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January 11, 2008 

NATO chief denies allies 'not active' in Afghanistan
Fri Jan 11, 1:13 AM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has rejected suggestions that not enough allies are pulling their weight in Afghanistan, as he welcomed US plans to send more troops there.

Report: Musharraf cautions US on tactics
Fri Jan 11, 12:25 AM ET
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - President Pervez Musharraf warned that U.S. troops would be regarded as invaders if they crossed into Pakistan's border region with Afghanistan in the hunt for al-Qaida or Taliban militants, according to an interview published Friday.

Moves to beef up forces reflect growing concern over Afghanistan: analysts
by Jim Mannion Thu Jan 10, 7:59 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - A move to beef up US forces in Afghanistan with some 3,000 marines reflects growing concerns about rising insurgent violence and turmoil in neighboring Pakistan, analysts said Thursday.

Witnesses heard shots after Afghan bomb
By ESTES THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer Thu Jan 10, 6:22 PM ET
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - The driver of a Humvee targeted by a car bombing in Afghanistan last year said Thursday that he heard distant gunfire after the explosion, testimony that followed his comrades' claims that they were fired upon.

Gender barriers for Canadian soldiers loosening in Afghanistan
Allison Lampert Canwest News Service; Montreal Gazette Friday, January 11, 2008
PASHMUL, Afghanistan - Once rejected by a culture that denies women's basic freedoms, Canada's female soldiers and military police are now in demand in Kandahar province.

Japan Approves Bill on Afghan War Mission
By NORIMITSU ONISHI The New York Times  January 12, 2008
TOKYO — The Japanese government rammed through a special law Friday authorizing its navy to resume a refueling mission in the Indian Ocean as part of the American-led war in Afghanistan.

Afghan, coalition forces discover munitions cache hidden in school
Fri, 11 Jan 2008 14:53:03 GMT  EARTHtimes.org
Kabul - Afghan and US-led coalition forces discovered a munitions cache hidden in a boy's school in southern Afghanistan after a day-long battle with Taliban insurgents, the military said on Friday. A combined forces patrol

Germany-Afghan istan-ISAF/WRD ISAF used Afghan children to detect land-mines: ex-German soldier
Berlin, Jan 10, IRNA
Soldiers of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have repeatedly used Afghan children to detect land-mines in war-ravaged country, said a former German ISAF officer in Berlin on Thursday.

Up to 61 killed by heavy snow in Afghanistan
11/ 01/ 2008
KABUL, January 11 (RIA Novosti) - Heavy snow has claimed up to 61 lives in Afghanistan covering some regions of the country with over two meters of snow, national TV channels said on Friday.

Hollywood Goes to Afghanistan: Reviews of “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “The Kite Runner”
By Judith Mahoney Pasternak The Indypendent, NY
Not since Slim Pickens’ death-defying ride on an atom bomb in Dr. Strangelove has anyone had as much fun with weapons on-screen as Tom Hanks’ based-on-reality character does in “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

Taliban Commander Emerges As Pakistan's 'Biggest Problem'
Radical Accused in Bhutto's Death Has Quickly Gathered Power
By Imtiaz Ali and Craig Whitlock Washington Post Thursday, January 10, 2008; A17
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan. 9 -- Even as his reputation has grown more menacing and his militia more powerful, the Taliban commander accused of ordering the death of Benazir Bhutto has shrouded himself in mystery.

Bombers 'may come from Pakistan'
By Abdullah Hai Kakar - BBC Urdu service, Peshawar Wednesday, 9 January 2008
Suicide bombers targeting Afghanistan may be recruited from Pakistan, a Pakistani government minister has said.

Pakistan tribe says will take on al Qaeda fighters
WANA, Pakistan, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Members of a Pakistani ethnic Pashtun tribe vowed on Thursday to raise a militia aimed at forcing al Qaeda-linked foreign militants from their lands on the Afghan border.

Orakzai's removal a prelude to operations in tribal areas
By: Aamir Khan
ISLAMABAD, Jan 8 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Some political analysts term the removal of NWFP governor Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai as a prelude to the military operations in tribal areas.

NATO chief denies allies 'not active' in Afghanistan
Fri Jan 11, 1:13 AM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has rejected suggestions that not enough allies are pulling their weight in Afghanistan, as he welcomed US plans to send more troops there.

"You cannot say the allies are not active enough, because they are active," he said in Brussels at a New Year media reception Thursday.

"If you look at the recent past, you see a number of allies stepping up to the plate. Even yesterday, we heard that Poland has made a very substantial and considerable offer, including eight helicopters -- which is a lot -- and ground forces for Afghanistan."

"Nations like Slovakia, Hungary, Georgia, France, the Czech Republic, Australia, Norway, Singapore, Azerbaijan -- all according to their capabilities ... -- have recently contributed or are contributing forces," he said.

The Pentagon announced Wednesday that US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is considering sending some 3,000 additional marines ahead of an expected offensive by Taliban-led insurgents in the spring.

"I am very happy and glad that the US government is in the process of taking this decision. I say again, the Polish offer was extremely substantial yesterday," Scheffer said.

NATO is engaged in its most ambitious mission ever trying to spread the rule of President Hamid Karzai's weak central government into more lawless parts of Afghanistan.

But the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which the alliance leads has struggled to defeat the insurgency, particularly in the south and east near the mountainous border with Pakistan.

According to NATO figures, the number of troops in ISAF -- now provided by 39 nations -- rose from around 33,000 in January 2007, to almost 42,000 by December.

ISAF's military requirements are revised at least once every six months and, while they can move up or down based on current goals, the trend over the last year has clearly been upward.

Despite this, the United States has repeatedly led calls -- backed by commanders on the ground in Afghanistan -- for more troops and equipment, particularly helicopters.

With around 140 suicide attacks, 2007 was the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted from power in late 2001, according to a United Nations survey.
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Report: Musharraf cautions US on tactics
Fri Jan 11, 12:25 AM ET
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - President Pervez Musharraf warned that U.S. troops would be regarded as invaders if they crossed into Pakistan's border region with Afghanistan in the hunt for al-Qaida or Taliban militants, according to an interview published Friday.

Musharraf, whose popularity has plummeted amid a surge in extremist attacks in recent months, also told Singapore's The Straits Times that he would resign if opposition parties tried to impeach him following next month's parliamentary elections.

Pakistan is under growing U.S. pressure to crack down on militants in its tribal regions close to the Afghan border.

The rugged area has long been considered a likely hiding place for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, as well as an operating ground for Taliban militants planning attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The New York Times reported last week that Washington was considering expanding the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military to peruse aggressive covert operations within the tribal regions.

Musharraf told the Straits Times that U.S. troops would "certainly" be considered invaders if they set foot in the tribal regions.

"If they come without our permission, that's against the sovereignty of Pakistan. I challenge anybody coming into our mountains," he said in the interview in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. "They would regret that day."

Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup eight years ago, is also under growing domestic pressure.

The party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and the other main opposition grouping are predicted to make gains in the Feb. 18 polls. They have vowed to oust Musharraf if they emerge as winners. Musharraf is seen as vulnerable to impeachment over his decision to fire Supreme Court judges and suspend the constitution last year.

"If that (impeachment) happens, let me assure that I'd be leaving office before they would do anything. If they won with this kind of majority and they formed a government that had the intention of doing this, I wouldn't like to stick around," he said. "I would like to quit the scene."
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Moves to beef up forces reflect growing concern over Afghanistan: analysts
by Jim Mannion Thu Jan 10, 7:59 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - A move to beef up US forces in Afghanistan with some 3,000 marines reflects growing concerns about rising insurgent violence and turmoil in neighboring Pakistan, analysts said Thursday.

But the proposed deployment is seen as a stop-gap measure at a time when some experts say a revamped, unified strategy is needed to halt a worrying two-year slide in public confidence in the government of President Hamid Karzai.

"It's not a radical change in strategy, it's a selective application of power," Michael O'Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institution, said of the proposal to send more troops.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is slated to review the military's request for the deployment of a marine air-ground task force on Friday.

No final decision is expected immediately, but the proposal calls for sending the 3,000-man force to Afghanistan's Helmand province by April, in time to confront a "spring offensive" by Taliban insurgents.

Gates told reporters Thursday that he would weigh the impact on US forces, as well the implications of taking pressure off US allies to fulfill their commitments.

But he said, "I also am very concerned that we continue to be successful in Afghanistan and that we continue to keep the Taliban on their back foot and that we defeat their efforts to try and come back."

Pentagon officials stressed that the deployment would be a one-time only, seven month mission to help fill a shortfall in combat forces that had been promised by NATO but never materialized.

Analysts and some military officials believe that Islamic extremists are shifting their focus from Iraq to south Asia, and will do so increasingly as the war in Iraq winds down.

Currently, there are about 26,000 US troops in Afghanistan, most of them under a 40,000-strong NATO-led force that has assumed responsibility for security throughout the country over the past two years from US forces.

But the expanded NATO mission, which has more than doubled the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan, has coincided with the rise of a Taliban insurgency that has sent violence soaring.

"If you look at the last year, the increase of violence, particularly in the south, has been to the tune of 60 percent," said Ali Jalali, a former Afghan interior minister.

"At the same time, the situation across the border in Pakistan is deteriorating," he said.

Jalali said more US troops were welcome but the problems are deeper.

The United States and NATO lack an overarching strategic vision for Afghanistan and the region, he said.

Poor coordination among the collection of foreign military forces in Afghanistan and with the Afghan government and its forces have resulted, according to Jalali.

"They can win any battle, but there is no strategy," he said. "Since last year, NATO has won many battles but the strategic situation is worse than last year."

Jalali and others say a strategy for Afghanistan is incomplete unless it also encompasses nuclear armed Pakistan, whose tribal border areas have become safe havens for Taliban and al-Qaeda.

"What we need to do is look at the situation regionally," said retired Colonel David Lamm, a former chief of staff of the US military command in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005.

"One of the things we really need to reassess is, particularly hedging our own strategic bets on what may be happening inside of Pakistan, what sort of military structure inside Afghanistan would give you the best advantage, and the best head start if something bad happened inside Afghanistan," Lamm said.

And yet, the commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, General Dan McNeill, has no authority for military planning beyond Afghanistan.

Pakistani military leaders, meanwhile, bristle at any suggestion of US military operations inside Pakistan.

But Sam Brannen, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Affairs, said the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto has pointed up "a clear need in the view of US policy makers to plan for a growing instability from Pakistan."

"Internally in Pakistan, turmoil has further distracted and distanced Musharraf from the problem of extremists fighting against external elements. It has given them a safer haven than ever before," he said.
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Witnesses heard shots after Afghan bomb
By ESTES THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer Thu Jan 10, 6:22 PM ET
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - The driver of a Humvee targeted by a car bombing in Afghanistan last year said Thursday that he heard distant gunfire after the explosion, testimony that followed his comrades' claims that they were fired upon.

Sgt. Heriberto Becerra-Bravo said that the March 4 blast violently shook his vehicle, and that the Humvee's gunner then began firing his machine gun. Becerra-Bravo said he could hear small-arms fire in the distance during pauses in the gunner's response.

"He was firing in controlled bursts ... eight to 10 rounds at a time," Becerra-Bravo said.

He was testifying at a rare Marine "Court of Inquiry," a fact-finding proceeding that will recommend whether two officers will be charged with a crime. Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission had concluded the Marines fired indiscriminately at pedestrians and motorists in response to the bombing.

But attorneys for the two officers, Maj. Fred C. Galvin, the company commander, and Capt. Vincent J. Noble, a platoon leader, argue that the shootings were a justified reaction to a well-planned ambush, and that the death toll was lower than the 19 the Army counted.

Other servicemen had testified Wednesday that the six-vehicle convoy was fired on after the bombing.

The gunner, Sgt. Joshua Henderson, won't testify, his attorney said Thursday.

"He's in the zone of people who could be prosecuted because he's a gunner," said his attorney, Charles Gittins. "All they've got to do is grant him immunity."

Gittins said no one, including his client, should be charged.

"There was an IED (improvised explosive device) followed by a complex ambush," he said. "The Marines engaged the people who engaged the Marines. That's self-defense."

In a written statement provided to military investigators, Henderson said he saw two men firing at his six-vehicle convoy.

Henderson said he fired his machine gun at a sport-utility vehicle the men were using as cover, then fired at another man shooting at him.

Staff Sgt. Frederick Ferguson, an explosives expert riding in another Humvee, testified Thursday that he also heard small-arms fire after the car bombing. Ferguson said his gunner fired once from the rear of the convoy.

Becerra-Bravo and Ferguson are the latest of several Marines to tell the court they heard small-arms fire in the seconds after the car bomb exploded.

Their unit was on its first deployment after the 2006 creation of the Marine Special Operations Command. After the shooting, eight Marines were sent back to Camp Lejeune, and the rest of the company was taken out of Afghanistan.

The hearing, which began Monday, is expected to run through the end of next week.
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Gender barriers for Canadian soldiers loosening in Afghanistan
Allison Lampert Canwest News Service; Montreal Gazette Friday, January 11, 2008
PASHMUL, Afghanistan - Once rejected by a culture that denies women's basic freedoms, Canada's female soldiers and military police are now in demand in Kandahar province.

Initially barred from working with male Afghans for fear of upsetting southern Afghanistan's conservative sensibilities, female security forces are now badly needed to search women at checkpoints. With insurgents dressing up in burkas to escape detection, demand for female officers at police stations and Afghan military outposts is rapidly growing.

"We are always worried about people who disguise themselves," Canadian Forces Col. Stephane Lafaut says. "The use of Canadian women at police stations will help us. What we are hoping to have one day are female Afghan police officers (at the stations)."

There are now three Canadian women working as mentors to Afghan police officers at stations in Kandahar's Zhari district. One female soldier is working in a similar capacity with the Afghan National Army, said Lafaut, commanding officer of the Canadian mentoring team that's working with Afghan police and soldiers in Kandahar.

It's a dramatic change in attitude since November, when Quebec-native Jennifer Lettre, 26, became the first Canadian military police officer assigned to mentor Afghan forces. She works at a police substation in Pashmul, a cluster of mud-walled compounds in the Zhari district.

In September, Afghan resistance to the idea of a woman mentoring a male officer was so great, Lettre and two other females had to be separated from the men in their platoon. While the men were sent to mentor the fledgling Afghan police force - long plagued by underfunding, poor training, and corruption - the women were sent to work with prisoners at a detention centre.

"What we tried to do was to respect the Afghan culture," Lafaut said, "and, unfortunately, within the Afghan culture the women aren't respected like men.

"When we arrived here, people from the Afghan National Army told me that we prefer not to have women working with us. So within the Afghan army, we had no women involved in the mentoring. We applied the same policy for the Afghan police.

"It's something that is based on the Afghan culture. It's not something that puts in doubts the capabilities of the women."

Lettre quickly grew irritated. As both a reservist and a woman in a predominately male profession, Lettre said she's used to having to prove her abilities to soldiers and other military police.

But the frustration of not being able to work with the guys she'd trained with for a year, combined with the annoyance of not being able to fulfil many of her tasks at the detention centre - like accompanying men to the showers and bathrooms - made Lettre yearn to go home to Granby, a suburb on Montreal's south shore.

"I couldn't work at the police station because I'm a woman and I couldn't really work with prisoners because I'm a woman," she recalled. "I just wanted to follow my platoon."

At the same time, Lettre's platoon wanted her back.

"We all know that she is capable," said her friend, military police Cpl. Eric Dagenais. "I would trust my life in her hands just as I'd trust my life in the hands of any of the guys."

Dagenais, 30, and other members fought to bring her to their police station, where they wanted a female to search women at their checkpoints. In September, a Canadian soldier - and one of Dagenais's closest friends - was shot in the head during a patrol with Afghan police, after being ambushed by two insurgents who were hiding assault rifles under their burkas. The friend survived.

When Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche, commander of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, came to visit his police station, Dagenais told him they wanted a female officer to search women at checkpoints.

"We were pushing big time," Dagenais recalled. "(Lettre) was really insulted. I can understand it. You train a year with the same guys. You hang out with the same guys. You have a beer after work with the same guys. Then suddenly you can't join them because you're a woman. I think anyone would be insulted."

His police station commander, Mohammad Khan Safai, also recognized the need for a female officer to search women. It was at the insistence of the Afghan police, that the Canadians agreed to assign women as mentors.

"Because it was their choice, we said OK, we'll put women at certain police stations," Lafaut said.

Safai, 28, said he's been happy with Lettre, who the Afghans call "Jean." She plays soccer, conducts checkpoints, and walks side-by-side on patrols with his Afghan policemen.

"She does her job very well," Safai said.

A member of the Hazara ethnic minority from the central province of Daikondi, Safai is more liberal-minded than most Kandahar police officers.

As long as they'd have separate living quarters and the work isn't too dangerous, Khan said he'd have no problem if his two daughters became police officers.

"If there is not too much danger, it's not a problem," he said.

With her cropped blond hair hidden by a helmet and pale blue eyes covered by ballistic eyewear, Lettre isn't overtly feminine on patrol. Yet for Afghans unaccustomed to seeing female soldiers - and for women unaccustomed to being searched - Lettre remains an unusual sight on the road.

"At checkpoints it surprises them," she said. "They're not used to seeing a woman."
alampert@thegazette.canwest.com
Montreal Gazette
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Japan Approves Bill on Afghan War Mission
By NORIMITSU ONISHI The New York Times  January 12, 2008
TOKYO — The Japanese government rammed through a special law Friday authorizing its navy to resume a refueling mission in the Indian Ocean as part of the American-led war in Afghanistan.

In an extremely rare parliamentary move, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s governing Liberal Democratic Party used its two-thirds majority in the Japanese Parliament’s lower house to override a rejection of the law by the opposition-controlled upper house. The last time a government did this was in 1951.

The refueling mission, which was suspended in November after the opposition Democratic Party gained power in the upper house last summer, is now expected to resume by the end of the month.

“That our country can participate again in the ‘war against terror’ truly has great significance,” Mr. Fukuda said in a statement.

A Japanese refueling vessel and a destroyer had operated in the Indian Ocean since 2001, supplying 500 million liters, or 132 million gallons, of fuel to warships from the United States, Britain, Pakistan and other countries. Though the mission was not considered militarily significant, it carried political significance for a country whose military activities are severely curtailed by its pacifist Constitution.

The Democratic opposition said it would endorse only missions led by the United Nations and said that the Liberal Democrats were slavishly following the United States.

The government had been reluctant to use its two-thirds majority in the lower house to pass a law rejected by the upper house, and that reluctance had contributed to the downfall of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in September.

In forcing through the legislation, Mr. Fukuda, who took over the leadership from Mr. Abe, risked a backlash from a public which has been divided over the mission. The public has grown uneasy over Japan’s increasingly close military ties to the United States and remains much more concerned about the economy and other bread-and-butter issues.

Thomas Schieffer, the United States ambassador to Japan, immediately issued a statement welcoming the law.

Mr. Fukuda’s approval ratings have fallen into the 30’s; 30 percent has traditionally been considered a dangerous threshold in Japanese politics. This is because he has been unable to pass any other legislation in Parliament since taking over as prime minister in September.

His popularity took a hit when he downplayed bookkeeping problems in the national pension system. This was the same issue that was the biggest factor behind his party’s huge loss under Mr. Abe in the upper house last summer.

The opposition Democratic Party, whose approval ratings have surpassed the governing party’s in recent polls, is expected to press with renewed vigor for a dissolution of the lower house of Parliament and a general election.

The opposition has argued that Mr. Fukuda’s party lacks a popular mandate because the last general election was held in 2005 and revolved around the single issue of postal privatization; it was in that election that Mr. Fukuda’s party gained its two-thirds majority in the lower house.

Yukio Hatoyama, the opposition party’s secretary general, said that his party enjoyed a greater popular mandate because it had won in the upper house election last summer.

“The bill that was rejected by the upper house, based on the people’s will, should have been abandoned,” Mr. Hatoyama said, condemning the governing party’s override.

Mr. Fukuda does not have to call a general election until the fall of 2009. But with the impasse in Parliament, he will likely be forced to do so and seek a popular mandate later this year.
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Afghan, coalition forces discover munitions cache hidden in school 
Fri, 11 Jan 2008 14:53:03 GMT  EARTHtimes.org
Kabul - Afghan and US-led coalition forces discovered a munitions cache hidden in a boy's school in southern Afghanistan after a day-long battle with Taliban insurgents, the military said on Friday. A combined forces patrol came under fire by a group of Taliban militants, who were using small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenade from a hillside, in Deh Rawood district of southern Uruzgan province on Thursday, US military said in a statement.

"Coalition aircraft dropped precision-guided munitions on the fighting positions eliminating the threat," the statement said, adding, however, the joint ground forces came again under fire from reinforcements in a nearby village.

In the following search of the area, the combined forces discovered munitions hidden in the school, it said, adding, "The cache consisted of 15 boxes of automatic machine-gun ammunition and 20 rocket-propelled grenades."

"Hiding weapons in a school is a clear indication the insurgents have no concern for the citizens of Afghanistan," Major Chris Belcher, a coalition spokesman was quoted in the statement as saying.

The statement did not say if there were casualties among the joint forces or on the side of Taliban militants.
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Germany-Afghan istan-ISAF/WRD ISAF used Afghan children to detect land-mines: ex-German soldier
Berlin, Jan 10, IRNA
Soldiers of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have repeatedly used Afghan children to detect land-mines in war-ravaged country, said a former German ISAF officer in Berlin on Thursday.

Unveiling his new book titled 'Final Station', Achim Wohlgetan pointed out that children were misused by ISAF forces to find land- mines in the Kabul region in 2002.

ISAF soldiers threw apples on an area and then waited to see what would happen. If the children were to run to pick up the apples, and there was no explosion, the area was declared safe, according to Wohlgetan.

A German Defense Ministry spokesperson voiced serious questions over some of the claims which Wohlgetan made in his book.

He alleged that German soldiers had operated outside the mandated area of ISAF in Afghanistan in 2002.

Speaking at a routine government press briefing in Berlin on Wednesday, Christian Dienst expressed strong doubts over claims made by Wohlgetan who said that several troops had knowingly violated the ISAF zone.

The 41-year-old ex-German soldier quit military service in 2006 as a lower ranking officer.

According to Dienst, Wohlgetan lacked an overview of all aspects of the security structure.

Some 3,500 German troops are deployed in mainly northern Afghanistan.

Germany has faced intense pressure in recent months from its Nato allies, notably the US, Britain and Canada, to widen its military presence into southern Afghanistan where NATO troops are battling a revitalized Taliban insurgency.

A spate of kidnappings of German nationals in Afghanistan has also negatively influenced public opinion about the western military campaign in the war-ravaged country.

According to the latest opinion polls, most Germans oppose the western war in Afghanistan.
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Up to 61 killed by heavy snow in Afghanistan
11/ 01/ 2008
KABUL, January 11 (RIA Novosti) - Heavy snow has claimed up to 61 lives in Afghanistan covering some regions of the country with over two meters of snow, national TV channels said on Friday.

Five days of incessant snow have cut off thousands of people living in isolated communities. People have also been killed in the mountainous country in avalanches and road accidents.

Late on Tuesday the country health officials called on health workers to remain on a state of alert, with 30,000 already sent to various Afghan provinces.

On Thursday, snow-hit Afghanistan requested that Iran cease deporting Afghan nationals during winter claiming it could lead to a humanitarian disaster since many of the migrants could end up living outside.

Northern Iran has also been hit by cold and snowy weather combined with gas supply shortages from neighboring Turkmenistan, which has cut exports to the Islamic Republic citing technical problems.

The country authorities said several people have died there in weather-related accidents.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is being hit with subzero temperatures and snow storms with freezing winds of up to 50 km/h (30mp/h). Some regions have been experiencing problems with water supplies as pipes have frozen, and livestock has died from the cold.
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Hollywood Goes to Afghanistan: Reviews of “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “The Kite Runner”
By Judith Mahoney Pasternak The Indypendent, NY
Charlie Wilson’s War
Directed by Mike Nichols
Universal Pictures, Participant
Production, 2007

The Kite Runner
Directed by Marc Forster
Dreamworks, Participant Productions, 2007
Not since Slim Pickens’ death-defying ride on an atom bomb in Dr. Strangelove has anyone had as much fun with weapons on-screen as Tom Hanks’ based-on-reality character does in “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

They called him Good-Time Charlie, and they were right. Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Texas) liked almost everyone and everything, especially whiskey, women and a good fight. A liberal Democrat from Texas, he arrived in the House in 1973. At that time “liberal” was still the opposite of “radical,” not a synonym for it, and Wilson favored Medicaid, the Equal Rights Amendment, women’s right to choose abortion and U.S.  interventionism — big time.

He didn’t like communism, though. Having lost Nicaragua’s Somoza dictatorship to Marxist Sandinista revolutionaries in 1979, he grabbed the chance to redeem himself when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.  By the time he had finished masterminding the aid to the mujahadin resistance that was the largest U.S. covert operation to that point, many saw him as the one-man army responsible for the coup de grace to the moribund Soviet empire.

Now Mike Nichols, Hollywood’s last great satirist, has put Wilson’s story into a smoothly ambiguous, star-studded movie that’s almost a shoo-in for a Best Picture Oscar. The script, based on the book by Richard Krile, was written by Aaron Sorkin, author of “A Few Good Men” and creator of The West Wing. The film contains bravura performances by three Academy Award winners:

Philip Seymour Hoffman as the loosecannon CIA agent Gust Avrakotas who helps Wilson “kill some Russians” (to the tune, during the slaughter, of “And he shall purify” from Handel’s Messiah); Julia Roberts playing against type as Joanne Herring, the Texas conservative who seduces Wilson into taking on Afghanistan; and the well-loved Tom Hanks as Good-Time Charlie himself.  Mike Nichols, however, is no Stanley Kubrick, and Aaron Sorkin sometimes overworks the crowd-pleasing. Here he has it both ways — U.S. interventionism is megalomaniacal and maybe even murderous, but whoopee! We won the Cold War!

“Charlie Wilson’s War” isn’t satire, just a rollicking tale of a guy enjoying every minute of a noble fight. Whatever it says about U.S. foreign policy, it fudges or rescinds in the next sentence. A note at the end quotes Wilson’s declaration that we “fucked up the end-game” in Afghanistan, meaning that the failure to help rebuild the country led to the rise of the Taliban.

But that’s not really what happened, is it?  Charlie, Mike, Aaron — can’t any of you say “blowback”? It’s what happens when you arm one set of people you don’t much like to fight people you like even less: the guys you arm come back and bite you in the ass. Big time.  Usually they bite their own people, too. The film “The Kite Runner” is about the world Charlie Wilson’s war left behind, although both the movie and the novel on which the film is based are essentially silent about the covert war against the Soviet Union and the subsequent U.S. attack on Afghanistan in 2001.

The novel, by Khaled Hosseini, was the United States’ number three best-seller in 2005. An epic tale of war, violence — including public execution and homosexual pedophilic rape (twice!) — betrayal and redemption, it featured not one but two sets of villains we love to hate, the Soviet Union and the Taliban.

“The Kite Runner” is the story of Amir, a motherless youth in 1970s Kabul, who loves his macho father, his best friend Hassan and kite contests in which kite strings coated in ground glass are used to cut opponents’ kite strings. The winner is the one with the last one flying, who gets to collect the cut kites.  Hassan is the best finder of those kites — the best kite-runner — in Kabul.

But Amir loses his friend through a shameful act of cowardice and betrayal, then loses his home when the Soviet invasion turns the family into refugees. Thirty years later, he has the chance — if he can find the courage to return to Kabul and rescue Hassan’s young son from a vicious Taliban leader who is keeping the child as a sexual plaything.  Shot in western China, The Kite Runner is gorgeous to look at and a rich crash course on Afghan culture, and Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada is touching and tender as the heroworshiping child Hassan. (He has received such harsh criticism for playing the victim of a homosexual rape that he has allegedly had to leave Afghanistan.) The novel’s complex plot, however, has been compressed to fit the movie, and with much nuance lost, many passages are unconvincing. Especially flat are the crucial failure of courage of young Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and the pure evil of the villainous Assef (Elham Ehsas/ Abdul Salam Yusoufzai).

Afghanistan isn’t Iraq. The American people may feel bad about Iraq, but we think we were the good guys in Afghanistan. We also still suspect that Arabs and Muslims (they’re the same, aren’t they?) are our enemies.  And like Aaron Sorkin, Hollywood and the public also like to have it both ways. We condemn the Iraq war while condoning and even celebrating our conduct in Afghanistan playing to widespread unease about Iraq without challenging the basic premises of Arab/Muslim evil and, most of all, our country’s fundamental right to rule. The absence of that challenge may be precisely what made The Kite Runner novel such a mega-hit; the mixed message may well carry Charlie Wilson’s War to multiple Academy Awards. — Judith Mahoney Pasternak

Illustration by Dana Vindigni
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Taliban Commander Emerges As Pakistan's 'Biggest Problem'
Radical Accused in Bhutto's Death Has Quickly Gathered Power
By Imtiaz Ali and Craig Whitlock Washington Post Thursday, January 10, 2008; A17
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan. 9 -- Even as his reputation has grown more menacing and his militia more powerful, the Taliban commander accused of ordering the death of Benazir Bhutto has shrouded himself in mystery.

When Baitullah Mehsud attended a February 2005 signing ceremony for an ill-fated cease-fire with the Pakistani government, he bundled his face and upper body in a black cloth before appearing in public to scrawl his signature. Like the man to whom he has sworn allegiance, Afghan Taliban leader Mohammad Omar, Mehsud has obsessively avoided cameras and maintained an ascetic lifestyle.

Since then, Mehsud has emerged as perhaps the greatest military threat to the Pakistani government. Last August, just weeks after the cease-fire ended in recriminations, his fighters from South Waziristan stunned the country by capturing a group of more than 200 soldiers who were patrolling the lawless tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. Three were executed; the rest were freed in a prisoner swap.

In recent days, Pakistani officials have blamed the Taliban commander for the death of Bhutto, the former prime minister who was killed Dec. 27 while campaigning to return to power. Investigations are ongoing, and it remains to be seen whether Mehsud was directly responsible.

What is clear, however, is that Pakistan's past efforts to control or neutralize Mehsud have repeatedly backfired, leaving him stronger than ever and adding to the general instability that is plaguing the country, Pakistani officials and analysts said in interviews.

"Baitullah Mehsud is the biggest problem of today's Pakistan, and he is the main factor behind the failure of the government's current policies in the tribal region," a senior government official said on condition of anonymity in Peshawar, a frontier city near the Afghan border. "Kidnap after kidnap of the security forces by his militants has become a routine matter now and a big embarrassment for the government."

Mehsud, 34, is also accused by Afghan and U.S. officials of organizing suicide attacks in Afghanistan and helping to supply Taliban fighters there. But the Pakistani military, distracted by political problems, has been reluctant to mount a direct assault on his refuge in South Waziristan, a rugged tribal area that has successfully resisted outside control for centuries.

"There's really no choice for the government now," said Muhammed Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies in Islamabad. "They'll have to go in and do a military operation to weaken him. He's become too strong. They need to do something to stop the Taliban and the Talibanization of that region."

Analysts and officials said there are other Taliban commanders who control more territory or bigger forces than Mehsud. But they said his political influence within the notoriously fractious movement has grown rapidly and is probably unparalleled on the Pakistani side of the border.

Last month, for instance, Mehsud was chosen to serve as the head of a 40-member shura, or consultative council, that was formed to coordinate various Taliban factions in Pakistan.

Mehsud is also a favorite commander of Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, including Omar, the one-eyed cleric who has led the movement for a decade, and Jalaluddin Haqqani, a grizzled insurgent leader who has organized attacks against Soviet, U.S. and NATO troops there since the 1980s.

"There are a couple of other local Taliban commanders who have been influential in their own localities, but Baitullah has overshadowed them all lately and now his name carries the day when it comes to militancy in Pakistan," said Ashraf Ali, a researcher at Peshawar University and specialist on the Taliban.

Mehsud was an unknown figure outside the movement until late 2004, when he rose in the ranks after the death of another Pakistani Taliban commander, Nek Mohammed, who was killed in a U.S. cross-border airstrike in South Waziristan.

In the internal power struggle that followed, Mehsud at first was overshadowed by a fellow clansman, Abdullah Mehsud, a former inmate at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who was released in 2004 and returned to Pakistan only to take up arms again.

A one-legged daredevil with a taste for publicity, Abdullah Mehsud ordered the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers in South Waziristan in 2004 and was soon named one of Pakistan's most wanted men. But he fell out of favor with Omar and other Taliban elders, who saw him as a loose cannon and decided to replace him, analysts said.

Abdullah Mehsud was killed in a raid by Pakistani security forces in July.

Pakistani leaders thought they had successfully brought Baitullah Mehsud under their control when they persuaded him and several other militant leaders from South Waziristan to sign the cease-fire in February 2005.

Under the deal, the Pakistani army withdrew its forces from the area in exchange for a pledge by the militants to stop launching attacks against U.S., Afghan and coalition forces across the border, as well as a promise to refuse shelter to al-Qaeda members and other foreign fighters.

At the time, there were widespread reports that the Pakistani government gave bags of cash to Mehsud and other tribal leaders as a sweetener. Officials have denied it.

Regardless, Mehsud and his faction quickly broke their promises to keep the peace and allowed al-Qaeda leaders to resettle in the area, U.S. officials said. After pressure from U.S. and Afghan officials, Pakistani leaders admitted the peace accord had failed. The cease-fire collapsed last summer, along with a similar deal in North Waziristan.

Analysts said that the nonaggression pact enabled Mehsud to consolidate his power and that his forces are now stronger and better financed than before. They also said he has expanded his sphere of influence from South Waziristan to other tribal areas along the border.

"A bigger portion of South Waziristan now seems like a state within the state, and Baitullah Mehsud is running this like a head of government," said Silab Mehsud, a tribal journalist from the Mehsud clan and the author of a book on the history and culture of the region. "Now he's an all-powerful man whose writ and command is visible across the tribal belt."

Whitlock reported from Berlin.
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Bombers 'may come from Pakistan'
By Abdullah Hai Kakar - BBC Urdu service, Peshawar Wednesday, 9 January 2008
Suicide bombers targeting Afghanistan may be recruited from Pakistan, a Pakistani government minister has said.

Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz told the BBC Urdu Service that the possibility of Pakistani suicide bombers crossing over the border "cannot be discounted".

The statement is a rare admission by the government that its citizens may be involved in attacks in Afghanistan.

A Taleban spokesman told the BBC that about 140 such bombers had struck in Afghanistan over the past two years. Afghan officials often allege that the Taleban in Afghanistan recruits suicide bombers mainly from Pakistan.

Mr Nawaz said that the reason many suicide bombers originated from Pakistan was because mujahideen training camps were located in the country's tribal areas during the war against the Soviet occupation of the country from 1979.

He said that was especially the case in North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

A Taleban spokesman told the BBC that many Pakistani suicide bombers were recruited from NWFP or Pakistan's tribal regions to hit targets in Afghanistan.

The spokesman also said that at least 40 came from the Pakistani province of Punjab. "All of them came from jihadi organisations," he told the BBC.

Mr Nawaz disputed the Taleban claim that 140 Pakistani nationals had been involved in such attacks over the last 24 months. "The actual figure is much lower," he said.

A UN report released in September said that at least half of Afghanistan's suicide bombers were of foreign origin. The report claimed that 80% of the suicide bombings in Afghanistan were planned from Pakistan.

One alleged Pakistani would-be suicide bomber was pardoned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai after he was captured.

"The government is trying to eliminate the root causes of such acts," Mr Nawaz said. "We are trying to locate their hideouts... where such activities are planned. "Whenever we get information about them, we crack down on them and arrest them."

Last year there was a large rise in suicide bombings, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Pakistan, over 50 such attacks claimed nearly 3,000 lives.
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Pakistan tribe says will take on al Qaeda fighters
WANA, Pakistan, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Members of a Pakistani ethnic Pashtun tribe vowed on Thursday to raise a militia aimed at forcing al Qaeda-linked foreign militants from their lands on the Afghan border.

For several year Pakistani security forces have been trying with little success to rid the border tribal belt of foreign militants, who are blamed for raids on foreign troops in Afghanistan and for attacks inside Pakistan.

Thursday's decision by men from the Wazir tribe came four days after gunmen, believed to be Uzbek militants, attacked two offices of a government-sponsored peace movement in South Waziristan and killed eight members of the tribe.

"A lashkar of 600 people will be organised tomorrow," tribal elder Meetha Khan told a gathering in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan. A lashkar is a militia force.

Wazir tribesmen sheltering the foreigners must now give them up, he said.
"The lashkar will give two options to those sheltering the foreigners, either to stop sheltering them and return to their tribe, or face the eviction of their families from the area," Khan said.

Thousands of foreign militants, including Arabs, Chechens and Uzbeks, fled to Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal lands after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

The militants were given refuge by the Pashtun tribes who live on both sides of the porous border.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is also believed to be hiding somewhere along the 2,500-km (1,600-mile) frontier.

But relations between some of the tribesmen and their foreign guests began to break down last year when tribesmen, with the backing of the Pakistani military, turned against foreign militants after they had tried to kill a tribal elder.

About 300 foreign militants and up to 40 Pakistani tribal fighters were killed in days of clashes that followed.

U.S. security officials say al Qaeda militants have been able to regroup in sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal lands.

Taliban insurgents, most of them ethnic Pashtuns, are also able to plot their war against foreign forces in Afghanistan from the Pakistani side of the border, U.S. military officials say.

The Pakistani government has blamed a Pakistani militant leader from the Mehsud Pashtun tribe, based in South Waziristan, for a recent wave of suicide attacks, many on security forces.

The government said the militant, Baitullah Mehsud, was also responsible for assassinating opposition leader Benazir Bhutto on Dec. 27.

The Wazir militia was expected to operate only in the Wazir tribal area, and would thus have little or no impact on Mehsud and the al Qaeda allies in his area.

The fiercely independent, conservative Pashtun tribes have never been brought under the authority of any government, including British colonial rulers. (Writing by Zeeshan Haider; editing by Robert Birsel and Roger Crabb)
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Orakzai's removal a prelude to operations in tribal areas
By: Aamir Khan
ISLAMABAD, Jan 8 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Some political analysts term the removal of NWFP governor Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai as a prelude to the military operations in tribal areas.

Orakzai, the former governor, a resident of Orakzai Agency is a retired general and has also remained Peshawar corps commander.

He was the first tribal to be appointed as governor. He was replaced by Awais Ahmad Ghani, former governor of Baluchistan after tendering resignation three days back.

Though Orakzai termed personal engagements as the motive behind his resignation but a number of political experts believe the real cause might be the operations in Waziristan and Swat and fear that the military operations in tribal areas might be intensified after the resignation.

Rahimullah Yousafzai, a senior journalist told Pajhwok Afghan News Orakzai wanted to resolve the issue in Waziristan through negotiations and was against using military might against the tribal people.

"Rumors of his resignation were in circulation sine last three months and Islamabad no longer wanted to implement the ideas and plans of Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai in the tribal areas", Yousafzai added.

Yousafzai supported the plans of Orakzai for the tribal people and claimed it was due to his efforts that a peace agreement was singed with local Taliban.

Another journalist and political analyst in Islamabad Hanif Shah Marwat told this news agency Orakzai was himself a tribal and did not want to harm the tribal person that was why he was removed while his successor Awais Ahmad Ghani was likely to follow the policies of the centre blindly.

Another analyst in Islamabad Shah Jehan Wagarpal also was of the view that Orakzai was under pressure due to his policies.

"Besides Pakistani officials a number of foreigners also blamed Orakzai for adopting a soft policy against the militants", Wagarpal added.

It is pertinent to mention here that Pakistani Taliban have announced a political party under the leadership of Baitullah Mahsud and it has warned Pakistan government if the operation in Waziristan and Swat were not stopped within a week they would extend their guerilla activities to the main cities of the country.

That deadline expired the other day and Taliban attacked the offices for truce in Waziristan and military centers in Swat inflicting heavy casualties.
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