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April 4, 2008 

Afghanistan: Legendary Mujahideen leader releases video in new offensive
Khost, 4 April (AKI - By Syed Saleem Shahzad ) - Legendary Afghan mujahadeen leader and one of America's most wanted men, Jalaluddin Haqqani, has broken years of silence to launch the Taliban's spring offensive in a video

Taliban welcome back an old friend
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / April 4, 2008
KARACHI - Like a voice from the grave, legendary Afghan mujahideen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani has emerged from years of silence to boldly launch the Taliban-led spring offensive in Afghanistan, at the same time burying any doubts

Bomber kills Afghan policeman who caught Taliban
Fri Apr 4, 3:54 AM ET
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber in southern Afghanistan attacked and killed a police commander on Friday who was responsible for the arrest this week of a mid-level Taliban leader, a provincial police chief said.

Suicide attack kills 4 in Afghanistan
Fri Apr 4, 7:15 AM ET Associated Press
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber blew himself up near a police vehicle Friday in volatile southern Afghanistan, killing three policemen and a civilian, a police official said.

NATO, Russia agree land transit for Afghanistan
By Andrew Gray
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Russia agreed on Friday to let NATO use its land to deliver non-lethal supplies to alliance forces in Afghanistan, but not troops or air transit arrangements initially sought by NATO.

UN envoy seeks bigger Afghan role
By PAUL AMES, Associated Press Writer Thu Apr 3, 10:18 PM ET
BUCHAREST, Romania - The United Nations should take a bigger role in Afghanistan and work harder with NATO to boost efforts to stabilize the country, new U.N. envoy Kai Eide said Thursday.

US commits to more troops in Afghanistan
By ROBERT BURNS AP Military Writer / April 4, 2008
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT - The United States intends to send many more combat forces to Afghanistan next year, regardless of whether troop levels in Iraq are cut further this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday.

Afghan Police graduate from medical course
April 3, 2008 at 11:39 PM
KABUL, Afghanistan, April 3 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense officials say the first class of trauma-assistance personnel has graduated from the Afghan National Police Central Training Center.

Afghan war rug exhibit highlights new trend
By Julie Mollins
TORONTO (Reuters Life!) - When Master Corporal Paul Franklin started collecting war rugs while serving with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan he did not know he would be part of a growing global trend.

Karzai pledges role for Afghan forces
By Stephen Fidler and James Blitz April 4 2008 Financial Times
Afghan troops will be ready to take over security responsibilities from Nato soldiers in Kabul from July, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan said on Thursday.

Hungary in Afghanistan for long haul, president tells Karzai
Apr 4, 2008, 11:26 GMT Monsters and Critics.com
Budapest - Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom on Friday assured his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai that Hungarian troops would be in Afghanistan for the long haul during Karzai's one-day visit to Budapest.

Hungary To Send Up To 100 Extra Troops To Afghanistan
BUDAPEST (AFP)--Hungary plans to send up to 100 more troops to Afghanistan, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said Friday, following contribution pledges by other North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.

Posturing over Afghanistan puts Nato at risk
By Con Coughlin Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom 04/04/2008
The Taliban must be rubbing their hands with glee. With the new fighting season about to begin in earnest in Afghanistan, the West shows no sign of resolving the deep divisions that have severely hampered its attempts to rebuild the country

U.N.: Afghan mines killed more than 600 in '07
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Land mines and other explosive devices killed more than 600 people last year in Afghanistan, one of the most mined countries in the world, the United Nations said Friday.
De-miners have cleared more than

Australia contributes more to landmine clearing in Afghanistan
CANBERRA, April 4 (Xinhua) -- Australia has decided to commit another 10 million dollars (9.1 million U.S. dollars) on landmine clearance in Afghanistan, said Foreign Minister Stephen Smith hereon Friday.

Afghan truck driver killed in roadside bombing on NATO convoy
www.chinaview.cn  2008-04-04 13:20:09
KABUL, April 4 (Xinhua) -- Afghan driver working for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was killed when the truck he drove hit a roadside mine Thursday in eastern Afghan province of Kunar

Afghanistan war is being won, ambassador says
U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan William Wood told the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches that, despite progress, terror attacks will likely increase.
BY RON HAYES Miami Herald Palm Beach Post
WEST PALM BEACH -- The U.S. military and its coalition forces are succeeding on the battlefield in Afghanistan, but terrorist attacks will likely increase there this year, the U.S. ambassador said Thursday.

Border Complicates War in Afghanistan
Insurgents Are Straddling Pakistani Line
By Ann Scott Tyson Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, April 4, 2008; A01
SPERA DISTRICT, Afghanistan -- As a cold darkness enveloped the tiny U.S. military camp just inside Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, word spread that Taliban fighters were on the move nearby, planning an attack.

Canadian convoy fires on security-firm vehicle in Afghanistan, killing one
Canadian Press April 3, 2008 at 3:39 PM EDT
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — One person was killed and three others injured when a Canadian military convoy opened fire on a vehicle from a private security company that failed to heed repeated demands to stop, the military said Thursday.

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Afghanistan: Legendary Mujahideen leader releases video in new offensive
Khost, 4 April (AKI - By Syed Saleem Shahzad ) - Legendary Afghan mujahadeen leader and one of America's most wanted men, Jalaluddin Haqqani, has broken years of silence to launch the Taliban's spring offensive in a video received by Adnkronos International (AKI).

In the 25-minute message, Haqqani called on the Afghan people to "stand up against the US-led forces in Afghanistan and drive them out."

Haqqani's hair is dyed red with henna and he speaks in his trademark low-pitched voice. His message is accompanied by a jihadist song in Pashtu.

In the video, Haqqani pledges his allegiance to fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar, laying to rest any doubt that he had split from the mainstream Taliban and set himself up as their leader.

Significantly, Haqqani praises a suicide bomber, Turkish- German Cuneyt Ciftci, who in March rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a compound used by NATO and Afghan forces in volatile Khost province, killing four people.

The reference to the Khost bombing authenticates the video, which also confirmed that the 70-year-old Jihadi veteran is alive and apparently well.

A press release issued by the NATO joint command in Bagram, Afghanistan last December implied that Haqqani was dead or seriously ill.

"Americans thought that with their developed technology they could plant the news of my death in the media, but now the media is realising their lies are aimed at demoralising the mujahadeen," Haqqani says.

The video was deliberately released last week, ahead of the NATO summit, taking place in the Romanian capital, Bucharest.

The alliance, which is divided over policy in Afghanistan, is trying to agree on a more coherent strategy in the war against the Taliban, which many analysts believe it is losing.

Along with his son Sirajuddin, Haqqani,a veteran of the 1978-1989 war against the former Soviet Union, has built up a well-organised group in Afghanistan, known as the Haqqani network with roots in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Copies of Haqqani's speech have been distributed all over eastern Afghanistan and are available in various formats, including cassettes and mobile phone video downloads.

After earlier reports of his death, the impact of Haqqani's video on Afghans is expected to be immense, especially on disenchanted Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic group. Members of the Taliban are largely Pashtuns.

Pashtuns bitterly resent the disproportionate influence enjoyed by the Tajik ethnic minority under president Hamid Karzai, a legacy of US cooperation with Tajik militias in overthrowing the Taliban.

Pashtuns have been the main victims of US-NATO bombing attacks on the Taliban and operate almost entirely in Pashtun territory in the south and east of Afghanistan.

The video aims to challenge NATO's efforts in recent months to portray the Taliban as a spent force made up of callow youths and lacking a credible leader, after the elimination and deaths of all top Taliban commanders in 2007.

Haqqani roundly dismissed claims that the Taliban was weakened. "I promise that not only American but all 37 allies will be humiliated and driven out of Afghanistan," he says.

"Jihad is compulsory, and will continue until the end of time; we are without resources, but we have the support of God."

"We are geared for war," Haqqani states.

"Bush and his allies had decided to kill us or arrest us - they consider us as weak and think of themselves as all powerful."

"They think we are not left with any place in the world to survive. They think we are destined either to die or to be captured... they think they are wealthy nations, with their money and with half the world behind them."

"They think that they can enslave poor Afghans - bomb us with their planes and gunship helicopters. They think they have everything and we are voiceless."

"The media is with them and belittles our resistance. We kill 80 and they report one or two. I promise the Afghan nation that soon we would be victorious,” he says.

Haqqani, on whose head the US has placed a 200,000 dollar bounty, remains the most respected tribal figure in southeastern Afghanistan.

The video is considered to be the most sophisticated yet produced by the Taliban. The inclusion of graphic footage of Ciftci's suicide bombing in Khost is important, as it shows an unprecedented level of planning and organisation hitherto not associated with the Taliban.
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Taliban welcome back an old friend
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / April 4, 2008
KARACHI - Like a voice from the grave, legendary Afghan mujahideen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani has emerged from years of silence to boldly launch the Taliban-led spring offensive in Afghanistan, at the same time burying any doubts of a split between his coalition of resistance groups and Mullah Omar's Taliban.

In a video message released last week and which is only now coming into wider circulation, Haqqani, speaking in his trademark low-pitched voice and with his hair dyed red with henna, called on the people of Afghanistan "to stand up against the US-led forces in Afghanistan and drive them out".

The release of the message by Haqqani, who has a bounty on his head as one of the US's most-wanted men, coincides with an important North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meeting in Bucharest, Romania, this weekend at which the divided alliance will try to hammer out a more coherent strategy in the war in Afghanistan which many analysts believe it is losing.

As Haqqani speaks on the video, he is accompanied by a background song which pledges his allegiance to Mullah Omar, laying to rest any doubts that he has set himself up as a rival to the mainstream Taliban.

Along with his son Sirajuddin, Jalaluddin Haqqani has built up a well-organized group, known as the Haqqani Network, with roots in Pakistan's tribal areas, that, now firmly allied with Mullah Omar, will pose a dangerous challenge to the coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Haqqani soundly dismissed any notion - as touted by senior NATO officials - that the Taliban were weakened and might forego their spring offensive. "All 37 allies [in NATO] will be humiliated and driven out of Afghanistan - jihad is compulsory and will continue until the end of time; we are without resources, but we have the support of God."

Haqqani said the Taliban and their allies in Afghanistan had come up with new plans to fight against NATO, but these did not have any room for reconciliation. "We are geared for war," Haqqani stated.

"[President George W] Bush and his allies have decided to kill us or arrest us - they consider us as weak and think of themselves as all powerful. They think we have no place left in the world to survive - they think we are destined either to die or to be captured ... they think they are wealthy nations, with their money and with half of the world behind them.

"They think they can enslave poor Afghans - bomb us with their planes and gunship helicopters - they think they have everything and we are voiceless - the media are with them and they belittle our resistance. We kill 80 and they report two or one. I promise the Afghan nation that soon we will be victorious," said Haqqani.

The long speech by the Pashtun leader, who made his name fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and remains the most-respected tribal figure in southeastern Afghanistan, is the most sophisticated yet of the Taliban's presentations to Pashtun people.

Copies of Haqqani's speech have spread all over eastern Afghanistan and are available in various formats, including on cassette tape and through cell phone downloads. After being silent for so long, and having been reported dead on numerous occasions, the impact of people listening to Haqqani is immense and will undoubtedly work as a galvanizing force among Pashtuns.

This especially as NATO has in recent months worked hard to portray the Taliban as a spent force consisting of a bunch of naive young lads with no credible leader left.

"They projected the rumor that Jalaluddin Haqqani had died in Dubai [in the United Arab Emirates]. I am neither a shopkeeper nor a trader that I would travel to Dubai. Neither am I a politician who roams all around the world ... the Americans thought that with their developed technology they could plant the news of my death in the media. But now the media are realizing their lies to demoralize the mujahideen," Haqqani said.

A graphic part of Haqqani's video shows a suicide operation carried out by a Turk-German named Cuneyt Ciftci, also known as Saad Abu Furkan. He is seen in the video blowing himself up in a delivery truck near a US base in the Sabari district of Khost province in Afghanistan on March 3. According to Western press reports, two soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and two Afghan workers were killed and six others wounded. But the video claims the killing of 63 people.

The Taliban's new battle

The inclusion in the video of this suicide attack - one of dozens that has taken place in the country in recent years - is important as it shows an unprecedented level of planning and organization not normally associated with the Taliban.

Footage shows a professionally drawn map, like an architect's, of a compound of the Sabari district headquarters. There is detail of the boundary walls, the protective inner walls, entry points, rooms, backyard and front portions of the newly built structure. Clearly the Taliban had contacts among the laborers or contractors. There are pictures of Taliban guerrillas sitting around the map discussing their plan to launch the suicide bomber in an explosive-laden vehicle.

This is a far cry from usual grainy Afghan videos of ambushes on military convoys in the mountains. Haqqani's video is reminiscent of those made by the Iraqi resistance in 2004-05, when operations were meticulously planned by former officers of Saddam Hussein's army and executed with precision.

In the many years since being ousted in 2001, the Taliban have had numerous ups and downs, from the successful spring offensive of 2006 to the failed mass uprising of 2007. Now, the Taliban have adopted a policy of preserving their strength by only hitting specific targets, rather than waste their resources in multiple direct confrontations with NATO forces.

The Taliban have also opened up a new front based in Khyber Agency in Pakistan just across the border from Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, as NATO has beefed up its presence in the traditional Taliban strongholds of Paktia, Paktika, Khost and Kunar provinces.

Last week, NATO announced the opening of an intelligence center near the Torkham border post, at the crossroad of Khyber Agency and Nangarhar province. But it was not able to thwart the biggest-ever guerrilla operation against a US base in the province a few days later. More than 200 Taliban participated in an overnight hit-and-run operation. Taliban sources claimed the killing of 70 US soldiers, but there was no confirmation of that figure from NATO or any other independent source.

According to the video, the Taliban will use as much foreign expertise as possible, as well as tapping into tribal elders and their supporters. This means that mainstream Taliban commanders like Mullah Beradar from southwestern Afghanistan and commanders who are allied with the Taliban but who keep their own identities, like Anwarul Haq Mujahahid from Nangarhar and Uzbek and Arab commanders, will join hands for a coherent overall strategy. This of course includes Haqqani and his considerable following.

A relatively new string in the Taliban's bow is the reliance on thousands of Pakistani and other jihadis put out of "work" since the struggle in Kashmir de-escalated. They are well trained, and as they did in Indian-administered Kashmir and other parts of India, they can be expected to target key infrastructure and high-profile targets, such as government buildings.

This year's suicide attack by the Haqqani Network on the Serina Hotel in Kabul, in which several people, including foreigners, were killed, and the attack in Khost on March 3 shown in the video, indicate one key direction in which the Taliban-led insurgency is headed.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Bomber kills Afghan policeman who caught Taliban
Fri Apr 4, 3:54 AM ET
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber in southern Afghanistan attacked and killed a police commander on Friday who was responsible for the arrest this week of a mid-level Taliban leader, a provincial police chief said.

Two other policemen and a civilian were killed in the blast in the capital of Helmand province, Lashkar Gah, police said.

The latest violence in Afghanistan came hours after NATO leaders meeting in Bucharest confirmed their "firm and shared long-term commitment" to Afghanistan.

The bomber blew himself up after walking up to a vehicle in which a police officer known as Commander Mareez was traveling with some of his men, said police chief Mohammad Hussain Andiwal.

Mareez was responsible for the capture on Monday of an insurgent commander known as Naqibullah, Andiwal said.

"The Taliban are behind the attack in retaliation for the capture of their commander," Andiwal said.

Three policemen were wounded in the attack, Andiwal said. Several shopkeepers were also hurt, residents said.

Taliban insurgents fighting to oust NATO- and U.S.-led troops and bring down the Western-backed government have vowed to step up their insurgency.

Taliban commander Naqibullah was captured after a shoot-out near Lashkar Gah in which three Taliban were killed. Naqibullah had twice escaped from prison and the Interior Ministry said in February he had been killed in a clash.

With suicide attacks and car bombings on the rise, tension has arisen among Afghanistan's Western backers in recent months over whether countries have been doing enough in the battle against the Taliban.

In a joint declaration issued at the Bucharest summit, the 40 nations of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission said they were committed to the country for the long haul.

Canada pledged on Thursday to keep its troops in Afghanistan after France offered to bolster the NATO force there.

A pledge by French President Nicolas Sarkozy of 700 more troops, coupled with planned contributions by other nations, proved enough for Canada to withdraw a threat to pull its 2,500 troops out of the 47,000-strong NATO-led force.

U.S. President George W. Bush welcomed Sarkozy's pledge and said it would allow some U.S. troops to move from the east to the Afghan south, scene of the worst violence. The United States is sending an extra 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan.

NATO also set a goal of helping train an 80,000-strong Afghan army by 2010, as part of what the 26-nation alliance hopes will allow domestic forces to gradually lead more security operations across the country.
(Reporting by Haji Qudous; Editing by Robert Birsel)
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Suicide attack kills 4 in Afghanistan
Fri Apr 4, 7:15 AM ET Associated Press
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber blew himself up near a police vehicle Friday in volatile southern Afghanistan, killing three policemen and a civilian, a police official said.

The attack happened on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. Eight people were wounded, including a policeman and seven civilians, said provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal.

Helmand is the biggest opium poppy-producing region in the world and has seen some of the heaviest fighting between international troops and insurgents.

In eastern Kunar province, a truck supplying fuel to NATO troops hit a roadside bomb that killed the Afghan driver Thursday, said a statement from NATO's International Security Assistance Force. No NATO service members were hurt in the attack.
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NATO, Russia agree land transit for Afghanistan
By Andrew Gray
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Russia agreed on Friday to let NATO use its land to deliver non-lethal supplies to alliance forces in Afghanistan, but not troops or air transit arrangements initially sought by NATO.

The deal was showcased at a summit between alliance leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bucharest as evidence of cooperation between the former Cold War foes, even though it fell short of NATO hopes.

Afghanistan was a major topic of discussion for NATO leaders on Thursday, when several countries pledged to boost their contributions to the alliance's force there. More details of their contributions emerged on Friday.

"It's been done," a NATO spokeswoman said of the deal with Russia. "It will cover land transit of non-lethal equipment. Air transit is not for today."

A subsequent statement issued from the meeting said an existing NATO-Russian program on training local counter-narcotics officials would be upgraded to a more permanent arrangement.

Letters implementing the agreement were exchanged by NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Russian Foreign Ministers Sergei Lavrov, a Kremlin spokesman said.

The NATO spokeswoman said non-lethal supplies covered everything from food to certain military equipment. She did not say why troops or air transit would not be covered.

De Hoop Scheffer said last month he was hopeful of increased cooperation with Russia and a NATO spokesman said then talks were taking place on land and air corridors for troops and equipment.

Moscow has been irked by the alliance's eastward expansion and Friday's summit followed a promise by NATO leaders on Thursday to former Soviet republics Ukraine and Georgia that they will one day join the Western defense pact.

MORE TROOPS
Of the nations that announced more forces for the 47,000-strong NATO mission in Afghanistan, France offered the biggest contribution of 700 soldiers.

Azerbaijan offered another 45 troops while the Czech Republic said it would provide 120 special forces soldiers in the violent south of the country, according to a source close to the discussion on Afghanistan.

Italy, Romania and Greece offered teams of a few dozen troops to train units of Afghan security forces, the source said. NATO says such teams are among its most pressing requirements.

Romanian Defense Minister Teodor Melescanu told reporters Romania had not taken a decision on sending additional troops during the summit.

"But following France and others...Romania will show its solidarity and, from our assessment, we think we could boost our military presence in Afghanistan with 120 or 150 soldiers," he said.

NATO has not yet said if the new commitments will bring the force up to the minimum requirements specified by military experts. But it appeared it would still have shortfalls.

NATO officials said before the summit that the force lacked about three battalions -- between 1,500 and 3,000 troops.

The force's commander, U.S. Army Gen. Dan McNeill, has suggested he would like a total of three more brigades, according to U.S. officials. A U.S. Army brigade has between 3,000 and 5,000 troops.

(Reporting by Oleg Shchedrov and Mark John, writing by David Brunnstrom and Andrew Gray; Editing by Timothy Heritage)
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UN envoy seeks bigger Afghan role
By PAUL AMES, Associated Press Writer Thu Apr 3, 10:18 PM ET
BUCHAREST, Romania - The United Nations should take a bigger role in Afghanistan and work harder with NATO to boost efforts to stabilize the country, new U.N. envoy Kai Eide said Thursday.

"There is a desire for a stronger U.N. and for more U.N., and we will certainly try to live up to that," Eide told The Associated Press in one of his first media interviews since taking office three days ago.

"I would certainly like to have more U.N. people on the ground than we have today," he said on the sidelines of a NATO summit.

The NATO leaders adopted a "strategic vision" setting out their objectives in Afghanistan. They pledged to support one another in filling gaps in the 47,000-strong NATO military force there.

"We will provide our military commanders with the tools they need for success," they said.

At the summit, France pledged to send 700 extra troops after months of lobbying by the United States to persuade European allies to send more forces to the front lines of the fight against the Taliban. Romania also said it would add 120 troops.

The Taliban has slowly gained strength and stepped up its attacks in recent years, forcing both the government and NATO to toughen its resolve. Last year was Afghanistan's most violent since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. More than 8,000 people were killed, including some 1,500 civilians, according to the U.N. Most of those deaths were of militants killed in U.S. and NATO strikes.

The NATO strategy paper committed allies to sending more training teams with the aim of expanding the Afghan army of 63,000 to an effective fighting force of 80,000 by 2010.

NATO sees the development of local forces as key to an eventual downsizing of its International Security Assistance Force.

Eide was appointed to help coordinate international civilian development efforts by working with the Afghan government and NATO's military mission.

He acknowledged the widespread criticism of lack of cooperation in the seven years since international aid efforts were launched.

"I will also try to be a person who can bring together the various components of what the international community does and avoid the kind of fragmentation that perhaps we've seen too much of so far," he said.
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US commits to more troops in Afghanistan
By ROBERT BURNS AP Military Writer / April 4, 2008
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT - The United States intends to send many more combat forces to Afghanistan next year, regardless of whether troop levels in Iraq are cut further this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday.

It is the first time the Bush administration has made such a commitment for 2009.

Gates, speaking to reporters on his way to Muscat, Oman, from a NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, said President Bush made the pledge at the summit on Thursday.

Bush was not specific about the number of additional troops that would go to Afghanistan in 2009, Gates said. The United States now has about 31,000 troops there — the most since the war began in October 2001 — and has been pressing the allies to contribute more.

Until now, the heavy commitment of U.S. forces in Iraq has been a constraint on the ability to increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan. But Gates said he did not believe that would be the case in 2009.

Gates said he advised Bush to make the pledge to allied leaders in Bucharest even though the movement of the unspecified additional troops would ultimately be a decision for the next president, who will take office in January.

"The question arises, how can we say that about 2009?" Gates said. "All I would say is, I believe ... this is one area where there is very broad bipartisan support in the United States for being successful" in Afghanistan, where, by many accounts, progress against the Taliban resistance has stalled.

"I think that no matter who is elected president, they would want to be successful in Afghanistan. So I think this was a very safe thing for him to say," the Pentagon chief added.

Gates said he believed it was too early to decide how many additional combat forces the United States should plan on sending in 2009. He said it would depend on several things, including the extent of U.S. and NATO success on the battlefield this year, as well as the impact of a new senior U.S. commander taking over in coming months. Gen. David McKiernan is due to replace Gen. Dan McNeill this spring as the top overall commander in Afghanistan

McNeill has said he believes he needs another three brigades — two for combat and one for training. That translates to roughly 7,500 to 10,000 additional troops. The Bush administration has no realistic hope of getting the NATO allies to send such large numbers.

In remarks to reporters after Bush made the statement at the summit Thursday, the president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said any extra U.S. combat troop deployments would be in southern Afghanistan, where fighting is heaviest.

Gates said he believed that was a logical possibility but that it was too early to say they would go to the south.

"I put this in front of the president as a possibility, as something that I thought we ought to be willing to say and do," Gates said. He added that part of his reasoning was that such a pledge by Bush would have extra effect at a summit meeting where France announced that it will send several hundred combat troops to Afghanistan this year — a decision that Bush explicitly praised.

It is widely agreed within the Bush administration and between the United States and its key allies in Afghanistan that they have too few troops on the ground to effectively fight the Taliban resistance — especially in the volatile south — and to accelerate the training of Afghan soldiers and police.

The question that has been contemplated for many months is how to find additional troops.

The administration initially pushed hard for other NATO countries to fill the gap. Having largely failed in that effort, the U.S. military now seems convinced that it will have to bear more of the load.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has made clear his view that the enormous commitment of U.S. forces and resources in Iraq has made Afghanistan, by necessity an "economy-of-force campaign." In other words it has been a secondary priority amid fear of collapse in Iraq.
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Afghan Police graduate from medical course
April 3, 2008 at 11:39 PM
KABUL, Afghanistan, April 3 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense officials say the first class of trauma-assistance personnel has graduated from the Afghan National Police Central Training Center.

U.S. Navy hospital corpsmen from the medical embedded training team say 24 Afghan police officers graduated from the first course for trauma-assistance personnel. The officers are now certified in basic first aid and medical care skills that officials say gives the growing Afghan police force a greater ability to handle fierce conflicts with insurgent operatives where medical emergencies are likely to occur, the American Forces Press Service reported.

The eight-week course modeled after the combat medic course taught to Afghan National Army soldiers teaches the officers how to apply bandages and give intravenous injections among other basic first aid training.

"Just being able to put on a proper dressing is going to increase the probability of saving policemen's lives ten-fold," Petty Officer 1st Class Ed Scheinert, one of the course instructors, said in a statement.

Officials say the first aid course is only the first of a series of medical training the medical embedded training team plans to offer.
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Afghan war rug exhibit highlights new trend
By Julie Mollins
TORONTO (Reuters Life!) - When Master Corporal Paul Franklin started collecting war rugs while serving with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan he did not know he would be part of a growing global trend.

He commissioned a carpet after an Afghan National Army soldier told him it was a tradition to own a prayer war rug as a souvenir of having fought in a battle.

His rug, which depicts the Canadian and Afghan flags and Canadian military vehicles, is similar to the more than 100 war rugs to be displayed in a new exhibit opening on April 23 at the Textile Museum of Canada.

"Battleground: War Carpets From Afghanistan" will include rugs depicting images such as the departure of the Soviet army from Afghanistan, the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the search for Osama bin Laden.

But the significance of many of the woolen rugs, which range in value up to $2,200 and are often sold on eBay, is a mystery.

"It's hard to tell what a particular rug is supposed to mean when its history is hidden and its maker is unknown," said Max Allen, the curator of the exhibit.

"What's left are the rugs themselves -- eloquent anonymous documents of a world turned upside down," he added in an interview.

War rugs first emerged during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 when the U.S. was providing covert support for the mujahideen to fight the Soviets.

"This is a show about what's on the rugs rather than where they came from. A lot of them were made in Iran and Pakistan by Afghans who were on the run," Allen explained.

Franklin forgot about his carpet after a suicide blast in Kandahar City cost him his legs, until a buddy delivered it to his hospital bed while he was recovering from his injuries.

"These people really believe in their cause," Franklin explained. "They are very proud that they beat the Soviets and those rugs represent that story."

Mohamad Tavakoli, a professor of Near- and Middle-Eastern civilizations at the University of Toronto, said the earlier Soviet-influenced war rugs were made for propaganda purposes by the mujahideen.

Unlike traditional Afghan carpets, which Tavakoli said are intended to bring a calm experience into the home to create a peaceful living space, war rugs depict weapons, tanks, helicopters and other machinery of battle.

"It's harsh," Tavakoli said, "But when I look at these things it's very clear that these are very market oriented and market driven, and they're not designed for sitting on, but for hanging on the wall, and this is very different from the traditional use by Afghans."

For Allen all of the rugs are important cultural documents about the events that occurred in that part of the world.

"There's never been anything like them before and they are war from the ground up," he said.

"It's hard to get at the sources of information. I'm distressed to have to do a show where so many of the fundamental questions aren't answered, but you've got the rugs. Someday maybe these questions will be answered."

(Reporting by Julie Mollins; Editing by Patricia Reaney)
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Karzai pledges role for Afghan forces
By Stephen Fidler and James Blitz April 4 2008 Financial Times
Afghan troops will be ready to take over security responsibilities from Nato soldiers in Kabul from July, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan said on Thursday.

If the proposed handover in the capital occurs, it would mark the first time Afghan forces would have formal security control over any part of Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was toppled in 2001.

The offer from Mr Karzai was delivered in a meeting in Bucharest with leaders of countries providing troops for the Nato force in Afghanistan, together with, Ban Ki-Moon, secretary-general of the United Nations and José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission.

Nato officials said the proposal was an Afghan initiative, of which they had been informed earlier, and said it had not come about because of pressure from Nato. They said an evaluation of the proposal by Nato’s military commanders would be necessary before a handover was agreed, and it was not clear whether Mr Karzai was also proposing Afghan responsibility for sensitive sites such as the airport and fuel dumps.

The Afghan National Army is growing, but few units are deemed to be ready yet to operate without assistance from Nato forces.

Officials said the goal is to expand to 70,000 trained soldiers by this summer, and to 80,000 by the time of the next Nato summit in a year’s time.

The meeting, according to people present, did not signify any new strategy for Afghanistan, but included a “firm and long-term commitment” to the Afghan government.

As expected, France on Thursday announced it would send 700 additional combat troops to Afghanistan before the end of the year, in a move that would help relieve immediate pressures on the Nato force fighting the Taliban.

President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that a battalion of French forces would be sent to eastern Afghanistan, a region under US command. France already has 1,430 troops as part of the 47,000 strong Nato contingent.

The move is unpopular in France where 68 per cent of people oppose sending more troops, according to a recent BVA poll, and the Socialist opposition has proposed a vote of censure in parliament.

The French move will allow US troops in the east of Afghanistan to be redeployed to the south. This, in turn, will help to provide 1,000 troops in support of Canadian forces.

Canada has insisted on this extra support as a condition for keeping its 2,500 troops, based in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar, in the country.

Stephen Harper, prime minister, said that Canada’s conditions for staying in the country until 2011 had been satisfied.

As well as the extra troops, Canada has said it needed more unmanned aircraft and helicopters to be sent.

Officials said there were no other big commitments of troops to the region, though President George W. Bush told the Nato dinner on Wednesday night that some more US troop “enablers” would be sent to Afghanistan, over and above those so far announced. He did not specify numbers.
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Hungary in Afghanistan for long haul, president tells Karzai
Apr 4, 2008, 11:26 GMT Monsters and Critics.com
Budapest - Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom on Friday assured his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai that Hungarian troops would be in Afghanistan for the long haul during Karzai's one-day visit to Budapest.

'Hungary is planning a long-term presence in Afghanistan along with international community,' Solyom said following talks with Karzai, who flew in from the NATO summit in nearby Bucharest.

Hungary's roughly 250 troops in Afghanistan are mainly involved in provincial reconstruction work in Baglan, northern Afghanistan.

Solyom said that the troops would remain in place until Afghanistan could ensure security with its own forces.

Karzai said that Afghanistan was grateful for the help that the troops were giving in Baglan, and promised that his nation would do everything it could to facilitate Hungarian investment.

Hungary is expected to invest in Afghanistan's building, agriculture and telecommunications industries.

Karzai was also due to meet Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany and Defence Minister Imre Szekeres.
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Hungary To Send Up To 100 Extra Troops To Afghanistan
BUDAPEST (AFP)--Hungary plans to send up to 100 more troops to Afghanistan, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said Friday, following contribution pledges by other North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.

"We will boost our contribution to the NATO mission in Afghanistan by sending between 80 and 100 soldiers, on top of the 225 already on the ground," Gyurcsany told journalists after returning from an alliance summit in Bucharest.

"We will provide security at Kabul airport, install a special operations unit and send a military training team," he added.

Meanwhile, President Laszlo Solyom said Hungary would remain in Afghanistan until it could "ensure its own security," speaking during a joint press conference with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, who was in Budapest on a one-day visit.

Karzai thanked Hungary for its work in the northern province of Baglan, where Hungarian troops have overseen reconstruction since 2006.

NATO leaders Thursday made offers of additional troops for Afghanistan that will increase the size of the NATO-led force there "very substantially," the alliance's chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.

France said it would send a 700-member battalion to eastern Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force, on top of the 1,700 French troops already on the ground.

ISAF comprises some 47,000 troops drawn from almost 40 nations, according to official figures released April 1.
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Posturing over Afghanistan puts Nato at risk
By Con Coughlin Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom 04/04/2008
The Taliban must be rubbing their hands with glee. With the new fighting season about to begin in earnest in Afghanistan, the West shows no sign of resolving the deep divisions that have severely hampered its attempts to rebuild the country after decades of misrule. The Nato summit in Bucharest has been hailed as the most important meeting in the organisation's 59-year history, the moment when the member states finally buried their differences and agreed on a joint strategy that would define its relevance for the 21st century.
 
Membership invitations were to be extended to newly established democracies in the Balkans and the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia, while the main business of the three-day summit would concentrate on how to improve the performance of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan.

But hardly had George W. Bush set out his compelling arguments in favour of extending the organisation's reach into southern and eastern Europe than other member states were ganging up to frustrate his ambitions.

The American position is simplicity itself. Nato won the Cold War and therefore Nato should enjoy the spoils of victory. Romania, which is hosting this year's summit, was itself a former member of the Warsaw Pact, as were many other of Nato's east European acquisitions. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which all made the transition from Stalinist dictatorship to Western-style democracy, were all rewarded with full membership of Europe's mutual defence pact.

So far as Washington is concerned, the same honour should now be afforded to Ukraine and Georgia, which have taken longer to shake off Moscow's shadow. Bringing them into Nato would protect their fledgling democracies while improving Nato's fighting capabilities at a time when the organisation is desperate for more combat troops. Similar arguments applied to Croatia, Albania and Macedonia, which, although not directly controlled by Moscow during the Cold War, certainly suffered its malign influence.

But such are the divisions that now afflict Nato at virtually every level of the organisation's political and operational structure that what should have been a straightforward process of improving the organisation's defensive capability has now been poisoned by internal wrangling over its future expansion.

Cowed by the fear that offering Membership Action Plans, the preliminary stage to full Nato membership, to Ukraine and Georgia would offend Moscow, Germany and France blocked the move, while attempts to bring Macedonia into the Nato fold have been vetoed by the Greeks. Consequently, only Croatia and Albania are lined up for entry. The concerns of the Germans, French and Greeks about Nato expansion might carry more force if they were pulling their weight where it really counts - trying to defeat the Taliban and their terrorist allies. But while their politicians are not shy about calling the shots when it comes to deciding important policy issues, they are less forthcoming when it comes to committing their troops to the front line.

In Afghanistan, where Nato's combat forces in the south are stretched to breaking point, there are no German, French or Greek soldiers to be seen. They are all tucked away in the north and east of the country, where the main threat they face is from boredom. The German contingent based in Kabul is said to be so risk-averse that only 10 per cent of those sent to Afghanistan ever get to leave the confines of their barracks.

Even if France's Nicolas Sarkozy fulfils his pledge to provide Nato with the extra 1,000 troops it needs to reinforce its combat operations in Helmand province, there is no chance of French soldiers being killed or maimed by one of the Taliban's deadly roadside bombs. The extra French troops would merely take up defensive positions around Kabul, freeing up American marines to reinforce the front line. In return the French, who have promised to return to Nato's integrated command next year, have set a number of preconditions for greater commitment, such as increasing the involvement of the Afghans in the running of the country.

While one can only marvel at the cheek of a country that wants to take charge of a war while suffering none of the consequences, the commitment of an extra 1,000 French troops is hardly going to effect a dramatic change in the course of the military campaign in Nato's favour.

General Dan McNeill, Nato's hard-pressed commander in Afghanistan, told my colleague David Blair earlier this week that he has only a tenth of the forces necessary to pacify a country the size of Afghanistan. At present, there are 43,000 troops from 40 countries contributing to ISAF, and, of these, only the British, Americans, Canadians, Dutch and Danes are prepared to take on active combat roles. Gen McNeill believes that to secure a country the size of Afghanistan a force of well over 400,000 is required, but Nato's political masters believe they are doing well if they can maintain the deployment at its current level.

Yesterday, for example, Gordon Brown's aides made much of the fact that the Government might consider increasing its deployment of 7,500 troops by an extra 200 if the circumstances merited it. The Taliban must be quaking in their sandals.

Given the paralysis that appears to affect Nato's decision-making when it comes to tackling the Taliban, it is remarkable that their combat forces in southern Afghanistan have achieved so much. Last year, Nato forces killed an estimated 6,000 Taliban - including about 200 commanders. The problem, though, is that no sooner have the Taliban suffered a defeat than reinforcements rush across the border from Pakistan.

Nato may have won the Cold War but, at this rate, it will be a long time before it proclaims victory in Afghanistan.
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U.N.: Afghan mines killed more than 600 in '07
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Land mines and other explosive devices killed more than 600 people last year in Afghanistan, one of the most mined countries in the world, the United Nations said Friday.
De-miners have cleared more than 1 billion square yards of land across the country but 2,300 communities are still affected by known minefields, the U.N. Mine Action Program in Afghanistan said.

"Afghanistan is still one of the most heavily mined countries in the world," said Haider Reza, head of the program.

"Mines and explosives killed over 600 Afghans last year. That is an average of 50 people every month. This figure is too high and we must all continue to work together to ensure that we reduce the number of people killed, injured and maimed by land mines in Afghanistan," he said.

Half of the victims were under 18 years old, the group said in a statement.

More than 350,000 anti-personnel mines, 19,000 anti-tank mines and millions of other explosive items have been destroyed, but there are still too many mine victims, Reza said.

The U.N. Mine Action Program in Afghanistan has provided mine-risk education to 17 million Afghans over the past 18 years, it said.

Afghanistan has been ravaged by a quarter-century of war and a continuing Taliban insurgency. More than 8,000 people were killed in the fighting in 2007, the deadliest year since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
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Australia contributes more to landmine clearing in Afghanistan
CANBERRA, April 4 (Xinhua) -- Australia has decided to commit another 10 million dollars (9.1 million U.S. dollars) on landmine clearance in Afghanistan, said Foreign Minister Stephen Smith hereon Friday.

Speaking on International Mine Action Day, Smith told ABC Radio that there was a significant economic drain on Afghanistan because vast areas of land could not be used productively.

"There is a terrible landmine problem in Afghanistan with many millions of mines left scattered," he said.

Afghanistan remains one of the most extensively-mined nations on earth.

Australia has already devoted considerable cash and resources towards ridding Afghanistan of landmines.
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Afghan truck driver killed in roadside bombing on NATO convoy 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-04-04 13:20:09
KABUL, April 4 (Xinhua) -- Afghan driver working for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was killed when the truck he drove hit a roadside mine Thursday in eastern Afghan province of Kunar, said an ISAF statement released here on Friday.

"The accident occurred at around 11 a.m. (0630 GMT) when the fuel truck the victim was driving exploded after it struck what is believed to have been an improvised explosive device (IED)," the statement said.

The truck was part of a convoy that was conducting a resupply mission in Manogai district of Kunar, it said.

No ISAF soldiers were wounded or killed in the attack, it further added.

More than 8,000 people had been killed in violent incidents in Afghanistan in 2007 while over 300 have lost their lives in conflicts and militancy so far this year in the war-battered country.  
Editor: Sun Yunlong 
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Afghanistan war is being won, ambassador says
U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan William Wood told the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches that, despite progress, terror attacks will likely increase.
BY RON HAYES Miami Herald Palm Beach Post
WEST PALM BEACH -- The U.S. military and its coalition forces are succeeding on the battlefield in Afghanistan, but terrorist attacks will likely increase there this year, the U.S. ambassador said Thursday.

''Two thousand and seven was a great year,'' Ambassador William Wood told the monthly luncheon meeting of the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches in the Kravis Center's Cohen Pavilion. ``The insurgents lost troops, leaders and territory.''

However, Wood said, this will lead to an increase in terror attacks in that country as insurgents try to compensate for their losses on the battlefield by intimidating the local populations. ''And terror intimidates,'' he said.

Wood, who served as U.S. ambassador to Colombia before moving to the Afghan embassy a year ago, spoke for about 45 minutes, offering an overview of the country, its problems and what the U.S. is doing to establish a viable democracy there.

''Afghanistan is the place in the middle,'' Wood said -- poor at a level Americans cannot comprehend, yet politically and strategically important because of its proximity to Iran, Pakistan, Russia, India and China.

The United States and 18 other nations have lost personnel there, Wood noted, and France's decision Thursday to commit another 700 troops to the country is a recognition of its importance.

''Last year wasn't just the surge year in Iraq,'' he said. ``We also provided more training and equipment to the Afghan army than from 2002 to 2006 combined. Their army will reach 70,000 by September and 80,000 by March 2009.''

This year, the diplomatic efforts will focus on the country's most troubled localities.

''Seventy percent of the violence is occurring in 10 percent of the counties,'' Wood said, ``so we're going to provide the people of those counties with a reason to be on the right side.''

And elections will be held sometime between June and September, he predicted.

''The idea is to win the people,'' Wood said, ``not just to defeat the enemy. The people will not make the hard decisions today to make Afghanistan better if they don't believe it can be better.''

As of March 29, 422 U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan, and another 1,911 wounded.
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Border Complicates War in Afghanistan
Insurgents Are Straddling Pakistani Line
By Ann Scott Tyson Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, April 4, 2008; A01
SPERA DISTRICT, Afghanistan -- As a cold darkness enveloped the tiny U.S. military camp just inside Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, word spread that Taliban fighters were on the move nearby, planning an attack.

Capt. Chris Hammonds expected it. In a mud-brick command center, the 32-year-old Army Ranger pivoted between a radio and a map, tracking reports of approaching Taliban. Several explosions soon ripped through the night as U.S. forces hit the suspected Taliban positions, including a cross-border guided-munitions strike on a compound about a mile inside Pakistan where senior associates of Siraj Haqqani -- considered one of the most dangerous Taliban commanders -- were thought to be meeting.

The U.S. military usually strikes across the border only when taking accurate fire from Pakistan, and standard practice calls for informing the Pakistani military about threats from its side. But Hammonds argued that the Pakistani military checkpoint was "under siege" from the Taliban and that Pakistani officers -- fearful of retaliation -- could tip off the insurgents.

The rare strike averted an imminent Taliban attack, Hammonds said, but across the border a starkly different account emerged. "Two women and two children got killed, so whatever was assessed was not correct," said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, a spokesman for the Pakistani army. No Taliban were meeting in the family compound, he said. The Pakistani government issued a protest, and demonstrations erupted. "We were never informed about the strike," Abbas said. "This has serious implications for operations."

The March 12 incident highlights how, more than six years into the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, efforts to stabilize the country increasingly focus on the rugged frontier area straddling the border with Pakistan. Over the past 18 months, Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters have exploited peace deals by Pakistan's government to create an unprecedented haven in the region, U.S. officials said. From there, insurgents have escalated attacks in Pakistan and in eastern Afghanistan, leading the United States last year to double its troop presence along more than 600 miles of frontier.

Recent high-level talks among the three countries have called for more intelligence-sharing and coordinated operations along the border. Last Saturday, the first of six new border coordination centers -- with officers from the three nations -- opened at Torkham at the Khyber Pass, a "giant step" forward, said Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, the top U.S. commander in eastern Afghanistan.

But despite such efforts, front-line commanders such as Hammonds still grapple with key obstacles -- including unreliable Afghan and Pakistani soldiers, ambivalent villagers, and even disputes over where the true border lies. Commanders said they need at least 50 percent more U.S. troops and more reconstruction money. At current levels, they said, it will take at least five years to quell insurgent attacks, which increased nearly 40 percent in eastern Afghanistan last year, including a 22 percent rise in attacks along the border.

"This combat outpost will get attacked within the next week or so, with rockets or small-arms fire," said Hammonds, commander of Attack Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. "They can't stand that we are in this location."

The U.S. outpost -- which Hammonds and his forces set up a month ago in an insurgent safe house nicknamed the "Taliban Hotel" -- is part of an effort to stem the flow of fighters moving along routes from Pakistan's North and South Waziristan and other Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Collaboration is growing between Taliban commanders in Afghanistan such as Haqqani, who has tribal roots in Paktika province, and Pakistanis such as Baitullah Mehsud, a commander in South Waziristan who is reorganizing the Taliban with help from agents in Pakistan's intelligence service, according to U.S. military officials. Mehsud, the CIA has said, is responsible for the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December.

Taliban fighters and facilitators plan and resupply in Waziristan towns and then move across the border to launch attacks as far inside Afghanistan as Kabul. Overall attacks in eastern Paktika province rose about 30 percent last year, and have more than quadrupled since 2003, according to military data. Attacks by improvised explosive devices have risen tenfold since 2003, and suicide bombings, unseen before 2006, numbered seven last year.

"The threat of suicide-borne IEDs and IEDs are everywhere. It's far more significant than in the past," said Lt. Col. Michael Fenzel, commander of the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Roadside bombs killed 10 of the battalion's 12 soldiers lost since May. The insurgents "have an IED division, a suicide-bombing division, and everything else supports those two things," he said.

Throughout last fall and winter, Fenzel's battalion conducted operations in eastern Paktika and southern Khowst province to establish closer ties with villagers and to help block the influx of fighters with the spring thaw. His troops are building several outposts, already pushing the fighting closer to the border and away from populated areas.

A new outpost two miles from Afghanistan's border with South Waziristan has drawn a large volume of mortars, rockets and small-arms fire away from a base in a large town farther inland. On the night of Nov. 24, Capt. Rob McChrystal recalled, he and his infantry company were manning the outpost when scores of Taliban converged on them. McChrystal, of Charleston, S.C., said he waited until the insurgents came within 200 yards before he attacked with artillery and aircraft fire.

"I expect a lot more of the same this spring," he said. "They'll attempt another direct-fire attack because the [outpost] is a thorn in their side."

In the latest operation, in the Kowchun Valley just north of Paktika, Hammonds's company staked out a position above a narrow streambed that snakes through a gorge into North Waziristan, the scene of dozens of firefights between U.S. troops and the Taliban. From his base, Hammonds can see for miles into Pakistan. Haqqani "is extremely upset and can't get anything through," said Fenzel, citing U.S. intelligence.

But because of a shortage of U.S. troops, Hammonds's company can stay in the area only for several weeks. He doubts that Afghan and Pakistani soldiers will be able to control the route once he leaves.

"You're in the middle of an ANA mutiny," Hammonds said one afternoon, referring to the Afghan National Army, as Afghan soldiers from the 203rd Battalion piled into pickup trucks and quit the camp. The Afghans left after learning that the operation, originally to last nine days, would continue for weeks. The exodus underscored Hammonds's belief that Afghan army units cannot guard the border because they rotate every three to six months and they lack enough local knowledge. "The key to securing the border is to remove the ANA completely," he said.

Instead, Hammonds favors the Afghan border police, but eastern Paktika now has only 66 percent of its 857 authorized border police officers and, until December, they were led by a corrupt commander who colluded with the Taliban.

A greater frustration, he and other U.S. troops said, is that they cannot trust their Pakistani counterparts. "The Pakistan military is corrupt and lets people come through," Hammonds said. Pakistani forces reportedly told insurgents the location of his observation post, and when U.S. troops in a firefight call the Pakistani military for help, he said, "they never answer the phone."

Pakistan's Frontier Corps, which mans several border checkpoints, is viewed as nearly an enemy force. "The Frontier Corps might as well be Taliban. . . . They are active facilitators of infiltration," said a U.S. soldier who spoke on the condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Last May, after Maj. Larry J. Bauguess Jr. of the 82nd Airborne Division attended a meeting to ease frictions between Afghan and Pakistani forces in the Pakistani frontier town of Teri Mengel, he was shot dead by a Frontier Corps guard, military officials said. The U.S. military in Pakistan is funding a multimillion-dollar program to train and equip the Frontier Corps.

U.S. troops face a mixed reception as they offer aid and seek intelligence from local villagers. In the town of Potsmillah, residents spat at Hammonds's soldiers, while in Sra Kunda, they accepted shoes, prayer rugs and offers of a new porch for their mosque.

But in the Kowchun Valley, where there are few roads and no electricity or schools, villagers are loyal to their tribes, which straddle the border. Sra Kunda's 50 families survive by gathering wood and selling it in Pakistan, or tending meager plots of rain-watered wheat. Residents keep Pakistani time on their watches, use Pakistani rupees and frequent markets across the border. "We don't know whether we're from Pakistan or Afghanistan," said Nakib Balibi, 18. "So we just go on Pakistan time."
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Canadian convoy fires on security-firm vehicle in Afghanistan, killing one
Canadian Press April 3, 2008 at 3:39 PM EDT
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — One person was killed and three others injured when a Canadian military convoy opened fire on a vehicle from a private security company that failed to heed repeated demands to stop, the military said Thursday.

The convoy, which was part of Canada's Provincial Reconstruction Team, was departing Kandahar Airfield on Wednesday when it spotted the vehicle moving at a high rate of speed, Canadian Forces spokeswoman Captain Josee Bilodeau said in a statement.

Deeming the vehicle a possible threat, soldiers issued several warnings to the vehicle to stop, in accordance with standard procedure, Capt. Bilodeau said.

“These multiple warnings were not heeded to and a shot fired in direction of the vehicle was required, after which, the vehicle stopped,” she said.

The vehicle was identified as belonging to the private security company Compass.

“Incidents like this one are regrettable, however, our forces took all reasonable steps to prevent injury to the individuals and to protect themselves.”

In the statement, the Canadian Forces offered its “most sincere condolences to the family of the individual who was killed in this incident.”

Violent encounters between military convoys and civilian vehicles are nothing new in Afghanistan. Large red signs written in local dialects urge motorists to pull over for oncoming military vehicles and to keep a safe distance away.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force, the coalition of which Canada is part, has massive billboards throughout Kandahar city that carry the same message as part of a public awareness campaign to avoid misunderstandings that can result in civilian injury or death.

It is, however, the second time in less than a year that a vehicle owned by Compass has run afoul of a Canadian convoy. Soldiers opened fire on a Compass vehicle last October, injuring seven Afghans and prompting a review of Canadian convoy protocols.

Those injured Wednesday were given immediate medical care on scene and then transported to the Multinational Medical Unit at Kandahar Airfield for treatment, the statement said.

The shooting is under investigation by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, the military police branch that probes incidents involving Canadian military personnel or property at home or abroad.

Compass Security describes itself as a private security company with operations throughout the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia, from Iraq to Afghanistan.

The company provides “tailored security capabilities for commercial companies and military organizations,” ranging from site security and convoy protection to secure logistics services and cash-in-transit.

The nationalities of the dead and injured were not released.
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