanket, barely conscious, blood dripping from his mouth.

"When I lifted the blanket, he looked up and saw his mother. I could see that those were going to be his last breaths, and then he died. That was the last time we looked each other in the eyes," she said, her voice cracking, her face crumpled in grief. As she cried, so did the newborn daughter of her second marriage, lying in her lap.

When police came to arrest Yarul, they arrested her, too.

The prosecutor, Qayum, acknowledges that Rukhma was raped by Yarul but still maintains she shares the blame.

"She spent several nights with the man," he said. "She committed adultery. It was rape, but the woman is also guilty."
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Gas pipeline to provide money, jobs, energy: Afghan minister
Tue Apr 29, 11:51 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A planned gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to India will provide hundreds of millions of dollars in fees, as well as jobs, for Afghanistan and give the country much-needed power, Kabul's mining minister said.

The multi-million-dollar scheme, which was planned years ago and also includes Pakistan, was given fresh impetus at a meeting in Islamabad last week where the nations agreed basic terms, Mohammad Ibrahim Adel told reporters.

The agreement is expected to be finalised at a meeting in India later this year, he said.

India officially agreed to join the project during the meeting in Islamabad and promised to buy 50 percent of the gas from Turkmenistan, he said.

The gathering also worked out how the gas would be distributed and fixed prices, including for transit fees, the minister said.

The pipeline would bring cash-strapped Afghanistan "hundreds of millions of dollars" in transit fees and provide jobs for more than 1,000 people, Adel said.

If finalised, the seven-billion-dollar project, which will carry 33 billion cubic metres of gas every year from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, would start construction in late 2009 and finish five years later.

For the first two years, Afghanistan would buy up to two billion cubic metres annually for power production, later boosting this to five billion.

A lack of power is among a host of problems, not least an insurgency, holding back development in post-Taliban Afghanistan.
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Taliban regaining hold on Afghanistan, report says
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Taliban in Afghanistan -- whose government was toppled by U.S.-led forces after the September 11 attacks in 2001 -- has strengthened its military and technical capabilities even while suffering heavy combat losses, says a State Department report released Wednesday.

"The Taliban-led insurgency remained a capable, determined, and resilient threat to stability and to the expansion of government authority, particularly in the Pashtun south and east," according to the "Country Reports on Terrorism 2007."

The Taliban's information operations have become "increasingly aggressive and sophisticated," and their ability to obtain al Qaeda support and recruit soldiers from the Taliban base of rural Pashtuns is "undiminished," the report says.

But new civilian-military counterinsurgency approaches in the east, particularly Nangarhar, have begun to yield successes, the report says.

The Taliban is funding its terror activities with money from supporters in neighboring Pakistan, and profits from narcotics trafficking and kidnappings. Kidnappings of foreigners have increased, the report says.

The group also has increased its use of improvised explosive devices, and suicide bombings have become more frequent and more deadly, it says. Quoting U.N.-compiled figures, the State Department said terrorists launched about 140 suicide-bomb attacks in 2007.

The number of terror attacks in Afghanistan increased from 969 in 2006 to 1,127 last year, and the number of people killed, injured or kidnapped as the result of terrorism rose from 3,557 in 2006 to 4,673 in 2007, the report says.

In the face of attacks by the Taliban and related groups on coalition forces and others, Afghanistan has struggled to build a stable, democratic government. However, it has taken steps to build strong relationships with neighboring Pakistan and address problems such as poverty that help fuel terrorism, the report says.

The Program for Strengthening Peace and Reconciliation has persuaded more than 5,000 Taliban members and other insurgents to stop their lives of violence, it says.

The shifting situation in Afghanistan prompted the top U.S. military officer to say in early April that he is "deeply concerned" about the situation there, and that maintaining troops in Iraq is harming overall U.S. military capabilities.

"The Taliban is growing bolder, suicide attacks are on the rise, and so is the trade in illegal narcotics," said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States needs more troops to hold areas of southern Afghanistan -- the region of highest concern -- and to train local army and police personnel.

The two men testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The United States recently sent an additional 3,500 troops to Afghanistan, but commanders in the region would like 10,000 to 12,000 more, Gates said. He said he doubted NATO would make up the difference.

Although 25 NATO allies and 13 other countries have contributed forces, the bulk of the recent fighting in Afghanistan has been done by U.S., Canadian, British and Dutch troops. Canadian troops are based in the southern province of Kandahar, once a Taliban stronghold.
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Czech parliament approves deployment of 100 elite troops in Afghanistan
The Associated Press April 30, 2008
PRAGUE, Czech Republic: The lower chamber of the Czech parliament approved a government plan on Wednesday to deploy about 100 elite troops to Afghanistan to serve in the U.S.-led operation against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

The vote was 112-45 in the 200-seat chamber to allow a special forces unit to serve in the U.S.-led mission known as Operation Enduring Freedom. Twenty-four lawmakers abstained from the vote and 19 were not present.

The deployment was approved by the parliament's upper chamber, the Senate, last week.

The unit served in the same U.S.-led mission in 2004 and 2006.

The parliament earlier agreed to deploy 415 soldiers in the separate NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan this year.

In Afghanistan on Wednesday, a roadside bomb hit a military vehicle carrying Czech soldiers, killing one and wounding four, the military said in a statement.

The fatality was the third Czech service member who has died in Afghanistan.

They have included a special forces soldier who was killed in a suicide attack in southern Afghanistan in March, and a soldier who died when a mudslide in northern Afghanistan swept a Czech military vehicle off a road in May. Wednesday's victim was a member of a Czech military unit involved in reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan's province of Logar.
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Push comes to shove in Afghanistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad May 1, 2008 Asia Times Online, Hong Kong
KARACHI - In what has been described as "a good public relations exercise", Prince William, second in line to the British throne, has visited Afghanistan to meet British troops in Kandahar province.

The brief unannounced trip is indeed headline-grabbing, but it cannot disguise the fact that the Western coalition has a monumental battle on its hands against the Taliban-led insurgency, and the first round has already begun.

Surprise Taliban attacks from the northern Afghan province of Kapisa (the Tagab Valley) to the southern Helmand districts and from Kunar to Nangarhar provinces have conclusively engaged the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in its biggest operations since the deployment of its forces in Afghanistan in 2001.

In a telling development, several hundred US Marines this week  engaged the Taliban in Helmand province near Garmser, the farthest south American troops have operated in that province.

The Taliban rule the countryside here all the way to the Pakistan border. The assault on Garmser was the first offensive by the 2,300 marines who arrived from the United States this month to bolster mainly British forces in the area.

This trend of deploying additional troops in direct confrontations is expected to continue, even at the risk of higher casualties, in provinces such as Nangarhar, Ghazni, Kunar, Helmand and Kandahar, where the Taliban have established strongholds.

This follows a recent NATO summit at which the member countries agreed to reconcile their differences over Afghanistan and commit more troops, especially to the south, where previously many NATO members were not prepared to send troops.

A new generation of warriors
The Taliban anticipated this "surge" a la the policy of troop reinforcements in Iraq and adjusted accordingly.

Having had several key commanders killed by NATO forces last year, the Taliban's fight has been supplemented by a new generation of warriors who are the sons of war legends dating to the resistance to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. These leaders have autonomous command, but are allied with the Taliban.

Local warlords in northeastern Kapisa province belonging to veteran Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami have already started guerrilla operations against NATO troops. New commanders have emerged, though, including Anwar ul-Haq Mujahid in eastern Nangarhar province and Sirajuddin Haqqani in Ghazni, Kunar, Paktia, Paktika and Khost area. Kabul, too, as happened on Sunday, will come under increased attack - there was another shootout with militants in the capital on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, a group belonging to Anwar ul-Haq carried out a suicide attack on a pro-government tribal jirga (council) in the Khogiani district of Nangarhar province. Khogiani is the native town of Anwar ul-Haq's late father and mujahideen leader against the Soviets, Moulvi Younus Khalis. Khalis had announced his decision to battle against NATO forces in 2005, but he died a year later and his son has now taken over command. His main stronghold is the Tora Bora mountains and Khogiani. His group says it will spread the insurgency to the provincial capital of Jalalabad this year.

Sirajuddin Haqqani's network has already blown the starting whistle for the spring offensive with the brazen attack on the Afghan national day parade in Kabul on Sunday. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the son of famed mujahideen commander against the Soviets, Maualana Jalaluddin Haqqani.

Consolidation in the tribal areas
Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, based in the South Waziristan tribal area, has ended peace talks with the Islamabad government, just a week after ordering a ceasefire against security forces. A spokesman for Mehsud is reported to have said the talks broke down because the government refused to withdraw troops from the tribal areas, the strategic backyard of the Taliban's insurgency in Afghanistan.

Under a well-orchestrated program, the Taliban "switched off" their attacks on politically vulnerable Pakistan this month and they patiently allowed the Western-sponsored game of carrots and sticks involving tribal peace accords to play out, even letting anti-Taliban politicians into their region. For the Taliban, it was just a matter of buying time until the end of April to put the finishing touches to their spring campaign in Afghanistan.

For the past few weeks, the Taliban have been flexing their muscles against "vice" in Mohmand Agency and in Bajaur Agency. They have executed robbers and rescued two abducted Sikhs from gangs of criminals who were demanding ransom for their release. The abductors were then executed. Importantly, the Taliban have established parallel administrations which have undermined moves by secular political parties to activate local tribal networks against the Taliban.

In North Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a Taliban commander, supported the tribal security forces (Khasadar) on the issue of their salary and negotiated on their behalf with the political agent representing the central government.

Tribal elders, the Pakistani security forces and the political parties watched these developments with some surprise, compounded when the the Taliban suddenly set a deadline for the withdrawal of security forces from the area, and then announced the suspension of peace accords signed only a few days earlier.

The timing of this suspension coincides with talks between the dominant party in the ruling government coalition, the Pakistan People's Party, and another key party, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz group (PML-N), in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

These talks broke down on the issue of the judiciary: the PML-N wants judges dismissed last year by President Pervez Musharraf restored. It says if it does not get its way, it will pull its members from the cabinet.

The Taliban sense that political uncertainty in the capital will render the government incapable of pursuing military options in the tribal areas.

The young chief minister of North-West Frontier Province, Amir Haider Khan Hotti, who used his family's rapport with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to muster support behind the peace accords, besides the British Foreign Office, appealed in a state of shock with the Taliban not to take hasty decisions.

But the peace agreements and their breach are a part of the Taliban's broader regional designs.

From February to April, under the garb of various ceasefires, the Taliban have solidified their supply lines from Pakistan into Afghanistan. Hundreds of fresh recruits have been able to pass unimpeded from the cities to the tribal areas, where they received brief training before being launched into battle.

Hand-in-hand with the suspension of the peace accords, the Taliban are stepping up pressure on the government to withdraw all troops from the tribal areas. If this happens, and it is possible, the Taliban will have a free hand to expand their training camps for fresh recruits.

US President George W Bush could not have summed up the situation better. In comments on Tuesday, he admitted the United States faced a "long struggle" in Afghanistan against a "very resilient enemy" intent on bringing the Taliban back to power.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com
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Afghan 'health link' to uranium
By Dawood Azami One Planet, BBC World Service Wednesday, 30 April 2008 15:58 UK
Doctors in Afghanistan say rates of some health problems affecting children have doubled in the last two years.

Some scientists say the rise is linked to use of weapons containing depleted uranium (DU) by the US-led coalition that invaded the country in 2001.

A Canadian research group found very high levels of uranium in Afghans during tests just after the invasion.

A US forces spokesman denied its weapons were affecting the health of Afghans or the country's environment.

But claims made in the BBC World Service One Planet programme suggest the invasion may have left an unwelcome legacy for the country's environment and the health of its people.

Doctors in Kabul and Kandahar showed data indicating that the incidence of a number of health conditions, including birth defects, has doubled in under two years.

"We have premature births and malformations," said one doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, in one of the main maternity and neo-natal hospitals in the country.

"Malformations include neural tube defects and malformation of limbs; for example, the head is smaller than normal, or the head is larger than normal, or there is a big mass on the back of the baby.

"We don't know what is the cause of these malformations."

Heavy metal

The Canada-based Uranium Medical Research Centre (UMRC) believes the cause might be depleted uranium.

In 2002 and 2003 the group ran programmes analysing urine from Afghans.

In some, it found levels of uranium hundreds of times greater than in Gulf War veterans.

Asaf Durakovic, URMC's president and a former US army adviser, believes that exposure to DU weapons may have brought a rise in birth defects as well as "symptoms of muscular-skeletal pains, immune system disorders, lung disease, and eventually cancer".

Depleted uranium and natural uranium contain different ratios of two isotopes of the metal.

So scientists can tell whether a person has been exposed to the natural form, or to DU.

DU is used in armour-piercing shells because its density means it can penetrate further than other metals.

Dr Durakovic said his research showed that in Afghanistan, coalition forces had also used DU in "bunker buster" bombs, which can penetrate tens of metres into the soil.

"In Afghanistan it has to be... a weapon that destroys not only bunkers or caves, but also penetrates through the soil and through the fragile environment of the mountains."

Strange fruit

Villagers near the Tora Bora mountains, scene of a massive coalition attack in 2001 aimed at forcing Osama bin Laden out of a cave complex where he was believed to be hiding, suspect the bombs brought an increase in diseases and other problems.

"There was a strange smell, and most of the trees here did not yield fruit," recounted Yusuf Khan.

Another villager, Bakhtawar, said: "There were three or four babies born in our area whose arms and legs and faces were not normal; they were malformed."

But Faizullah Kakar, Afghanistan's deputy health minister, countered: "Health defects are common in Afghanistan.

"We want to find out if it is nutritional deficiency or environmental contamination with certain radiation that is doing it."

Disputed claims

The US military rejects claims that it used DU-containing bunker busters in Afghanistan.

It also denies allegations that the weapons it used in Afghanistan are affecting health and the environment.

"We don't use depleted uranium in Afghanistan; we don't have a requirement to use that," said Major Chris Belcher, spokesman for the coalition forces.


But he said such weapons might have been used in the past.

"I don't have any knowledge of what might have been used in 2001 and 2002. If there was an armour threat, the DU rounds would have been used to counter that threat."

Dr C Ross Anthony from the Rand Corporation, the US think-tank, suggested use of DU ordnance would have been light in Afghanistan.

"With very few of them (DU weapons) being used, it is hard for me to imagine that much of a real environmental problem exists," he said.

What next?

Some scientific experts suggested performing further research into the alleged damage caused by weapons used in the country.

But officials in Afghanistan's newly established National Environmental Protection Agency said they did not have the necessary equipment or expertise to investigate properly.

And Chris Alexander from the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) acknowledged it was a concern, but said: "We have no idea what the scale is, nor do we have special knowledge about environmental implications."

Asaf Durakovic would prefer that concrete measures be taken now.

"The best thing is to relocate the population; people have to be moved from the areas that have been highly contaminated to safe areas to provide medical testing and medical care."

Following the use of DU weapons in Iraq and the Balkans, the World Health Organization (WHO) researched the impact on health and the environment.

It concluded, as did a 2001 European Union enquiry into the Balkans conflict, that DU posed little threat.

A senior WHO official told One Planet it had not received any request from Afghan authorities to investigate the current situation.

You can listen to One Planet, or download it as a podcast, by visiting the BBC World Service's One Planet website. This edition should be available from approximately noon GMT Thursday
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Hunger on rise in Afghanistan despite aid
GRAEME SMITH From Wednesday's Globe and Mail April 30, 2008 at 5:12 AM EDT
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — Afghanistan's food crisis may turn into a festering problem as prices remain stubbornly high, a United Nations official says, and local authorities are already complaining that emergency measures are not enough to handle the rising hunger.

The World Food Program has launched a $77-million program to provide extra food for Afghans who found themselves shut out of the market as prices climbed sharply in recent months.

But during a tour of food distribution points in Kandahar yesterday, the WFP's top official in the region said he's hearing complaints that the new help is not enough, and expressed concerns about what will happen if the crisis continues.

"What comes next after this program expires in June?" said Tony Banbury, WFP Asian director. The emergency program has eased prices, he said, but wheat remains two or three times as costly as it was in Afghanistan at the end of last year.

Even with the extra assistance, Mr. Banbury said, authorities in Kandahar estimate that 6,000 families recently displaced by fighting have received no help.

The Afghan government is also pushing the WFP to expand its programs to include more categories of vulnerable people, he added.

"We do need to be prepared for the at least real possibility of sustained higher prices over the medium term," Mr. Banbury said.

The WFP delegation is scheduled to meet President Hamid Karzai today for talks about the situation. The visit coincides with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's announcement in Switzerland yesterday that he will lead a top-level task force to tackle food shortages and escalating prices.

Mr. Ban said high food prices "could touch off a cascade of related crises affecting trade, economic growth, social progress and even political security around the world."

The food situation has already affected Afghanistan's stability, officials say. The Afghan Red Crescent Society says increasing hunger in the past month has driven hundreds of villagers from their homes and forced them to flee into urban areas or across the border into Pakistan.

A report published last week by the U.S. Agency for International Development predicts price hikes will hit Afghanistan even harder because of poor rains in the latest wet season, hurting the annual cereal crop.

Adding to the problems is a lack of supply from Pakistan, which has imposed a ban on wheat exports to ease its own food shortages.

Rising violence in Afghanistan's south and east have also exacerbated the situation, and Mr. Banbury said the conflict makes it difficult to know how badly the people in parts of a province such as Kandahar are eating.

But the hunger was obvious in the faces of people who crowded outside a WFP depot in Kandahar city yesterday. Shopkeepers complained that the mob was blocking traffic, as the WFP staff opened their rusting metal gates and started calling names from a list.

One of the names called was that of Sayyed Mohammed, a white-bearded man from a family of farm labourers. Like others on a fixed wage, he said, the rising food prices have left him with so little to feed his family's children that they suffer stomach pains.

"Sometimes the children cry, and we give them a bit of bread, but we cannot give them enough," Mr. Mohammed said. "Maybe we will start begging or stealing, I don't know."

The old man said his family of 26 people is crowded into a mud-walled house with six rooms. Such poor families have little to sacrifice when facing a food crisis, Mr. Banbury said; first they stop whatever small discretionary spending they might have enjoyed, and then usually cut back on education and health costs.

Other coping strategies often include selling off personal belongings, even meagre possessions such as goats, blankets and pots and pans, Mr. Banbury said, which can cause other problems for the family.

Hunger can also force men to leave their families to look for work in other areas, he added; in southern Afghanistan, he said such work might include joining the Taliban.

Canada is the second-largest donor for the WFP in Afghanistan, Mr. Banbury said, and was the first to contribute to the emergency appeal with a donation of $10-million in addition to $25-million already committed in late 2007. Including the extra assistance, WFP officials say they're now feeding 717,000 of the approximately one million people who live in Kandahar province.

With a report from Associated Press

*****
What they spend

The more income spent on food, the greater the vulnerability to food price increases, and Vietnamese are among the most vulnerable in the world. Here is the average percentage of income spent on food in various countries.

40%

Vietnam

33%

India

28%

China

26%

Thailand

26%

Indonesia

15%

Malaysia

11%

Canada

10%

United States

8%

Singapore

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture
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Torkham border crossing closed by Afghan officials
By Sudhir Ahmad Daily Times, Pakistan - Apr 29, 2008
LANDIKOTAL: Afghan border officials closed the Pak-Afghan Torkham border crossing for three hours on Tuesday morning in protest over the alleged misconduct of the Pakistani Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel deployed there, sources told Daily Times.

According to the sources, a Pakistani FC soldier chased a minor Afghan girl to stop her from carrying a small bag of flour to the Afghan side of the crossing, when the girl tripped on the road and a passing vehicle ran over her leg. The Afghan border officials closed the Torkham crossing in protest over the incident. FC personnel and the Khasadars (tribal police) have also allegedly beaten the Afghan children and other citizens without justification, said the Afghan officials condemning the attitude of Pakistani border officials and staff.

Control: After the closure of the crossing by the Afghan officials, the Pakistani border officials followed suit, creating a three-hour long blockade of the border. It was only after negotiations between the two border authorities that the crossing was re-opened at around 01:30pm, the sources said. Both sides agreed to avoid such closures of the crossing in future. Pakistani sources emphasised however that there would be no relaxation in the policy of Pakistan to stop flour smuggling and infiltration of anti-state and anti-social elements into Pakistan.
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Canada 'risk averse' on spies, ex-MI-6 head says
Rethinking on CSIS in order, he says, but doubts Canada has will to pass laws allowing foreign spy service
COLIN FREEZE From Wednesday's Globe and Mail April 30, 2008 at 4:50 AM EDT
The former head of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service says a recent Federal Court decision that may block Canadian agents from intercepting conversations of domestic targets abroad cements Canada's reputation as a "risk averse" nation.

"Plus ca change, plus c'est la même chose ... I doubt Canada has the will" to plug the security gap by passing new laws, says Sir Richard Dearlove, who headed MI-6 from 1999 to 2004.

Sir Richard acknowledged during a phone interview that he's heard the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has been doing some good strategic work, including clandestine activities in Afghanistan and dredging up valuable intelligence sources from within Canadian ethnic communities.

But he says a much broader rethinking is in order, as CSIS's relatively few foreign agents remain legally obliged to operate as passive receptacles of information - "postboxes" in the words of Sir Richard - as opposed to classic foreign operatives who actively gather intelligence.

CSIS was created in 1984 as a spy service that would operate within the confines of Canada, though its leadership now says the agency has the capacity to work overseas.

Unlike every other G-7 nation except Japan, Canada has no dedicated foreign spy service along the lines of MI-6.

In a era of transnational threats, where targets are as likely to be Canadian citizens as not, CSIS is encountering some growing pains.

CSIS director Jim Judd nodded to this in a speech in Vancouver this week. "While our organization's principal mandate is domestic," he said, "there is virtually no issue with which we are dealing these days that does not have some international dimension to it."

A once-secret court decision released in February brought the foreign-domestic dichotomy into sharp relief, by revealing a major vulnerability that has been quietly acknowledged within CSIS for years but which remains completely unaddressed by any Canadian law.

A Federal Court judge, Mr. Justice Edmond Blanchard, was asked by CSIS to sign off on warrants that would allow agents to intercept the communications of a group of unnamed terrorism targets, nearly all of them Canadian citizens.

The judge had no problem with the conventional warrants, agreeing the subjects were high-level threats. He endorsed spying on them - within Canada.

Then CSIS asked Judge Blanchard to go a bold, new step further and sign off on warrants that would allow the same targets to be spied on when they left Canada.

This prompted many months of legal debate, including discussion as to whether CSIS agents would be violating the Criminal Code or possibly breaching the Privacy Act entitlements of their Canadian-citizen targets.

The judge concluded he simply had no authority to endorse any foreign warrants, saying it was Parliament's job to grant CSIS any enhanced powers.

The gap highlighted by the legal gambit has prompted much concern in the past, extending far beyond the 10 anonymous terrorism suspects at the centre of the court case.

Sources say the problem has arisen dozens of times, for example, when Canadian targets and their monitored cellphones have flown out of the country, or driven cars with clandestinely implanted GPS-transmitters across the U.S. border.

The bugs may remain working and in place, but the law effectively obliges Canadian agencies to close their eyes and cover their ears whenever borders are crossed.

Sir Richard points out that a spy service can always ask an allied foreign agency to pick up on the spying, but adds co-operation isn't always a given, especially when a target is travelling to a hostile nation or one whose loyalties are in doubt.

In "fairly rare" instances, he says, spies need the legal powers to follow their targets abroad.

Canadian officials would be "naive," Sir Richard says, if they don't seek to take inspiration from two relevant British laws passed in the past 15 years: the Intelligence Services Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. "The classic legislation is in the U.K., because it's been groundbreaking and it's been shown to work," he said.

The laws allow British agents to engage in foreign intelligence gathering under proscribed conditions, provided high-level police or political officials sign off on the requests.

Conceding that extraterritorial intelligence gathering is, by nature, illegal in the foreign countries it may take place in, Sir Richard said that such actions by agents are supported in British law, meaning they wouldn't face the risk of prosecution at home.

The Federal Court of Canada case appears to have reaffirmed the ex-spymaster's long-standing complaints. "The fact is, the whole Canadian system is so risk averse," Sir Richard said.

"The risk aversion is because Canada sees itself as a benign power. ... Canada free-rides on the backs of British and American intelligence."

Beyond plugging the gap, he says, Ottawa should consider setting up a new foreign-geared agency, probably run under the Foreign Affairs Department.

The Conservatives floated this notion as an election promise, but have not taken any concrete steps toward it since being in office.

Melisa Leclerc, spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, said: "The government continues to assess different options regarding the collection of intelligence beyond Canada's borders."
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An Afghan officer, NATO behind him, leads an assault
In Afghanistan's troubled south, one mission shows how far the Afghan Army has come –and what remains to be done.
By Text by Gordon Lubold and Photos by Andy Nelson from the April 30, 2008 edition
ZHARI DISTRICT, Afghanistan - It is just after dawn when the Afghan soldiers creep into lush fields splashed with morning light. Their job is to turn back an insurgency whose members lurk among the grapevines, almond trees, and red-flowered poppy fields that border their military compound. Today, that means stopping a stream of attacks that has disrupted supply routes here in Kandahar Province, in the troubled southern reaches of Afghanistan.

As the men move through the vegetation, only a rooster's crowing breaks the enduring silence, suggesting that the mission may prove a bust. But then gunfire shatters an otherwise pristine morning – and Lt. Col. Sheren Shah, the Afghan commander, grabs the phone strapped to his radio operator and starts barking orders in Pashto.

In the tug of war between the increasingly robust Afghan Army and a potent – if much smaller – enemy, Colonel Shah is the kind of commander that his Canadian advisers like. Shah has earned a reputation for moving quickly, sometimes spearheading a mission just after receiving last-minute intelligence. In response, the Canadians have given him considerable latitude, deferring to him as commander even as they provide essential support.

On this day, after a brief lull in the gunfire, Shah directs his men to send a barrage of small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades that fills the morning air as they move toward what they believe is an insurgent safe house.

As they observe Shah's operation, the dozen or so Canadians advising this mission say the Army has come far in the past five years. But while wars in Afghanistan have imbued at least two generations of Afghans with a warrior spirit and strong sense of nationalism, the soldiers still lack key discipline and organizational skills. And, as the summer season approaches, opening the door to more aggressive fighting, the Afghans are fighting as a modern army trying to fight an opponent schooled in very different ways.

"The [Afghan National Army] has potential to face the challenges of face-to-face war if the spring offensive happens to have the form of conventional war," says Ahmad Idrees Rahmani, a cofounder of Afghanistan's Center for Research and Policy Studies in Kabul. "The problem of the war against the Taliban is that [conventional warfare] is not their fighting strategy. Each time they take over a district, the ANA and other forces can easily take them out in a few days."

Trouble begins, he adds, "when they retreat and attack in the form of guerrilla fighters. Then it becomes hard to find a fish in the sea of people."

But with disagreement persisting over NATO force levels and longer-term commitments, the Canadians here in Kandahar are under pressure to "stand up" an effective Afghan force that can ultimately step into Western forces' shoes.

The south: longstanding hot spot

As the home of the Taliban and its one-time guest Osama bin Laden, southern Afghanistan has long posed a major challenge to Afghan and NATO coalition forces. Routed in 2001 by US forces, the Taliban and other insurgents have made a comeback: Roadside bombs and suicide bombers are on the rise. Sunday's attempted assassination of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul also serves to remind the Afghan Army of a determined enemy.

Complicating a decisive response in Afghanistan has been the shape of the NATO coalition. It has often failed to coordinate sufficiently, critics say, to stop an enemy that is estimated to be perhaps a sixth of the coalition size. Forty nations have contributed to a force of 61,000, including the American contingent as well as 28,000 other NATO troops.

Indeed, US military officers here often say that the US and its coalition allies haven't been in Afghanistan for seven years, but for one year – seven times. It's a nod to the sentiment that the coalition keeps reinventing the wheel in the troubled country.

Many express hope that fresh thinking about training may move the Afghan Army forward more aggressively. For now, a key driver in Afghan operations here are members of the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams, training teams that have evolved in recent years along with the broader mission. The teams are led by commanders like Maj. Bob Ritchie, who's in charge of the Canadian team in Zhari.

Spurred in part by Canadian voters still at odds over the mission in Afghanistan, senior Canadian officials here say they have begun the transition from security-oriented operations in which they do the heavy lifting toward a greater emphasis on Afghan responsibility.

The recent NATO summit in Bucharest included France's formal announcement that it would send more troops and other commitments from additional countries.

Meanwhile, the arrival of the US Marines in the south, and the promise of more American forces to come by 2009, assuaged the Canadians, who had threatened to pull out of the mission if reinforcements weren't sent.

There remains, however, a critical need for dozens more training teams, say NATO officials.

Logistical shortcomings

Critics say the approach to training here under the embedded training teams is still uneven. Despite efforts to ensure uniformity across the training teams, each of the militaries nonetheless approaches mentoring from different perspectives. And US officers who have spent time here say there is little effort to share information, or in military parlance, spread "lessons learned" based on each teams' experiences. "Everyone does something a little different," says one Canadian officer.

The Afghan Army, for example, still is not able to perform many logistical functions like using its nascent intelligence service, fully planning a mission, or providing its ground forces the air support it needs. The intelligence that comes from the Afghan service, for example, can fall prey to political vendettas as Army or police commanders settle debts by politicizing what they put out.

Still, in the middle of a hodgepodge of foreign forces, the Afghan National Army has quietly grown more capable. Coalition forces say part of their job is to make that point to average Afghans – instilling a confidence in them that their national Army is up to the task.

That means making more of an effort to put an "Afghan face" on the fight against the Taliban and other militias.

Needed: good commanders

More than 30 years of war have deprived Afghanistan of many good military commanders. With a 20 percent national literacy rate, little materiel, and lack of professional training, even the good ones can't function at a high level. Afghan fighters' ability to famously beat back their Russian invaders in the 1980s only came with weapons and other support provided covertly by the US and other allies.

While no leader is without his flaws, Shah, who joined the mujahideen to fight the Russians after they killed his father, gets high marks from the Canadians. Tall, abrupt in speech, and handsome, he has courage and force of will, advisers here say. Still, Shah will need the institutional knowledge of his Canadian advisers for his mission amid the poppies and fruit trees.

That doesn't seem to bother him. "It takes time," Shah said the day before, referring to attaining the skills needed to fully direct the show.

For Shah's men, all of whom have been through some form of basic Army instruction, their training largely will end with this day's operation.

As the morning progresses, the Afghan commander and a battalion of about 200 men fan out in two directions along rows upon rows of mud walls that prop up the farmers' plants but make it difficult to see. The supply line they're trying to secure is a small dirt road barely big enough for a small pickup, but used by large flatbed trucks to transport food, ammunition, and other supplies to small bases throughout these fields.

The insurgent safe house they target is thought to have six men inside. Later, it's found to be a small bombmaking factory. Directing his men by radio from an abandoned earthen compound less than a mile away, Shah aligns two rifle companies around the building.

With the help of the Canadians, Shah orders his men to flush out the house. At his side is Major Ritchie, who tips the battle on the ground by calling in an airstrike. In minutes, an unmanned US plane known as a Reaper drops a 300-pound bomb on the house, killing five men. The firefight continues as the soldiers pursue a sixth man who has run away.

It is later learned that one of the dead men is Loy Lala, whom the Canadians and Afghans had been looking for for some time. Shah's men find motorcycles used by the dead insurgents and Shah decides they should be burned.

Ritchie cautions against exploding gas tanks in the middle of the mission, but his objections are overruled by Shah. He wants to prevent them from being used again – but also is eager to allow his men to leave a pointed reminder that they won this battle.

Later, as Shah's men reposition themselves, another group of Taliban is found in the green thicket. But the Afghan forces don't move quickly enough. Ritchie makes another call and a British Harrier Jump Jet arrives, flying low in a show of force, but fails to flush them out.

Ritchie, who has been talking almost nonstop on his radio to his men and coordinating troop movements and airstrikes, marvels that British, US, Canadian, and Afghan forces have all worked on this mission. "Four countries contributing to do the right thing," he says.

Shah's men ultimately find a cache of weapons, including two recoilless rifles used to harass Canadian-Afghan police substations in the area. Shah is ecstatic.

"This is good, Colonel," Ritchie says.

Supply trucks rumble forward

With the area now at least temporarily safe, the coalition supply trucks are able to make it through to a secure compound, and the soldiers receive their rations: ammo, cooking oil, fresh onions, bags of flour, and two sides of beef wrapped loosely in garbage bags.

Today's operation has been a success, says Col. Jean-François Riffou, who oversees all the Canadian adviser teams here, as he watches the operation from inside an earthen compound. "Things are under control, nobody hurt, got some bad guys, and [Shah] is acting deliberately," says Colonel Riffou. Still, the Canadians know he needs more gear, intelligence, soldiers – and practice.

For the Afghans, the sense of accomplishment shows in the visible pride of the men surrounding a beaming Shah. As far as he is concerned, the only thing he needs is not quite within reach. Asked when he could perform a mission like that of today's on his own, Shah nods at the sky and smiles.

"When I get control of the aircraft," he says.
 
Training and Equipping Budget

(US-funded)

2005: $786 million

2006: $735 million

2007: $4.8 billion

Infrastructure: $621 million

Training: $484.8 million

Equipment: $3.1 billion

Trained troops: about 55,000

Salary: $145 (private) to $780 (three-star general) per month

Equipment: 4,000 Humvees to be delivered this summer to bolster current 16. About 630 armored ambulances are also to arrive this summer.

Source: Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan
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Ministers survive assassination vote
www.quqnoos.com Written by Mukhtar Soar Tuesday, 29 April 2008
Ministers take rap for failing to secure president before gunmen attacked
TWO SENIOR ministers and the head of the intelligence service have survived a vote of no confidence after Members of Parliament called for the three men to resign from their posts following Sunday’s attack on the president.

The minister of defence, minister of interior and the head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) were called before Parliament today (Tuesday) to face a vote of no confidence after gunmen opened fire on a crowd of politicians and diplomats at a military parade.

Some MPs yesterday accused Defence Minister Rahim Wardak, NDS chief Amrullah Saleh and Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbel of failing the country by letting the militants attack the ceremony with guns and mortars.

But, in today's vote, a majority of MPs said they still had confidence in the three men.

In a session that lasted all morning, the head of the NDS, Amrullah Saleh, apologised to the people of Afghanistan for his department’s failure to prevent what he called Sunday’s “assassination plot” against the president, which left three dead and eleven wounded.

He asked Parliament to suspend him from his job until a complete investigation into the attack and the events leading up to it had been completed.

He said: “Despite all the preparations, we failed we have failed in front of Parliament, the Afghans and the international community. I apologise to all Afghans.”

The minister of defence, General Rahim Wardak, also called the attack “very shameful”.
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Tale of two cities: Canada's fortune in Kandahar depends on action in Kabul
The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — In Kandahar, a poverty-racked city of mud walls and thatch roofs, suicide bombers prowl and a charismatic young governor derided by critics as corrupt and immoral has lost the confidence of both his constituents and the Canadian military.

Five hundred kilometres away in the gridlocked metropolis of blaring horns and outstretched hands that is Kabul, Canada and Kandahar together wait for Afghan President Hamid Karzai to do something about his problematic political emissary, Asadullah Khalid.

"I don't want him to even be a politician in the next government of Afghanistan," Malalay Ishaqzai, a politician from Kandahar who sits as a member of the Afghan national assembly, said in an interview with The Canadian Press in Kabul.

"He should be removed from the government and not given any other province or any other job. He's a useless person for the people of Kandahar."

It's a prime example of how the story of Canada's mission in Afghanistan has become a tale of two cities.

Many blame Khalid for the fact Kandahar city seems trapped in a cycle of poverty and peril, a place where only the truly desperate are willing to brave the threat of bombings and suicide attacks to try to eke out a living on the streets.

Abdul Qahir, 32, who makes a meagre living selling cooked grains, uses the proceeds to support his two elderly parents - a common lament in a country where multiple generations often live under one roof.

"I can't save a single penny for the future," said Qahir.

In a country where a man's average life expectancy is just 43 years, Qahir can't help but have a fatalistic attitude. "In Afghanistan, it is a very uncertain situation because of extremist Taliban and foreign troops .... Sooner or later, we are going to die."

At first glance, Kabul appears the polar opposite of its primitive southern cousin, Kandahar.

A city of nearly three million people in the shadow of the snow-capped Hindu Kush mountains, Kabul is the one place in Afghanistan where the daily bustle and shove seems reminiscent of a modern North American metropolis.

Buildings of glass and steel rise out of the downtown core, where a cosmopolitan crowd packs the shops and bazaars. Jeans, T-shirts and three-piece suits jostle with burkas and the billowy salwar kameez. Merchants sell bags of grain alongside DVDs and MP3 players.

But there is misery in Kabul too.

Women hunched under burkas sit cross-legged in the bazaars, their hands outstretched. Beggars of every age tap desperately on car windows in hopes of a few Afghanis, the local currency. One filthy young girl of about 10 looks close to tears as she gestures towards her mouth with her fingers.

In a section of old Kabul known as Murad Khani, a former cultural and economic hub, families sit on the sidewalk outside a mosque, hoping for scraps of bread from customers as they emerge from a nearby bakery.

"There are no jobs - that is the problem here," said Janali, a 55-year-old man who works as a carpenter. Like many Afghans, he goes by only one name.

Inflation is rampant, Janali said. The price of a piece of bread in Kabul doubled over the span of about three days last week, to 20 Afghanis, or roughly 40 Canadian cents. "Day by day, it is increasing."

Driving in Kabul is an exercise in survival.

Motorists merge with nary a sideways glance as police officers blithely flail their arms in gridlocked traffic, keeping up appearances more than anything else. Motorcyclists and bicycles weave expertly through the paralysis, narrowly missing pedestrians who dart mindlessly between the cars.

All the activity suggests a greater sense of security in Kabul than in Kandahar, but it masks a deep-seated fear that seems inescapable in Afghanistan.

"Whenever I am coming out from home in the morning, I don't believe I may go home alive, because the security is not good," said an 18-year-old Kabul University student with excellent English who gave her name as Angela.

When she's not going to her first-year law classes, Angela works at the United Nations offices on the road to Jalalabad, where NATO troops - known collectively as the International Security Assistance Force - present a tempting target for insurgents.

"ISAF forces are a lot active on that way. It is not safe for me. Even my family, they are not happy to let me go out, but I have to go and fulfil my family's need."

A pointed reminder of the danger came April 27 when Taliban insurgents opened fire on a parade to mark the anniversary of the end of the Soviet invasion, killing three people and wounding at least eight in what a Taliban spokesman described as an attempt on Karzai's life.

And in January, six people died during a brazen Taliban attack on the Kabul Serena, a five-star downtown hotel favoured by dignitaries, diplomats and visiting western VIPs. The hotel is now fortified by 24-hour police guards and two heavily armoured gates.

"We cannot say it is completely safe," Angela said. "In Kabul, there were lots of explosions, bomb attackers and suicide attacks."

Despite the obvious poverty, there is evidence of money in Kabul: students crowd the front gates at Kabul University, multi-storeyed homes line parts of the Kabul River and the odd Mercedes can be seen making its way down the pitted streets.

That has a lot to do with the fact that it's easier to get an education in Kabul than it is elsewhere, said Palwasha Shaheed Kakar, the Afghan government's deputy minister of finance.

"If there is education in one part of the country, of course people will learn the way to do business, giving benefit to the government, to the people of the country, because they have the knowledge of how to survive," Kakar said in an interview.

"They don't have that much education in Kandahar compared with Kabul."

At a clutch of tiny shops in Kabul known to locals as the "Bush Bazaar," named for the U.S. president because of the number of products that come from the U.S. military base in nearby Bagram, shopkeepers lament the state of business.

"There's not much good profit, but that's a normal thing," said Mohammad Nain, 24. "We don't have much good profit, but enough to pass the time - enough to survive."

The shopkeepers of the Bush Bazaar were nearly shut down last month by the government but managed to keep their doors open by bribing government officials, Nain said.

In Kabul, there is a widening gap between rich and poor.

"The government is doing nothing for the economy, and they are providing nothing to the poor people of Afghanistan," Nain complained.

"They only take care of the people who are ric h."

In Kandahar, the real economy is largely underground, said Kakar - driven by local "businessmen" who thrive on the lack of security, which enables them to more easily smuggle drugs out of the country.

"There are expert businessmen in Kandahar, but we can't call them businessmen because they're doing illegal things - smuggling and these sorts of things," she said.

"They don't want the security to come to Afghanistan, because if there is security, if there is peace in the country, the government would have the power to stop everything and business would go down."

Many lay the blame for Kandahar's economic and social paralysis squarely at the feet of Khalid, who has been the target of a persistent, if quiet, campaign by both local elders and Canadian officials to have him removed.

When he slipped up earlier this month and called publicly for Khalid's ouster, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier inadvertently thwarted the entire process and cries went up in Ottawa for his resignation. Sources close to the government expect Khalid to remain in power for at least the next six months.

Interestingly, the reaction among locals in Kandahar to Bernier's remarks was one of hope as locals realized someone was paying attention.

"It's a very good step that Canada took," Ishaqzai said.

"I want America and other countries as well to send these sorts of ministers to visit and say the same thing, take the same action."

-With files from A.R. Khan in Kandahar
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Prince William's Afghanistan visit gets mixed response
April 30, 2008
LONDON (AFP) - Prince William's visit to meet troops in Afghanistan this weekend drew a mixed response Wednesday, with some condemning it as a public relations exercise and others praising the future king.

The 25-year-old, who is second-in-line to the throne, spent about three hours on the ground at Kandahar airfield on Monday, meeting personnel and being briefed on operations before returning to Britain, the royal household said.

A spokesman said the trip was designed to help the young royal familiarise himself with Royal Air Force operations in theatre. William, a trained army officer, has been on a four-month attachment with the RAF.

But Ken Wharfe, a former royal protection officer, suggested the flying visit may have been organised to divert attention from negative headlines in recent weeks.

William -- who received his pilot's "wings" from his father, Prince Charles, last month -- was criticised for flying military helicopters to attend a bachelor party and landing at his girlfriend Kate Middleton's family home.

"There is an element of risk but there would be no way security officials would allow it to happen," Wharfe said. "It would be pretty well sterile while he was there.

"I'm slightly sceptical about this. I think the cynics amongst us will say it's an attempt to cover up the Chinook jollies."

Leading British publicist Max Clifford also said the trip -- nearly two months after William's younger brother, Harry, returned from a 10-week tour of duty in Afghanistan -- had been "a good public relations exercise".

"Certainly this will get them some good headlines, I imagine," he told BBC television.

There was a mixed response, too, on the ARmy Rumour SErvice -- or ARRSE -- a popular Internet forum for members of the British military.

"Smells like a PR operation to me," wrote one poster, named "Devil Dog".

"Good for PR, I think", wrote "redgrain", while "OldTimer" added: "He spent THREE HOURS there, at a time when there is a shortage of kit just what did this little PR exercise cost the British tax payer?????"
But "mediumwhiteamericano" disagreed: "it's not about PR; it's all about actually being there, showing the troops that the future King and Head of the Armed Forces cares about the work going on...

"Regardless of the time he spent there, it made a difference."

And "mick4075" added: "PR stunt?I don't think so, more a demonstration of actually giving a sh*t unlike the majority of people in the ivory towers.I mean, its not like we're going to vote him King!"

Like his brother's tour, which attracted similar criticisms but wide praise, William's visit was a closely-guarded secret for security reasons but is a sign he is preparing for his future role as monarch and head of the military.

He is due to take up another attachment with the Royal Navy at the start of June. There have been reports, unconfirmed by either the defence ministry.
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UN envoy seeks new Afghan aid strategy
Special representative to hold talks in Ottawa with Bernier, MacKay
Toronto Star, Canada Allan Woods Ottawa Bureau Apr 29, 2008
OTTAWA-Canada will be asked to revamp its Afghan aid strategy when a top United Nations envoy arrives in Ottawa for two days of high-level meetings with government officials.

Kai Eide, the special representative of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, will meet with Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier and Defence Minister Peter MacKay tomorrow and Thursday. The new envoy's first North American visit also includes meetings with U.S. President George W. Bush as Washington prepares to boost its presence in southern Afghanistan.

A spokesperson for Eide, a former Norwegian diplomat, said he plans to tackle head-on the expectation that he can "turn the situation around" in Afghanistan by tapping Canada, the U.S. and other countries to re-examine the way it provides support to President Hamid Karzai's government.

"He (Eide) is going to be knocking on your Canadian foreign minister's door and asking what I call the Janet Jackson question: `What have you done for me lately?'" Aleem Siddique told the Star from Kabul. "He'll be asking what the Canadians can be doing differently to meet some of these expectations that have been placed on his shoulders."

At NATO meetings in Bucharest this month, the international community pledged to start transferring increasing control of the country to the Afghan government and security forces, and set out a series of secret targets dealing with troop levels, financial assistance, security and the judicial system that are intended to refocus and better co-ordinate the mission.

Canada is also setting its own targets to define success in Kandahar province and allow Canadian soldiers to withdraw from the country in 2011. The targets come just after Parliament voted to extend the Afghan mission past 2009 and shift efforts from counterinsurgency to training and development.

Part of that strategy involves freeing up some of the $100 million it spends annually on Afghanistan for quick-response projects or large-scale investments easily identified as Canadian. Former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley made such a suggestion earlier this year and International Development Minister Bev Oda confirmed plans are underway for a landmark Canadian aid project in Kandahar.

Aid groups are warning that the new Canadian aid strategy could inflame Afghans wary of foreign involvement in their country.
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Is Afghanistan worth it? A brigadier general answers
The Globe and Mail DENNIS TABBERNOR Special to Globe and Mail Update April 29, 2008
I was recently asked if Afghanistan was worth the death of a Canadian soldier. It is a question that goes to the root of our nation's involvement in this vitally important region, a question made all the more poignant by the losses here that our nation has endured.

Let me answer.
The terror of 9/11 was born and bred in the lawless vacuum that was Afghanistan, a shattered land of shattered lives left desperate after 30 years of war and corruption. Around this vacuum swirled the regional turbulence afflicting Iran, Pakistan, China, India and Russia. An Afghanistan left unstable and vulnerable to the inrush of these forces would prove an immense incubator for terrors beyond the compass of imagination.

So, as part of a coalition, we went to Afghanistan. If we fail here, if we leave Afghanistan without security forces, without sound governance, without the rule of law, without an infrastructure and an alternative to narcotics, we will invite back the forces that spawned 9/11.

I have been to Afghanistan every year since 2003; every year, I see improvement as the country, with the help of the international community, reawakens. Kabul is home to ten times the population I recall in 2003. Young women and girls are in school, an economy is growing and the people have a capable, principled army of which they are proud. In the growth of a police force and the admittedly, but perhaps understandably, more gradual birth of a system of governance, Afghans can see the dawn of a rule of law.

In April, 2007, I joined the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, a coalition comprising military personnel from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, Albania, Germany, France and Romania, as well as contracted civilian advisers, all working together as mentors and trainers. Our mission is to partner with the government of Afghanistan and the international community to organize, train, equip, advise and mentor the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. As deputy commanding general for Afghan National Army Development, I am focused on development of the army.

Success for us is a national army that is professional and competent, literate, ethnically diverse, and capable of providing security throughout Afghanistan. The army comprises five ground manoeuvre corps and one air corps; by December, it will consist of 70,000 troops. Each region of the country is secured by one ground corps. In addition, we have trained and equipped three battalions of superbly capable commando soldiers. Equipment, from helicopters to rifles, has been donated by coalition countries.

I have seen little evidence of corruption in the army; its senior leadership is working hard to ensure it is a national institution Afghans can trust. Part of that is to identify and root out corruption, if and when found.

Afghans come to their army already quite willing to fight. Training occurs nationally and in each corps area. Beyond the basics any new soldier learns, commanders at all levels hone the ability to work in units and in co-operation with coalition forces. Growing leaders in the non-commissioned officer and officer ranks takes time, but pays off: Two corps are now able to plan and conduct complex missions with police and coalition forces. Of the security operations now in progress across the country, ANA forces are in the lead in all but a small minority.

We are working with the army to improve their artillery force, which is based on old Soviet equipment. While the coalition now provides air support and aerial medical evacuation, the Afghan air component, as its capabilities increase, will begin assuming these missions.

With soldiers from all of Afghanistan's major ethnic groups — the Pashtun, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Turkmen — this is truly a national force. Their battlefield success attests to their competence: These are soldiers who want to close with and engage their enemy. Whenever that enemy has been foolish enough to stand and fight, they have lost. We do not see hundreds of Taliban forming up to attack. They know better. They poke around by the handful and most end up dead or captured.

Instead of fighting, insurgents are resorting to improvised explosive devises and suicide bombers; the growth of confidence among Afghans in their army is, in turn, prompting more tips that expose such threats.
The spectacle of suicide bombs notwithstanding, violence is not the rule. Last year, 70 per cent of incidents occurred in 10 per cent of the nearly 400 districts. The commander of our Regional Command East, centred around Jalalabad, reported that more than 90 per cent of Afghans there enjoy a peaceful life; the violence shown by our media does not represent the lives of the vast majority of Afghans.

Instead, the lives of most Afghans are lived peacefully, with increasing access to basic services, the prospect of a representative and responsive government at the local, regional and national levels. The economy rewards honest work, and the possibility of education exists for their children.

Instead of a breeding ground for corruption and terror, their homeland is becoming, ever so slowly, but ever so surely, a nation of stability and dignity with something of value to offer its global neighbours.
Back to the question. There is nothing we do that is worth the life of an individual, but do I think it is important for me to be in Afghanistan and do I think my actions and the actions of other Canadians have made a difference here — the answer is, absolutely yes.

Brigadier General Dennis Tabbernor is deputy commanding general, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.
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U.S. military criticizes Iran but says no strike plan
By Kristin Roberts
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military on Wednesday dismissed speculation that it was drafting new plans to attack Iran but again charged Tehran with supporting Iraqi militias and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Lt. Gen. John Sattler, the military's director of strategic plans, said that while the Pentagon had plans on the shelf for numerous potential conflicts around the world, there had been no order for officers to advance new plans for an Iran strike.

"There has been no order, specific order to plan in any particular area of the world," Sattler told reporters at the Pentagon.

Asked specifically if the military was ordered to plan an Iran strike, he said, "No."

Sattler's comments come as hostile rhetoric and close encounters in the Gulf have fueled speculation that Washington may be planning some sort of military action against Iran.

The appearance of a second U.S. aircraft carrier in the Gulf this week has further fed that concern. The Navy said the presence of two carriers was temporary and part of a routine transition, as one carrier relieves the other in that area.

But Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, the military's operations director, said the presence of two carriers was meant to signal the U.S. military's capabilities to the region. Speaking at the same Pentagon news conference, he said it was not a message directed solely at Iran.

"It's a message to all nations that the United States possesses the capability and the will to operate global," he said. "So this is an opportunity to do that."

EVIDENCE TO MALIKI
Washington accuses Iran of seeking nuclear weapons under cover of an energy program. It also says Iran fuels violence in Iraq by supporting Shi'ite militias with weapons and training.

Tehran rejects both charges and blames violence in Iraq on the presence of U.S. troops.

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. general in Iraq, had been expected to lay out publicly new evidence that Iran continues to support Iraqi militias, providing newly made weapons, despite promising Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that it would halt those activities.

But on Wednesday, U.S. defense officials said that evidence was instead given to Iraqi officials with an expectation that Maliki would confront Tehran with the information.

"The Iraqis wish to first show what they have to the Iranian government before they show the world," said one defense officials traveling with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Mexico.

"First and foremost, it's an attempt to say: 'Hey, listen, we know what you're up to. This is not helpful. Cut it out!'," the official said.

The U.S. military also raised new accusations of Iranian support for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Ham said the military had evidence that Tehran was continuing to send weapons and material to the Taliban, particularly in western Afghanistan. Previously, U.S. defense officials said Iranian involvement in Afghanistan was limited to a few small arms shipments that ended in August 2007.

"There is indication that the Iranian support of the Taliban has continued," Ham said. "We don't believe it to be at the same level which they have provided fighters and weapons into Iraq, but there is some clear evidence."

He said the number of attacks in Afghanistan was slightly higher than a year ago, but would not provide details.

(Additional reporting by David Morgan in Mexico City; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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UN: Herat culture will rot unless protected
www.quqnoos.com Written by M Reza Sher Mohammadi Tuesday, 29 April 2008
UN threatens to wipe Herat off culture list unless officials protect complex
THE UNITED Nations has threatened to wipe Herat from its list of cultural heritage sites unless government officials preserve the city’s ancient monuments.

Head of Herat’s information and culture department, Nimatullah Sarwary, said the government has so far failed to meet UNESCO’s demands for the city’s preservation.

The UN body wanted local authorities to block the road passing through the centre of the Mussalah complex’s four remaining minarets, which were once the tallest in the world.

The agency also wanted the authorities to prevent new buildings from being built inside the old part of the city.

Despite these two requests, cars pass freely through the four minarets and new buildings have been built in the old city.

Sarwary said the government and security forces had failed to stop illegal excavations and smuggling of precious artifacts from the complex.

He said: “The mafia involved in smuggling historical monuments is very active.

They even have members in the government who co-operate with the international bands of historical monuments smugglers.”

The Ministry of Defence said special police will soon be sent to the ancient provinces of Afghanistan and the provinces bordering neighboring countries to stop smugglers stealing Afghanistan’s treasures.
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