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April 6, 2008 

Afghan forces arrest Taliban commander
Sun Apr 6, 7:20 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan police have arrested a Taliban commander in the southern province of Kandahar while 15 insurgents have been killed in clashes with Afghan and NATO troops, the government said on Sunday.

US-led troops, Afghan forces inflict heavy Taliban losses
KABUL, April 6, 2008 (AFP) - US-led troops and Afghan security forces on Sunday killed a "significant" number of militants, the coalition said, a day after 15 Taliban were killed in attacks in the south.

Afghan leader hints at re-election bid
Sun Apr 6, 7:14 AM ET Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan President Hamid Karzai is hinting that he may run for a second term.

Taliban downplay NATO's commitment towards Afghanistan
April 06, 2008 People's Daily
Taliban insurgents fighting Afghan and international troops based in Afghanistan on Sunday downplayed NATO's renewing pledge towards Afghanistan as merely moral boosting, the fundamental outfit said on Sunday in an audio cassette released

Afghan mission still as clear as mud
Apr 06, 2008 04:30 AM Haroon Siddiqui Toronto Star,  Canada
On Afghanistan, Stephen Harper and Stéphane Dion have got what they wanted. But Canadians haven't got any more clarity on our mission there than before the NATO summit.

Afghan President calls on Taliban to give up resistance
www.chinaview.cn  2008-04-06 20:02:14
KABUL, April 6 (Xinhua) -- Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday called on Taliban militants to give up resistance, return home and take part in the reconstruction process of their war-torn country.

Afghanistan strategies
April 6, 2008 The Washington Times By Ronald E. Neumann
The Atlantic Council says we're not winning in Afghanistan and they are right. In the last year, violence has spread to additional areas of the country. The Afghan government remains weak, plagued by inefficiency and corruption with limited

A 25-year-old son of privilege from Mobile leads an Army platoon in Afghanistan
By ROY HOFFMAN Mobile Press-Register - Apr 06 2:39 AM
Lt. Brad Israel led a convoy through the mountains of Paktika province in southeastern Afghanistan, heading to a village near the Pakistani border.

US forces are getting increasingly bogged down in the Afghanistan quagmire
The News - International, Pakistan By By Kaleem Omar 4/6/2008
At a NATO summit that ended in the Romanian capital of Bucharest on Friday, US President George W. Bush promised that the United States will increase its forces in Afghanistan next year no matter what happens in Iraq. He told a NATO

Afghans Battle Drug Addiction
Treatment Centers for Women Reflect Increasing Opium Use
By Candace Rondeaux Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, April 6, 2008
KABUL-The first days were so painful that Mina Gul could barely sit upright. Thin and lanky with wide brown eyes, she rubbed the back of her neck ceaselessly with fingers stained reddish black by an opium pipe. She couldn't shake the nausea.

Afghan forces arrest Taliban commander
Sun Apr 6, 7:20 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan police have arrested a Taliban commander in the southern province of Kandahar while 15 insurgents have been killed in clashes with Afghan and NATO troops, the government said on Sunday.

The violence came days after the United States and its NATO partners reaffirmed long-term commitment to Afghanistan.

The United States has urged allies to redouble efforts in the face of rising Afghan violence and is sending an extra 3,500 Marines. France has promised another 700 troops for NATO's 47,000-strong Afghan force.

Police arrested Taliban commander Abdul Jabar on Saturday in the most significant capture of a militant for some time, the Interior Ministry said.

Jabar, who the government said organized attacks in the south, was captured while on his way towards Pakistan. He was a deputy of Mullah Mansour Dadullah, a prominent Taliban commander captured in Pakistan in February, it said.

"He was involved in Taliban insurgent operations against the Afghan state and coalition forces," the ministry said in a statement.

Also on Saturday, 15 insurgents were killed in two clashes about 40 km (25 miles) west of Kandahar city, the Defense Ministry said, in an area where NATO and Afghan forces have repeatedly battled the Taliban in recent years.

The Taliban, ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001, have vowed to step up their violent campaign to expel foreign forces and bring down the Western-backed government.

Violence surged in Afghanistan over the past two years. Last year, more than 6,000 people killed, almost a third of them civilians, raising questions about how to deal with the Taliban.

The government has been trying to tempt mid- and low-level Taliban to give up their fight and re-join society but it has had little impact on sapping the insurgents' strength.

President Hamid Karzai told reporters in Kabul he had spoken of the need for "political engagement" with some Taliban at last week's NATO summit in Bucharest.

Karzai repeated an offer of talks with rank-and-file Taliban but said there would be no negotiations with militant leaders linked to al Qaeda and responsible for violence.

"We have the wish and whenever the opportunity arises, we will do so 100 percent," Karzai told a news conference in Kabul, referring to talks with lower-level Taliban.

A Taliban spokesman was defiant, dismissing France's decision to send more troops.

"It makes it easier for us to find and hit targets," spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said by telephone.

"Whoever sends troops to Afghanistan is basically fighting a U.S. war and getting its soldiers killed to protect U.S. interests," he said.

(Additional reporting by Saeed Ali Achakzai, Jonathon Burch, Sayed Salahuddin)
(Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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US-led troops, Afghan forces inflict heavy Taliban losses
KABUL, April 6, 2008 (AFP) - US-led troops and Afghan security forces on Sunday killed a "significant" number of militants, the coalition said, a day after 15 Taliban were killed in attacks in the south.

The coalition did not give an exact toll but a local MP said the battle in eastern Nuristan province, in which warplanes were also deployed, left 20 people dead including some civilians.

"The combined force repelled the attack with accurate small-arms fire and crew-served weapons. During the long battle, the insurgents reinforced their positions in several compounds with large groups of fighters," a statement by the US-led coalition said.

It added that troops "inflicted significant insurgent losses" and that many rebels had been detained.

The statement said the fighters were members of Hizb-e-Islami, an outlawed militant group loyal to the former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is said to have joined the Taliban.

It added that there were no civilian casualties.

The Afghan defence ministry also confirmed the operation, saying "the enemy suffered heavy casualties."

It said one Afghan soldier was killed and three others were injured in the fighting, which continued late Sunday.

Local lawmaker Rahmatullah Rashidi, however, said civilians were also killed in the coalition airstrikes.

"There have been heavy airstrikes since last evening," he said.

"According to the information I received, about 20 people including fighters and civilians have been killed," Rashidi told AFP.

He said about 40 other people including civilians had been injured.

In another incident Sunday two security guards escorting a civilian convoy of trucks supplying a NATO base and two Taliban were killed in a firefight in the southern province of Ghazni, a district chief said, while police said a roadside bomb in southern Helmand province killed a policeman.

Earlier, the defence ministry said 15 Taliban insurgents were killed in separate raids by Afghan and NATO troops in the southern province of Kandahar on Saturday.

The interior ministry meanwhile said a senior Taliban commander whom it described as a deputy to Taliban top military commander Mullah Mansoor Dadullah was captured in Kandahar city.

Mansoor Dadullah was captured in Pakistan in February.

The Taliban were ousted from power in a US-led invasion in late 2001. The remnants of the Islamic militia have since waged a bloody insurgency.

About 70,000 international troops, most of them under NATO command, are based in Afghanistan to help the Kabul government battle the insurgency.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday expressed confidence that his government would work closely with the new Pakistani prime minister to fight extremism plaguing both countries.

And he said he was "very satisfied" with the "exceptionally strong backing" the NATO alliance had offered to Kabul at last week's Bucharest summit.
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Afghan leader hints at re-election bid
Sun Apr 6, 7:14 AM ET Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan President Hamid Karzai is hinting that he may run for a second term.

Karzai told a news conference Sunday that he has reached some of his goals since being elected in 2004, but that there is still more work left to be done.

He says he prays that the people of Afghanistan are happy with his time in office and that they allow him to "complete the work that I started — if they vote for me."

Karzai's term is scheduled to end in 2009. He has not previously said whether he will stand for re-election.
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Taliban downplay NATO's commitment towards Afghanistan
April 06, 2008 People's Daily
Taliban insurgents fighting Afghan and international troops based in Afghanistan on Sunday downplayed NATO's renewing pledge towards Afghanistan as merely moral boosting, the fundamental outfit said on Sunday in an audio cassette released to media from undisclosed location.

"The commitment made at NATO summit in Bucharest cannot lead to the solution of problem in Afghanistan and it cannot ensure peace and stability in the country," the audiocassette read out by a person who claimed to speak for the Taliban said.

It also added that the alliance in the past promised to world that it could bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan but all vain and still war and destruction war continuing.

In the audiocassette, the militants described both NATO and the U.S.-led Coalition forces as occupying troops, saying some 60,000 foreign troops facing Mujahidin or holy warriors in the country.

Bearing the name of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (old name of Taliban ousted hierarchy) in the audiocassette moreover said that the "occupying troops are deemed to defeat".

Taliban early last month also issued such audio cassette, vowing to launch their so-called "spring offensive" called (Abrat) or lesson when the weather gets warm but both NATO and Afghan government played it down.

More than 60,000 foreign troops have been being deployed respectively under the leadership of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and the U.S.-led Coalition forces in war-torn Afghanistan to which long-term military existing and reinforcement have been recently promised in the NATO summit in Bucharest.
Source: Xinhua
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Afghan mission still as clear as mud
Apr 06, 2008 04:30 AM Haroon Siddiqui Toronto Star,  Canada
On Afghanistan, Stephen Harper and Stéphane Dion have got what they wanted. But Canadians haven't got any more clarity on our mission there than before the NATO summit.

The Prime Minister got an extension of our military deployment. The Liberal leader got out of his political quagmire, appeasing those in his caucus opposed to a commitment made by a Liberal government in the first place.

But the mission is no less muddled just because France is sending a battalion to the relative safety of eastern Afghanistan.

In avoiding the war zone of Kandahar, the French, like most Europeans, are either cowards or they fundamentally oppose the war the U.S. has been waging in the south with Canada and Britain.

The French deployment will free up some American troops to join the Canadians. This can only reinforce what has been wrong all along: too much brawn, too little brain.

This may not matter much to Harper and Rick Hillier, for whom the Afghan commitment is mostly about pleasing the Americans, for reasons of ideology or pragmatism. But for those seeking a fundamental reassessment, this is bad news.

Amid all the Tory self-congratulation, there's nary a mention of the civilian measures called for by both the John Manley panel and the House of Commons resolution extending the mission to 2011.

Whatever happened to the idea of Harper heading an interdepartmental group to get development and reconstruction efforts back on track? Or engaging regional powers, such as Pakistan, to find a political settlement? Or leaning on Hamid Karzai to seriously tackle corruption and nepotism and wean the Afghan economy off the opium trade?

Absent those and we get more of what has not worked for six years.

Nicolas Sarkozy, not Harper, was on to this when he challenged NATO to define what would constitute success. He got no answer.

Part of the problem is NATO itself, an alliance still searching for a mandate in the post-Cold War era. Afghanistan is just a way station to where it might end up.

NATO's senior members, such as Germany and France, want it to be more than an American auxiliary force. Newer ones from Eastern Europe are happy to be American client states, which seems to be Harper's vision for Canada as well.

Hence his vociferous support for the war on Iraq, America's blind backing of Israel, the American proposal to have Georgia and Ukraine join NATO and America's war in Afghanistan.

On the latter, his comments in Bucharest were instructive.

He conceded that NATO had underestimated the challenge. He admitted that the Taliban couldn't be defeated: "That's not realistic."

So, if the goal is no longer to crush "the scumbags" but merely to contain them, what's the way out?

It's the same as in Iraq, as articulated by George W. Bush: We stand down only when the locals stand up. This is never-never land.

The rationale for the unending war flows from a faulty Bush-ian formulation, parroted by Harper: "Afghanistan is the central issue for relations between Islam and the West." But it isn't.

The Taliban, as currently constituted, are not waging an Al Qaeda global jihad but local guerrilla warfare against foreign occupiers.

Most of their recruits are not Islamic ideologues but those angry at losing civilian relatives to NATO bombing/shelling or losing their opium fields and livelihood. Or they are unemployed youth drawn to the high wages paid for by the narcotic trade.

"Insurgencies are rarely, if ever, resolved by military means," wrote Manley recently. "So, Canada should encourage political reconciliation" and minimize the factors that fuel the insurgency.

He was bemoaning that his report "has been reduced to the simple proposition that Canada should stay in Afghanistan if NATO provides an additional 1,000 troops.

"If that's the only aspect that receives attention, our panel's efforts will have been in vain."

Seems so.
Haroon Siddiqui appears Thursday and Sunday. hsiddiq@thestar.ca.
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Afghan President calls on Taliban to give up resistance
www.chinaview.cn  2008-04-06 20:02:14
KABUL, April 6 (Xinhua) -- Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday called on Taliban militants to give up resistance, return home and take part in the reconstruction process of their war-torn country.

"Taliban are part of this soil and we want them to return home," he told newsmen at his Palace after attending the recently concluded NATO summit in Bucharest.

Karzai, who represented Afghanistan at the summit, said that part of his speech to NATO leaders in Bucharest was on Taliban militants, adding that those Taliban fighters who have no link with al-Qaida can return home.

The Afghan leader said there were no official talks between the government and Taliban at the moment, but the two sides had few contacts months ago.

He also said that a number of Taliban militants had returned home and resumed their normal life due to such contacts.

"We would continue our contacts for the larger interest of Afghanistan," the president emphasized.

Taliban insurgents, who in the past had rejected any talks with the Afghan government in an audio cassette sent to the media, on Sunday downplayed NATO's new commitment towards Afghanistan and vowed to continue war till last.

The 26-nation military alliance at their historic summit concluded on Friday renewed its long-term commitment to support Afghan government and stabilizing security in the post-Taliban nation.

President Karzai, additionally appreciated the renewing approach of the alliance to Afghanistan calling on its people to benefit maximum advantage of world community's support in rebuilding their nation until it stands on its feet.
Editor: Du Guodong 
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Afghanistan strategies
April 6, 2008 The Washington Times By Ronald E. Neumann
The Atlantic Council says we're not winning in Afghanistan and they are right. In the last year, violence has spread to additional areas of the country. The Afghan government remains weak, plagued by inefficiency and corruption with limited reach into the countryside. And calls for faster economic progress are increasingly shrill among Afghans and donors alike.

Democratic Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and John Kerry of Massachusetts have joined the demand for an international coordinator to bring order to efforts by donor nations aiding Afghanistan. Many nations want a new international strategy to drastically improve effectiveness.

These policies have merit but exaggerate their potential results. Existing strategy could more quickly provide a basis for improved coordination. And real performance could improve soon given practical changes in staff and procedures.

Why? Changing policy alone has limits in what it can achieve. Money takes 18 months — a long time in war — to move from an administration decision through proposal, congressional votes and contract bidding until ground is broken for a new project. No wonder Afghans criticize us. Troop and economic donors are sovereign nations who will not simply follow orders.

A common strategy will be at a level of generality that neither produces automatic action in the field nor overcomes the political obstacles that cause nations to limit their troops' areas or functions. These problems may be mitigated over time but the idea a new policy will automatically jump the political hurdles is a fantasy. And a super coordinator may do more harm than good if the approach is wrong.

More donor coordination is needed. But how we work with the Afghan government is a separate issue. Building a stable state with a functioning government is the only way to heal the fragmentation of Afghanistan that otherwise will again become a base for attacks on us and a breeding ground for extremism.

The famously xenophobic Afghans still welcome efforts to help them build their own future. But if foreigners appear to be in charge, it will undercut the legitimacy of Afghan institutions and hand the Taliban a major propaganda victory.

A super coordinator can try to "bash heads," to use Lord "Paddy" Ashdown's phrase, but it must be clear it will be foreign heads. Fairly or not, naming the now rejected Lord Ashdown as U.N. envoy was seen in Afghanistan as designed to give orders to Afghans; that was a mistake.

The international agreement of 2006 (The London Compact) provides an ambitious political and economic road map until 2011. We would accomplish more by focusing the current calls for policy change to improved coordination of the strategy already agreed upon. Better implementation can add much to comparatively rapid improvement if we and others would only pay attention.

What then can we do? My embassy was able to stimulate donor consensus and solve problems with the Afghans in energy, removal of some (not enough) corrupt police commanders, and several other issues by working behind the scenes to suggest approaches, letting the United Nations lead in bringing the required donors together and involving Afghans in decision-making. This approach sometimes took months, money and quiet pressure but it produced results. This strategy could be significantly expanded, but the United Nations in Afghanistan needs more senior staff to handle the task.

Our own USAID needs the senior staff to manage strategic evaluation and crisis response, not just program implementation as in a normal developing nation. In one of the most difficult operating environments in the world, we expect USAID to manage twice the dollars per contract officer that they have in normal countries.

USAID needs the flexibility and staff to assign many contracts at the provincial level quickly, without the complex bidding procedures that force us to take months to assign a contract and then work through, and pay for, large foreign contractors.

NATO needs its own funds, as U.S. military commanders have, to bring humanitarian aid in rapidly after military engagements and promptly pay compensation for civilian damage and loss of lives. NATO nations need closer coordination between their individual aid agencies and embassies that report to separate ministries. If they cannot do it on a national basis, why expect a coordinator to succeed multilaterally?

Taken together, these measures will not substitute needed increases in troop levels, equipment, funding or political will in the Afghan government to improve honesty and effectiveness. But they would significantly help. Without them, performance will continue to disappoint foreign and Afghan expectations — with all the potential crumbling of political support such failure entails.

Ronald E. Neumann is the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Algeria and Bahrain. He is president of the American Academy of Diplomacy and has authored a forthcoming policy brief about Afghanistan aide coordination for the Stanley Foundation.
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A 25-year-old son of privilege from Mobile leads an Army platoon in Afghanistan
By ROY HOFFMAN Mobile Press-Register - Apr 06 2:39 AM
Lt. Brad Israel led a convoy through the mountains of Paktika province in southeastern Afghanistan, heading to a village near the Pakistani border.

"We kept getting into mountain passes," the Mobile native recalls of that June afternoon last year. "The road would end because of boulders. We drove into one area -- there was high ground on both sides, and a lot of tree cover -- and that's where they initiated the attack.

"There was a volley of rocket-propelled grenades at the lead vehicle. If they can disable the lead vehicle, they can stop the convoy."

He describes the noise: "They whistle, and on impact, they explode."

Sniper fire erupted.

"The rear gunner was shot in the arm and took some shrapnel from an RPG in the neck. He dropped down in the turret."

Israel got on the radio to his Army platoon and shouted the command: "Push through! Push through!"

The convoy kept rolling as his men returned fire, and their medic gave first aid to the gunner. Another platoon behind Israel's heard the radio traffic and provided backup. The Air Force sent two F-16s with laser-guided bombs.

That first firefight was followed by numerous others, he says.

"It's surreal," he says of that first encounter. "It happens so fast. You make sure you don't lose your composure. You refer back to your training."

On a recent leave, Israel, 25, says he's thankful he hasn't lost any soldiers under his command. "I've been blessed. By God's will, I've been lucky."

The name of the forward operating base where Israel has been based for much of his tour -- FOB Curry -- is named in memory of a fallen sergeant.

On his wrist, Israel wears a bracelet inscribed with the name Johnny Craver, a mentor and friend from Officer Candidate School who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Iraq.

During his years at UMS-Wright school, military service was far from Israel's mind. He loved hunting, fishing and football.

But at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia as an undergraduate, he was stirred by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. As a senior, he was impressed by a course on U.S. intelligence taught by Lt. Gen. Sam Wilson.

After signing up and reporting for Army basic training on March 1, 2005, at Fort Jackson, S.C., Israel went to Fort Benning for Officer Candidate School, then did the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Ranger School and Airborne School.

To many Americans, he realizes, Afghanistan is "the forgotten war."

In contrast to the 140,000 or so troops in Iraq, there are about 34,000 in Afghanistan.

And Iraq, he says, "is more politically charged. The people get more angry or emotional about Iraq than about Afghanistan. That's what the news covers. Afghanistan is so much more primitive, so much smaller and less populated."

Israel has commanded two different platoons, but the missions have been, at heart, the same.

"We're slowly but surely continuing to rebuild and help with the governments and the relationships among the people and their government. That's what a counterinsurgency fight is all about."

One task, for example, is to provide protection for Afghans during their weekly village meeting, the shura.

"I came into the Army thinking, 'Go find the bad guys and get rid of them to make the world a better place.' If that's what our main focus was, all we'd be doing is creating a larger problem," he says.

His mission, he explains, is "to build relationships so the next generation won't be radical militants." Only when his troops become the target of violence, he says, does the mission change: "It becomes search and attack."

He says the Army is helping with infrastructure, getting a contractor, for example, to build wells for a village.

Gifts distributed to families and children -- school supplies, dolls, mittens, caps -- often come directly from the American people, and a lot of those from Israel's family friends in Mobile.

The effort to befriend the Afghans stands in contrast, he says, to the Taliban and its attempt to recruit the youth into militant versions of Islamic schools, the "radical madrassas."

"People didn't used to trust us," Israel says. "Now, they're distrusting the Afghan Taliban."

On his trip home to Mobile, after reuniting with his parents, Bob and Cammie Israel, the young lieutenant headed to Christ Church Cathedral to pray. He went to look at the Battle House Hotel and RSA Tower, newly opened since his departure.

Next stop was Callaghan's Irish Social Club in the Oakleigh neighborhood. "I was crazy for seafood," he says.

Israel acknowledges that he grew up in a realm of "privilege" and could easily be pursuing a different path now.

As he wrote in an e-mail from Afghanistan on July 11:

"Everything we do in life has its ups and downs, but I have no regrets with signing on for three or four years to serve my country. I know if I was sitting in front of a desk at this point in my life, I would always have wondered what it would have been like to do this ..."

While at home, Israel gets a message from a fellow soldier that 15 members of the Taliban went into a village where Israel and his soldiers had worked hard to build connections.

The Taliban members held the villagers at gunpoint and warned them "to hand over everything the Americans gave them; they were going to burn it in front of the village," he says.

The men of the village said no.

That defiance was enough to deter the Taliban, he says.

"I was shocked," Israel admits with gratitude in his voice. "They're stronger than the bad guys if they stand up together."

"The marginal victories are happening," he says on the brink of heading back. "It's a village at a time."
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US forces are getting increasingly bogged down in the Afghanistan quagmire
The News - International, Pakistan By By Kaleem Omar 4/6/2008
At a NATO summit that ended in the Romanian capital of Bucharest on Friday, US President George W. Bush promised that the United States will increase its forces in Afghanistan next year no matter what happens in Iraq. He told a NATO session that included Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday that the US is committed to “winning the war” in Afghanistan and will remain committed even after he leaves office in January 2008. His statement came in the wake of a pledge by the US’s European allies to supply nearly 2,500 more troops themselves to join 3,500 additional US Marines sent by Bush.

“The president wanted to make it clear that the United States is committed to Afghanistan for the long haul and to send a signal to our allies that at the same time we are asking them to commit additional troops to Afghanistan that they know that we will also continue to have a significant troop presence there regardless of the situation in Iraq,” said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

A report published in the Washington Post on Saturday said, “The pledge comes as violence and insurgent activity is spiking in parts of Afghanistan. The administration’s promise of more troops could indicate the beginning of a push, similar to the buildup of (US) forces in Iraq over the past year, to step up counterinsurgency operations next year. Such a decision would probably fall to Bush’s successor, but Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates said he senses bipartisan support.”

The Post quoted Gates as telling American reporters traveling with him on Friday as he left the Bucharest summit for a Middle East trip, “I think that no matter who is elected president, they will want to be successful in Afghanistan.”

The Post said that US National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley signaled the commitment to sending additional American troops to Afghanistan in 2009 during a media briefing in Bucharest on Thursday. “We have plans to contemplate additional contributions of troops in Afghanistan in the south in 2009,” Hadley said, adding that “these are all in addition to the 3,500 Marines now going to Afghanistan.”

But neither Hadley nor Gates indicated how many troops. The Post report noted that “commanders in Afghanistan have said they could use as many as two or three additional brigades, or nearly 10,000 troops. The report quoted Gates as saying that he would like to wait until after the US Marines in Afghanistan return home later this year to decide on 2009 troop levels.

Meanwhile, General David W. McKiernan, the nominated commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, told the US Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the United States should examine options for deploying more brigades. “There are certainly no signs that the insurgency is ready to collapse,” McKiernan said.

In plain words, all this suggests that the US and ISAF forces are getting increasingly bogged down in the quagmire that is Afghanistan today, and are making little headway in their efforts to defeat what they call the “insurgency”.

What they are actually facing, however, is not an “insurgency” but a resistance movement made up of Afghans who want to get rid of the foreign forces that have occupied their country.

The Geneva Convention, to which the United States and all the other NATO countries are signatories, says that it is perfectly legal for the citizens of a country occupied by foreign troops to attack those troops in an effort to drive them out. The US-led ISAF is not an “international security assistance force”; it is a foreign occupation army that has no business being in Afghanistan in the first place.

When General McKiernan said that “there are no signs that the insurgency is ready to collapse,” he should have known that history shows that the Afghani people have never accepted the occupation of their country by foreign troops and have never stopped fighting them – as the Soviet Union learned to its cost in the 1980s when it had an occupation force of more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. More than 10,000 Soviet troops were killed and 37,000 wounded in ten years of fighting between anti-Communist Muslim Afghan guerillas (mujahideen) and Afghan government and Soviet forces.

The conflict had its origins in the 1978 coup that overthrew Afghan president Sardar Muhammad Daud Khan, who had come to power by ousting his cousin King Zahir Shah in 1973. Daud was assassinated and a pro-Soviet Communist government under Noor Mohammad Taraki was established. In 1979 another coup, which brought Hafizullah Amin to power, provoked an invasion (in December 1979) by Soviet forces and the installation of Babrak Karmal as president.

The Soviet invasion, which sparked Afghan resistance, initially involved an estimated 30,000 troops, a force that ultimately grew to over 100,000. In the beginning, the mujahideen fought the Soviet troops on their own, using little more than antiquated rifles against Soviet troops equipped with massive firepower. It wasn’t until about two years later (when the world saw that the mujahideen were more than holding their own against the mighty Soviet military machine) that outside aid began to flow to the Afghan fighters. The mujahideen were supported by aid from the United States, China and Saudi Arabia, channeled through Pakistan, and from Iran.

Although the Soviet Union had superior weapons and complete air control (just as the US forces have today), the Afghan guerillas successfully eluded them. The conflict largely settled into a stalemate, with Soviet and puppet Afghan government forces controlling the urban areas, and the Afghan guerillas operating fairly freely in mountainous rural regions. As the war progressed the Afghan guerillas improved their organisation and tactics, and began to use imported and captured weapons, including US anti-aircraft Stinger missiles, to neutralise the technological advantages of the Soviet Union.

In 1986, Babrak Karmal resigned and Mohammed Najibullah (who until then had been chief of the infamous Afghan intelligence agency) became head of a collective leadership. In 1988, following several rounds of the so-called “proximity talks” in Geneva between Soviet officials and Pakistani government officials, then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced the withdrawal of Soviet troops, which was completed in February 1989.

In the spring of 1992, Najibullah’s government collapsed. Najibullah himself (probably the most hated man in Afghanistan at the time) ended up being publicly hanged. After 14 years of rule by the pro-Soviet People’s Democratic Party, Kabul fell to a coalition of mujahideen groups under the military leadership of Ahmed Shah Massoud.

Years of internecine fighting between the various mujahideen groups followed, in which much of Kabul was reduced to rubble by artillery shelling. In November 1996, Kabul fell to Taliban forces advancing from their southern stronghold of Kandahar.

The war left Afghanistan with severe political, economic and ecological problems. Most of the country’s infrastructure had been destroyed. Economic production was drastically curtailed, and much of the land was laid waste. More than 1 million Afghans died in the war and 5 million became refugees in neighbouring countries, including 3 million in Pakistan, which welcomed them with open arms and has continued to look after them to this day, despite the fact that Afghanistan was the only country which had voted against Pakistan’s entry into the United Nations in 1948.

At the end of the war against the Soviet Union, more than 5 million Soviet landmines littered vast tracts of the countryside, where they will continue to pose a threat to human and animal life well into the 21st century.

In response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon building in Washington, the United States and the United Kingdom launched a war against Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. It was the beginning of the Bush administrations so-called “war on terrorism”.

The stated purpose of the invasion was to capture Osama bin Laden, destroy al-Qaeda and remove the Taliban regime.

More than six years down the road, neither the first nor the second of the three US objectives has been achieved. And while the Taliban regime in Kabul was ousted within a few days of the start of the invasion, it was more a case of the Taliban fighters withdrawing from the capital and melting away into the countryside than a case of a military victory for the United States.

Now, the US-led ISAF and NATO forces are facing an increasingly resurgent Taliban, who control much of the countryside in the south.
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Afghans Battle Drug Addiction
Treatment Centers for Women Reflect Increasing Opium Use
By Candace Rondeaux Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, April 6, 2008
KABUL-The first days were so painful that Mina Gul could barely sit upright. Thin and lanky with wide brown eyes, she rubbed the back of her neck ceaselessly with fingers stained reddish black by an opium pipe. She couldn't shake the nausea. The light was almost blinding in the clean, white-walled medical clinic, where she lay crumpled in bed for days.

Before that, opium had been about the only thing keeping Gul afloat. It started four years ago with the headaches. A relative told her to try a bit of opium as a cure. "I tried it once a little -- then the next day more, then more again, and then I was addicted," Gul said.

Since then, her husband has stopped working and the eldest of her four children is more often on the streets than in school. Gul, 36, is spending most of her time in a hospital bed.

Gul is one of 20 women in residential treatment at the Sanga Amaj center in Afghanistan's capital. The small, two-story clinic near Kabul University is one of 40 drug treatment clinics across Afghanistan run by international aid organizations.

More than six years after U.S.-led forces launched a military campaign here against the ruling Taliban movement, drug addiction is fast becoming a major concern for the government. With opium production reaching an all-time high of 6,000 tons last year, according to the United Nations, domestic addiction rates in this nation of nearly 32 million have also soared. A 2005 U.N. report estimated that Afghanistan was home to about 1 million drug abusers.

Among the country's addicts, about 13 percent are women and 7 percent are children, Afghan government officials say. Most of the women are opium addicts desperate to blunt the trauma of endless war. Many are illiterate mothers with unemployed husbands. Most have little in the way of job skills, and some became addicts while picking opium poppies to earn a living and support their families, said Zalmai Afzali, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Counternarcotics.

"Afghanistan has been ravaged by 30 to 35 years of war. Everything has been destroyed here, so it's not surprising that people turn to drugs," Afzali said.

High rates of addiction have forced aid organizations to step in to fill the vacuum left by a government still struggling with an insurgency, meager resources and endemic corruption. The number of drug treatment clinics has doubled during the past two years, Afzali said, with an additional 34 mobile treatment clinics for women operating across the country.

Treatment for female addicts is especially difficult, experts here say, because women in rural, conservative parts of the country -- particularly in places such as Helmand province in the south, the world's largest opium-producing region -- are often not allowed out of the house. While drug addicts around the world endure shame, the stigma for Afghan women who seek treatment can sometimes produce violent responses from their families. In a country where the average per-capita income is about $1,000 a year, addiction for women often leads to desperation.

"We had a patient here who wanted to sell one of her kids," said Toorpekay Zazai, a doctor who heads the Sanga Amaj center. "She said she didn't have enough money to buy food or clothes for him. Finally, we managed to get to her relatives in Canada, who were able to help with some money. But there are lots of stories like that from the women here."

About 300 women have successfully completed treatment at Sanga Amaj since the center opened last June, Zazai said. Women treated by the clinic's three doctors usually stay for at least a month.

The first two weeks are spent purging the body of drugs. Gradually, the women begin participating in group therapy and learning skills such as sewing, embroidery and knitting. Successful treatment ends with a celebratory feast at which residents, staff members and former patients share stories of battling addiction.

For every success there is a relapse, doctors at the clinic say. Women often spend weeks getting clean, only to return to households seized by addiction.

"The risk is that when a woman is an addict, she doesn't get treatment, then it will spread to the entire family," Zazai said.

"We have cases where whole families are addicted, so when the woman goes home from treatment, the husband is still addicted and you have to start all over again."
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