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January 14, 2008 

6 killed in attack on luxury Kabul hotel
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Militants with suicide vests, grenades and AK-47 rifles attacked Kabul's most popular luxury hotel Monday evening, killing at least six people in a coordinated assault rarely seen in the Afghan capital

Four dead in attack on luxury Afghan hotel: interior ministry
by Waheedullah Massoud
KABUL (AFP) - Gunmen launched a brazen attack on the main luxury hotel in Kabul late Monday, killing four people and wounding six as the Norwegian foreign minister was inside, officials said.

TIMELINE - Attacks in the Afghan capital
(Reuters) - A suicide bomb attack on a luxury hotel in the Afghan capital Kabul killed at least two guards on Monday, a police official said.

Gates recommends additional troops for Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates has recommended that additional troops be sent to Afghanistan to augment NATO forces, but no final decision has been made on the

Afghan "Peace Convoy" tries to coax Taliban rebels
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - In a new effort to end the growing Taliban insurgency, a council of Afghan political and tribal leaders hopes to hold talks with elements of the Islamic group aimed at including them in the government.

US envoy meets former Taliban commander
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Mon Jan 14, 5:17 AM ET
MUSA QALA, Afghanistan - The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan flew to a town previously held by the Taliban in the heart of the world's largest poppy-growing region and told the ex-militant commander now in charge

US Ambassador Urges Afghan Authorities to Stop Poppy Cultivation
By Ayaz Gul Islamabad 14 January 2008 Voice of America
The United States ambassador to Kabul says that growing opium poppies instead of food is not only encouraging insurgent activity, but has also caused massive food shortages in Afghanistan. From Islamabad, Ayaz Gul reports.

3 Taliban killed in clash with Afghan police
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-14 16:54:25
KABUL, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- Three Taliban insurgents have been killed in a clash with policemen in Nesh district of Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan, the police said Monday.

Video Chats for Detainees in Afghanistan
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS January 14, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A new video-teleconferencing system is allowing prisoners at a major U.S. military base in Afghanistan to speak with their relatives -- the first time some detainees have talked to anyone outside

Landmine wounds four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan
Sun Jan 13, 8:06 PM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - Four Canadian soldiers were wounded Sunday when a landmine exploded during a mine removal operation on a road near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, Canadian media reported, citing military officials.

Netherlands starts probe into friendly fire deaths in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-14 22:06:14
BRUSSELS, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- The Dutch Public Prosecution Service has ordered an investigation by the Dutch Royal Military Police into Saturday's friendly fire incident in Afghanistan in which two Dutch soldiers were killed

Two Dutch soldiers killed in Afghanistan by own fire
Sun Jan 13, 5:31 PM ET
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch troops forming part of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan probably killed two of their own soldiers while fighting Taliban insurgents, the Dutch Defence Ministry said on Sunday.

US attacks UK plan to arm Afghan militias
By Jerome Starkey in Kabul The Independent (UK)  14 January 2008
The US general in charge of training the Afghan police has criticised British-backed plans to arm local militias in an attempt to defeat the Taliban. The remarks by Maj-Gen Robert Cone, the second most senior US soldier in Afghanistan

Freezing weather kills over 100 in Afghanistan
KABUL, January 14 (RIA Novosti) - Over 100 people have died due to freezing weather in various provinces of Afghanistan in the past few days, the country's Ariana TV channel reported on Monday.

AFGHANISTAN: Rising food prices push two million into food-insecurity – WFP
14 Jan 2008 13:16:47 GMT
KABUL, 14 January 2008 (IRIN) - Soaring staple food prices have pushed 1.3 million previously food-secure people in rural Afghanistan into high risk food-insecurity, according to the latest assessment by the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

Power cuts still leave Kabul in the dark
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Sun Jan 13, 2:05 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Gul Hussein was standing under a pale street lamp in a poor section of east Kabul when the entire neighborhood suddenly went black.

For Afghan police, staying alive is the first priority
COLIN FREEZE From Monday's Globe and Mail January 14, 2008 at 4:40 AM EST
ZHARI, AFGHANISTAN — When the sun rose over Kandahar yesterday, 10 Afghan police officers were found dead in their compound, killed in the middle of the night.

Big Weddings Bring Afghans Joy, and Debt
By KIRK SEMPLE The New York Times January 14, 2008 Kabul Journal
KABUL, Afghanistan — On the afternoon before his wedding day this fall, Hamid was sitting in an empty teahouse worrying a glass of green tea between his fingers, his brow furrowed in concern.

Afghans, Report for Duty
By RONALD E. NEUMANN January 14, 2008 The New York Times Op-Ed Contributor
THE security situation in Afghanistan is bad at the moment, as NATO-led forces face a growing Taliban resurgence. There are 40,000 foreign troops there now (including 14,000 from the United States), but that is not enough to maintain

'Chic' Afghan president's robe to be auctioned in Washington
KABUL, January 14 (RIA Novosti) - A robe belonging to the current Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, will be sold at a charity auction in Washington, D.C. on January 24, the Afghan news agency Pajhwok said on Monday.

Soldier's death in Afghanistan blamed on helicopter fault
Richard Norton-Taylor Monday January 14, 2008 The Guardian
A British soldier bled to death in Afghanistan because of faulty equipment, compounded by incompetence, according to a military inquiry into the incident.

ANP, Chaghcharan PRT rescue locals from snow
Source: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 13 Jan 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan (Jan. 13) – The Chaghcharan Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and Afghanistan National Police participated in a rescue operation in Ghowr Province recently.

New UNAMA chief yet to be named
By Lalit K Jha - 12/01/2008 - 12:44
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 12 (Pajhwok Afghan News): UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has not yet taken any decision on the appointment of his new envoy to Afghanistan, a post lying vacant for more than 10 days.

Afghan counter-narcotics officers in Cairo
By Pajhwok Correspondents - 12/01/2008 - 10:41
KABUL, Jan 12 (Pajhwok Afghan News):  Twenty-five senior Afghan police officers in the field of counter-narcotics Friday left Kabul for Egypt under an exchange programme.

United Club triumph in Martyrs Cup opener
By Ahmad Shah Sabir - 12/01/2008 - 12:09
ZARANJ, Jan 12 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The United Club edged past their rivals in the opener of a soccer tournament played in Zaranj, the capital of the Nimroz province.

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6 killed in attack on luxury Kabul hotel
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Militants with suicide vests, grenades and AK-47 rifles attacked Kabul's most popular luxury hotel Monday evening, killing at least six people in a coordinated assault rarely seen in the Afghan capital, witnesses and a Taliban spokesman said.

It appeared to be the first direct attack on a hotel in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The assailants also appeared to concentrate on the hotel's gym and spa, where foreigners relax and work out.

The 6:12 p.m. assault came on a night the Norwegian embassy was holding a meeting at the Serena Hotel. An American inside said she saw a body she believed to be dead and pools of blood in the lobby.

The militants killed six people and wounded six, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary. One of the attackers was shot to death and the Taliban spokesman said a second died in the suicide explosion.

More than 30 U.S. soldiers in a half dozen Humvees rushed to the hotel as part of a quick reaction force. In addition, security personnel from the U.S. Embassy ran through the hotel looking for American citizens caught in the attack.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told The Associated Press that four militants with suicide vests attacked the hotel — one bomber who detonated his explosives and three militants who threw grenades and fired guns and then fled. The claim could not be verified but came very soon after the attack.

Suzanne Griffin, an American who works with the aid agency Save the Children, said she was in the gym's locker room when the attack started.

"Thank God I didn't get into the shower because then we heard gunfire, a lot of it. It was very close, close enough that plaster came off the ceiling," said Griffin, her voice shaking. "We all just sat on the floor and got as far as we could from any glass and huddled on the floor. We turned our phones on silent."

Griffin, 62, of Seattle said hotel staff evacuated the women to another part of the hotel. "We had to step over a woman's dead body. She was one of the gym people," she said.

She contacted the U.S. Embassy, which told her to not open the door unless she heard an American voice. U.S. soldiers evacuated her.

"There was blood on the floor all the way to the kitchen. There was a lot of blood in the lobby. There were empty shell casings outside," she said.

Stian L. Solum, a photographer from the Norwegian photo agency Scanpix, said a Norwegian journalist from the Oslo newspaper Dagbladet and a Norwegian diplomatic staff member were wounded in the attack. He said Norway's Foreign Minster Jonas Gahr Stoere, currently visiting Kabul, was not injured and was safe in the hotel basement.

"There were two or three bombs, and there was complete chaos," Solum said on the state radio network NRK. "When I started to walk out (of the elevator) a bomb went off, a little way from me. There were shots fired by what I think was an ANA (Afghan National Army) soldier."

The 177-room Serena is a newly built hotel frequently used by foreign embassies for meetings, parties and dinners. The nicest hotel in the city, Westerners often stay or eat dinner there. Located in downtown Kabul, it is near the presidential palace though separated by fences, blast walls and checkpoints. It is also near several government ministries and a district police station.

On its Web site, the hotel claims it is an "oasis of luxury in a war-ravaged city."

Aftenposten journalist Tor Arne Andreassen told the Oslo paper's Internet edition that he heard a grenade explode.

"Out the window I could see shots being fired at the guardpost by the gate," Andreassen said. He said he saw a female hotel employee so badly wounded that he did not believe she could have survived.

"The plaster flew around our room and the whole building shook," Andreassen said.

A second American who was exercising in the hotel's gym said she heard gunfire after the explosion, and saw a body she believed to be dead and pools of blood in the lobby area, and bullet marks in the gym area. She said three foreigners had been wounded. She asked not to be identified for her safety.

Vanessa Valentino, an American working in the Afghan capital, was at a meeting at the central bank around the corner when she heard a series of explosions and gunfire.

Valentino described an explosion faraway, then gunfire, another distant explosion followed by a large explosion very close — all within a couple of minutes.

"I think it shook the building," Valentino said. "We're just not leaving the building, and we can't figure out what's happened, so we decided to stay inside."

In 2003, a rocket exploded near the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, knocking some guests from their restaurant chairs and shattering windows across the lobby and in many bedrooms. No injuries were reported.
___

Associated Press writers Alisa Tang, Amir Shah and Jason Straziuso contributed to this report.
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Four dead in attack on luxury Afghan hotel: interior ministry
by Waheedullah Massoud
KABUL (AFP) - Gunmen launched a brazen attack on the main luxury hotel in Kabul late Monday, killing four people and wounding six as the Norwegian foreign minister was inside, officials said.

The hardline Taliban movement said its men, including a suicide bomber, carried out the attack on the Kabul Serena, a five-star hotel frequented by foreigners, several of whom live there.

"First there was a suicide attack at the entrance of the hotel followed by a second explosion... Then there was gun fire. Four people have been killed and six are wounded," interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told AFP.

He was not able to say if the second blast was also a suicide bombing, or who had been killed, except that they were not high profile.

A Western official said one of the dead was an Afghan hostess who had been shot.

A hotel employee confirmed to AFP Norwegian media reports that Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere was in the hotel at the time of the attack but was safe and sheltering with several other people in the basement.

"Everybody (in the basement) is safe and sound," he said.

The Norwegian embassy in Kabul referred media queries to Oslo.

A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, Captain Mario Renna, said first reports were that three people had attacked the hotel.

"One has been killed by guards of the hotel but two others managed to get inside and they managed to kill one guard and wound two others, one of them seriously."

He had no details on the fate of the other two attackers.

Foreign soldiers had searched every room to look for the remaining men, the Western official told AFP.

Another ISAF spokesman, Major Charles Anthony, said two people wounded in the attack had been evacuated to one of the force's medical facilities but their condition was unknown.

Another Western security official said the Norwegian minister had been due to have a dinner meeting in the hotel Monday evening with donors and non-government organisations.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahed, said the insurgent group was responsible.

"Four members of the Taliban, one of them wearing a suicide vest and all armed with Kalashnikovs (rifles), entered the Serena hotel and opened fire on foreigners," Mujahed told AFP.

"One of them exploded himself," he said, adding the others were in a "safe place."

The main road running outside the five-star establishment was sealed off and police and international military vehicles arrived at the scene, an AFP reporter said.

Two ambulances were allowed through the hotel gate but reporters were kept away.

The Serena, opened in November 2005, is the main venue for top-level functions of the government, foreign embassies and businesses in the capital.

It is heavily barricaded and reinforced because of the security threats, with a Taliban-led insurgency at its peak.

An official in the office of President Hamid Karzai said the whole area, which includes several government offices, had been sealed off and was under high alert.

The Taliban were in government between 1996 and 2001, when they were removed in a US-led invasion launched weeks after the 9/11 attacks by Al-Qaeda, which was sheltered by the Taliban regime.

The hardliners launched an insurgency which was focussed in areas bordering Pakistan but has crept across the country, with several major attacks in the heart of the capital last year.

The violence is hindering attempts by Afghanistan and its host of international partners to develop the war-shattered country and impose order.
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TIMELINE - Attacks in the Afghan capital
(Reuters) - A suicide bomb attack on a luxury hotel in the Afghan capital Kabul killed at least two guards on Monday, a police official said.

In the past year, the hardline Islamist Taliban has killed at least 200 civilians in more than 140 suicide attacks throughout the country in a campaign to oust the pro-Western Afghan government and drive out foreign troops.

Here is a timeline showing some of the attacks in and around the capital in the past six months.

June 17, 2007: A Taliban suicide bomber blows up a police bus, killing 24 and wounding dozens.

August 15: A roadside bomb kills three German embassy bodyguards just outside the city.

September 29: In the worst suicide bombing so far in Kabul, a suicide bomb attack on an army bus kills 28 Afghan troops and two civilians. The Taliban claims responsibility.

October 2: At least 11 civilians and police officers are killed in a suicide bomb attack on a bus carrying Afghan police.

October 6: A suicide car bomb kills five Afghan civilians and a U.S. soldier on a road near Kabul airport.

Nov 24: Suicide bomber kills nine civilians, six of them children, and an Italian soldier at the opening of a new bridge on the outskirts of the capital.

November 27: Two civilians are killed by a suicide bomb targeting a U.S. security convoy outside a Defence Ministry building.

December 4: A NATO convoy is hit by a suicide attack near Kabul airport. A Taliban spokesman says the blast, which wounds 22 Afghans, was meant to "welcome" U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

December 5: Suicide bomber kills 13 in an a rush-hour attack on a bus carrying Afghan army personnel in southwestern Kabul.

January 14, 2008: Suicide bomb attack on the Serena Hotel kills two guards and wounds a Norwegian journalist. Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, who was staying at the hotel, was said to be safe.

(Writing by Gill Murdoch; Singapore Editorial Reference Unit)
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Gates recommends additional troops for Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates has recommended that additional troops be sent to Afghanistan to augment NATO forces, but no final decision has been made on the deployment, defense officials said on Monday.

Gates has forwarded a recommendation to the White House in prelude to discussions with President George W. Bush and other top administration officials, the officials said.

But the officials said Gates would not issue a deployment order until after briefing Bush, who is visiting the Middle East until Wednesday.

"A recommendation has been forwarded for discussion. But at this point, no decision has been made. We're still waiting," Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Mark Wright told Reuters.

Wright declined to discuss details of the recommendation.

(Reporting by David Morgan, editing by David Alexander)
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Afghan "Peace Convoy" tries to coax Taliban rebels
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - In a new effort to end the growing Taliban insurgency, a council of Afghan political and tribal leaders hopes to hold talks with elements of the Islamic group aimed at including them in the government.

The Taliban movement, led by the reclusive Mullah Mohammad Omar, has repeatedly turned down peace offers by President Hamid Karzai, saying talks can be held only when foreign troops leave the country.

Made up of provincial governors, tribal chiefs and lawmakers representing four eastern provinces, the council, which calls itself the "Peace Convoy," met with Karzai on Sunday and gained his approval for its peace quest, an official involved in the drive said on Monday.

The council was behind a meeting last year with tribal chiefs from border areas of neighboring Pakistan and the two nations' leaders to discuss cooperation in fighting al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents operating in both countries.

That led to reduction of border infiltration by the Islamic militants and improvement of the uneasy ties between the two countries' leaders.

In its new effort, the council initially will hold talks with local residents and Taliban field commanders in eastern and southern areas, where the al Qaeda-backed insurgents are most active.

More than 10,000 people, including hundreds of foreign troops, have been killed by violence in the past two years, largely in regions bordering Pakistan. It has been the bloodiest period since U.S.-led troops toppled the Taliban government in 2001.

"The aim (of the council) is national unity and holding talks with those Afghani Taliban who are upset with government," said Noor Agha Zwak, spokesman for the governor of the strategic eastern province of Nangahar, Gul Agha Sherzai. Sherzai is leading the effort.

"The talks will be with those Taliban who have no links with al Qaeda and (will aim) to include them in the government," the spokesman said.

He said the council would not be reaching out to Taliban leaders such as Omar and other guerrilla figures like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who runs a separate front.

Asked if the council's effort to end the bloodshed could succeed without talking to such top insurgent leaders, Zwak said: "We believe so for if we can persuade the fighters (to try) reconciliation and give them a role in the government, then the leaders will have not much means to keep up the fight."

Taliban officials could not be contacted immediately for comment, but the movement's purported spokesmen in the past have ruled out talks unless foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military pull out of Afghanistan.

Some foreign commanders say the Afghan battle cannot be won militarily and some of the insurgents need to be brought into the political mainstream.

(Editing by Jerry Norton)
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US envoy meets former Taliban commander
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Mon Jan 14, 5:17 AM ET
MUSA QALA, Afghanistan - The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan flew to a town previously held by the Taliban in the heart of the world's largest poppy-growing region and told the ex-militant commander now in charge there that Afghans must stop "producing poison."

Ambassador William Wood on Sunday drank tea and talked with Mullah Abdul Salaam, a former Taliban commander who defected to the government last month and is now the district leader of Musa Qala in the southern province of Helmand.

Wood urged Salaam to tell his people to leave behind "the practice of producing poison," and said poppy production, the key element in the opium and heroin trade, was against the law and Islam.

"In Musa Qala the price of bread has risen dramatically. I won't say why — you know why," Wood said, alluding to farmers' practice of growing poppies instead of needed food.

Southern Afghanistan was the scene of the heaviest fighting in the country in 2007, the bloodiest year since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the Taliban militant movement. More than 6,500 people — mostly militants — were killed in violence last year, according to an Associated Press count based on official figures.

Islamist insurgents held sway in Musa Qala for most of last year, until U.S., British and Afghan forces retook it in early December. Wood said he thought the chances were good Musa Qala would remain under government control and said Afghan forces were drawing up a "comprehensive stabilization program" to help ensure it does.

U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne now ring the town, but those troops will pull out of the region within days.

Officials say poppy production and the resulting drug trade help finance the insurgents, and that many Afghan farmers turn to poppies because they are a lucrative source of income. As a result, Afghanistan last year produced 93 percent of the world's opium, the main ingredient in heroin. Its export value was estimated at $4 billion.

Wood has said officials discovered $500 million worth of heroin in dozens of labs around Musa Qala. He said U.N. and Afghan officials have told him that farmers in Helmand have again been planting a lot of poppies for this season's harvest.

"There is a solution, but it depends on the people of Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan have to decide what kind of Afghanistan they want, and we will support them if they choose an Afghanistan of peace, of Islam and of law," Wood told Salaam.

Salaam offered Wood a list of things he said needed to happen immediately for Musa Qala to remain peacefully under government control. Topping the list, he said, was a request to the Ministry of Interior for 200 more police.

"We still have a problem with the police. We need more to come here," Salaam said. "We want the police to be honest and strong, because in the past they have stolen from the people, and because of that the people still don't trust them."

Salaam said he defected to the government in part because "un-Islamic" trials were being carried out in Musa Qala on the orders of Pakistani and Chechen fighters.

"The other reason was that they were calling everyone Taliban who were not real Taliban. They should make a difference between real Taliban and drug users and smugglers," Salaam said. "This place (Musa Qala) was under the control of smugglers, drug dealers, and Islamic law was not implemented here."

The original meaning of the word "Taliban" in Afghanistan means "religious student or scholar" and does not necessarily have the negative connotation of its Western meaning, which is an armed member of the radical militia.

Showing the era he comes from, Salaam told Wood he wanted to thank the United States and Britain for helping Afghans "do jihad" against the Soviets — a reference to the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

Reflecting the dangers of traveling in the area, the two Black Hawk helicopters carrying Wood's team flew extremely close to the sandy ground, barely skimming over rooftops. The two aircraft, escorted by two Apache helicopter gunships, banked sharply from side to side over populated areas as a defensive measure against any possible incoming fire.

Wood said the situation in Musa Qala is "filled with hope."

"One of the elements of that hope is that a former Taliban commander has now not only agreed to support the constitution and respect the authority of the national government, but as a district governor will defend the constitution and represent the national government," Wood said.
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US Ambassador Urges Afghan Authorities to Stop Poppy Cultivation
By Ayaz Gul Islamabad 14 January 2008 Voice of America
The United States ambassador to Kabul says that growing opium poppies instead of food is not only encouraging insurgent activity, but has also caused massive food shortages in Afghanistan. From Islamabad, Ayaz Gul reports.

U.S. ambassador to Kabul, William Wood, traveled to the southern Afghan district of Musa Qala this week and met with local authorities to urge them to stop growing poppies.

The Afghan district is one of the major poppy-growing areas. It was under the control of Taliban insurgents until a month ago when coalition and Afghan forces retook it in a major offensive.

Ambassador Wood told VOA by telephone from Kabul that during his trip to Musa Qala he held productive talks with the district governor, Mullah Abdul Salam, a former Taliban commander who defected to the government last month.

The ambassador says that among other things, he discussed anti-poppy efforts with the Afghan governor and informed him of the international concerns that farmers there are growing more opium poppies than wheat for the season's harvest.

"And in fact, in the case of Afghanistan much poppy is being grown on a land traditionally dedicated to growing wheat. So there is a direct relationship between poppy cultivation and the shortage of bread," he said.

It is widely believed that the unusual rise in the insurgent activity in southern Afghan region was being funded by income from poppy cultivation and drug trafficking. Ambassador Wood says that coalition forces have discovered millions of dollars worth of narcotics around Musa Qala since taking control of the region about a month ago.

"Huge amounts of drugs were found in the Musa Qala district after its liberation, also drug laboratories and other evidence that this is a center for both drug cultivation but also for drug organization in general," Wood said.

Overall, the U.S ambassador says that security situation is improving in Afghanistan and militant activity has declined.

"We believe that is directly related to the losses that they have suffered on the battlefield during 2007 and to perhaps diversion of some of their assets toward Pakistan, which is a source of concern to everyone," he said.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are important U.S allies in the war against terrorism. Ambassador Wood says that strong bilateral relations between the two countries will ensure regional peace and economic stability.
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3 Taliban killed in clash with Afghan police
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-14 16:54:25
 KABUL, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- Three Taliban insurgents have been killed in a clash with policemen in Nesh district of Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan, the police said Monday.

"A team of policemen on routine patrol came under attack from Taliban militants Sunday afternoon and the ensuing fighting between two sides left three rebels dead and one policeman injured," Uruzgan's police chief Juma Gul Himat told Xinhua.

Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a purported spokesman for Taliban, said theTaliban fighters killed some 12 policemen in the ambush, while giving no word on casualties on the Taliban.

This came as Taliban militants killed some 10 policemen during a pre-dawn attack on a police check point in neighboring Kandahar province Sunday.

Taliban insurgents continued to engage Afghan security forces and foreign troops with guerrilla-style attacks, besides launching roadside bombing and suicide attacks, across the country.

Militancy-related violence left over 6,000 people dead in Afghanistan in 2007, the bloodiest year since the Taliban regime were toppled six years ago.
Editor: Du Guodong 
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Video Chats for Detainees in Afghanistan
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS January 14, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A new video-teleconferencing system is allowing prisoners at a major U.S. military base in Afghanistan to speak with their relatives -- the first time some detainees have talked to anyone outside the secretive facility in years, the Red Cross said Monday.

The video chats, which began Jan. 6, were launched by the military and the aid organization.

They have drawn relatives from throughout the region -- some brought children to see their fathers, others came to see their sons, and one burqa-clad woman traveled from Pakistan to see her father, who was arrested by American troops more than four years ago, family members said.

The detention facility at Bagram Air Base is part of a global network of overseas prisons set up by the United States to hold thousands of terrorism suspects, many of whom have been held outside the reach of established law. Bagram holds 600 to 650 prisoners, mainly Afghans.

The video chats are a small victory for the Red Cross, which is still urging the U.S. to allow face-to-face visits at the facility.

''The system is the first of its kind,'' said Reto Stocker, the delegation head for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan. ''It was set up ... to reassure detainees and their families by allowing them to see and speak to one another.''

The U.S. military spokesman at Bagram, 30 miles north of the capital, was not immediately available for comment.

About 60 families from around Afghanistan have used the video link-up system so far, the Red Cross said. On Monday morning, some relatives arrived at the Red Cross offices in Kabul to talk with their detained family members and see them on small television screens for about 20 minutes.

Noor Ahmad Agha, a 22-year-old from the southern province of Kandahar, clutched the black phone handset inside a crowded room, where three families were talking to relatives at the same time. His reddened eyes were transfixed on the screen, which showed his detained father, Haji Abdul Nafe.

Nafe was arrested 14 months ago during a raid by foreign troops in the village of Lal Khan, in Panjwayi district of Kandahar province. The area has been one of the major front lines in the insurgency fight here that pits Taliban militants against NATO and Afghan troops.

Until Monday, the family had not seen Nafe or knew anything about his fate

''My father is alive for me again,'' Agha said after his allotted time on the video system. ''Before we had no news about him, no hope . ... Now I have a father again.''

During his 20-minute chat, Agha complained to his father about their failing grape business, told him about the new shop that they have built and the fact that children were going to school.

''He looked younger to me than before,'' Agha said afterward.

Franz Rauchenstein, the deputy head of the ICRC delegation, said that the ICRC was in negotiations with American authorities to allow for face-to-face visits.

''The establishment of this program ... should not replace face-to-face family visits, which the Bagram internees are entitled to based on international humanitarian law,'' Rauchenstein said. ''There are internees who have not seen their families for the last five or six years.''

The Red Cross helps individuals in detention facilities around Afghanistan and the world establish contact with their families, largely through written messages.

Delegates from the Red Cross have been visiting the detention facility at Bagram Air Base since 2002. Their reports on the conditions under which prisoners are held there are kept secret.
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Associated Press reporter Amir Shah contributed to this report.
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Landmine wounds four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan
Sun Jan 13, 8:06 PM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - Four Canadian soldiers were wounded Sunday when a landmine exploded during a mine removal operation on a road near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, Canadian media reported, citing military officials.

None of the soldiers were seriously hurt, television reported.

The incident in Zangabad took place as Canadian opposition chief Stephane Dion and his Liberal Party number two, Michael Ignatieff, were in Kandahar to visit Canadian troops battling Taliban rebels alongside US and British forces.

The day before, the two opposition leaders called for the Canadian mission to shift to development missions instead of combat.

Canada's parliament has voted to keep its 2,500 troops in Afghanistan until 2009 while considering its future policy. Seventy-six Canadian troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban.

Dion and Ignatieff were received in Kabul by President Hamid Karzai, parliamentary speaker Yunus Qanuni and NATO ambassadors.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative, recently reiterated his support for the military mission until 2011. But the mission has currently an official expiration date of February 2009.
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Netherlands starts probe into friendly fire deaths in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-14 22:06:14
BRUSSELS, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- The Dutch Public Prosecution Service has ordered an investigation by the Dutch Royal Military Police into Saturday's friendly fire incident in Afghanistan in which two Dutch soldiers were killed, Radio Netherlands reported Monday.

The report said Dutch Chief of Staff Dick Berlijn, the commander of Dutch forces in Afghanistan, had begun his own investigation into the incident.

The incident occurred Saturday in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan. The Dutch troops came under fire near their base in Deh Rawod, a stronghold of Taliban militants, after they found a weapons cache during house-to-house searches.

The two soldiers were killed as they rushed to the rescue of a fellow soldier who was seriously injured during clashes with Taliban insurgents.

It was initially believed they were killed by Taliban fire, but reports later said they were probably killed by Dutch troops.

In a separate incident later that night, Dutch troops killed two Afghan soldiers, mistaking them for Taliban insurgents as they were not wearing their uniforms.

Berlijn, who presented the details of the incidents late Sunday, blamed them on "poor weather conditions, overall darkness and chaotic circumstances," Radio Netherlands reported.

So far, 14 Dutch military personnel have been killed since the Netherlands joined the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan in August 2006.

The Netherlands has more than 1,600 troops in Afghanistan as part of the 37,000-strong ISAF. In November the country decided to extend its Afghanistan deployment until the end of 2010.
Editor: Yan Liang
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Two Dutch soldiers killed in Afghanistan by own fire
Sun Jan 13, 5:31 PM ET
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch troops forming part of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan probably killed two of their own soldiers while fighting Taliban insurgents, the Dutch Defence Ministry said on Sunday.

The two soldiers were killed on Saturday near the southern Afghan town of Deh Rawod as Dutch units approached Taliban forces from two sides amid heavy firing, a Defence Ministry spokesman said.

"It was a big problem that the Taliban crossed through the Dutch units which created an unclear situation, adding to low visibility and lack of air support," the spokesman said.

It was "very likely" that the two Dutch soldiers, aged 20 and 22, were killed by fire from their compatriots, and an investigation had been launched to find out what had happened, he said.

In the same area on Saturday, Dutch troops killed two allied Afghan soldiers when the Afghans, who were not in army uniforms, approached and acted strangely, the spokesman said.

The Dutch soldiers were also under fire and were treating a colleague whose legs later had to be amputated, the spokesman said.

The deaths bring the total number of Dutch soldiers who died in Afghanistan to 14, including one suicide.

Deh Rawod is seen as a stronghold of support for the Taliban Islamist insurgents, and Dutch and Afghan forces are undertaking an operation to see if it is safe enough for refugees to return to the region, the spokesman said.

More than 1,600 Dutch soldiers are serving in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led force.
(Reporting by Gilbert Kreijger)
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US attacks UK plan to arm Afghan militias
By Jerome Starkey in Kabul The Independent (UK)  14 January 2008
The US general in charge of training the Afghan police has criticised British-backed plans to arm local militias in an attempt to defeat the Taliban. The remarks by Maj-Gen Robert Cone, the second most senior US soldier in Afghanistan, are likely to deepen the row between London and Washington over how to counter the insurgency.

General Cone, who is in charge of rebuilding the Afghan police force, is the second US commander to condemn the initiative. He said: "Anything that detracts from a professional, well-trained, well-led police force is not the answer."

Last month, Gordon Brown said Britain would increase its support for "community defence initiatives, where local volunteers are recruited to defend homes and families modelled on traditional Afghan arbakai". The arbakai system involves arming untrained Afghani men, who agree to come running at the beating of a drum if their village elders feel threatened.

British diplomats and military strategists in the restive southern province of Helmand hope the idea might bolster Afghanistan's fledgling police force, which is unable to defend itself against attacks by Taliban insurgents. At least 10 officers died yesterday in a Taliban attack on a checkpoint in Kandahar. But US officials fear that arbakai fighters would fall under the command of warlords disloyal to the Afghan government. Their reluctance to endorse the plan follows a disastrous international initiative to build an "auxiliary" police force, which was scrapped last year.

Auxiliary officers were given assault rifles and uniforms after just a few days of rudimentary training, on the understanding that they would be required only to police the area they came from. "The auxiliary police was an attempt to take short-cuts," said General Cone, warning that there were similarities between the doomed auxiliaries and Mr Brown's arbakai plan. "It is very important to understand why the Afghan National Auxiliary Police Force did not work, as we look at any informal programme that doesn't promote professional policing," he added.

Analysts also fear the introduction of arbakai would undo years of effort by the United Nations to disarm illegal militias.

General Cone's remarks follow earlier criticism of the idea by the commander of the 37-nation Nato coalition in Afghanistan. General Dan McNeill said the plan would work only in small parts of the countryside which did not include Helmand, where most of Britain's 7,700 troops are stationed. He said: "My information, from studying Afghan history, is that arbakai works only in Paktia, Khost and the southern portion of Paktika, and it's not likely to work beyond those geographic locations."

General Cone is leading a root-and-branch reform of the Afghan police force, which has been ill-equipped, badly paid, poorly trained and dogged by corruption since 2001. The US government has pledged $7.4bn (£3.7bn) to improve Afghan security forces between now and October. But General Cone admitted there was no "model of what policing should be" in the country. "When Afghan people understand what well-trained, well-paid police do, they will demand it," he added. "But right now they are just not familiar."

He said he backed greater community involvement in the police if it meant "neighbourhood-watch type programmes" rather than arming and paying local people.

Britain has faced increasing criticism from allies in recent months for championing alternative tactics to defeat the Taliban. The Prime Minister promised more "tribal engagement" during a recent visit to Kabul. But last month the Afghan government expelled two UN and EU diplomats for meeting commanders sympathetic to insurgents.
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Freezing weather kills over 100 in Afghanistan
KABUL, January 14 (RIA Novosti) - Over 100 people have died due to freezing weather in various provinces of Afghanistan in the past few days, the country's Ariana TV channel reported on Monday.

Continual heavy snowfall has cut off thousands of people living in isolated communities in the mountainous country, making deliveries of medicine and essential goods almost impossible. Several people have been killed in avalanches and accidents on the snow-covered roads.

Aghanistan's Pajwok news agency said five children died of pneumonia in the Khamyak village in the northeastern province of Badakhshan, where snow drifts block roads for much of the winter. The local administration said the road to the village is currently closed, and that reports on the outbreak cannot be confirmed.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered for troops to be sent to Ghorian, the hardest-hit province, where over 50 people have died in avalanches and freezing temperatures. Convoys of trucks carrying 20 metric tons of food and medicine, along with road-cleaning vehicles, a disaster recovery team, and doctors have also been sent to the area.

Meteorologists predict further snowfall in the provinces of Heart, Badghis, Ghor, Kabul and Ghazni.

The northern part of neighboring Iran has also been hit by the region's cold snap, exacerbated by gas supply shortages from Turkmenistan, which has cut exports to the Islamic Republic citing technical problems. At least 28 people have been died due to the severe cold and heavy snow.

Saudi Arabia has also been hit by temperatures well below zero and snow storms with freezing winds of up to 50 km/h (30mp/h). Some regions have experienced water shortages due to freezing pipes. The weather has also put a strain on farmers, with numerous livestock freezing to death.
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AFGHANISTAN: Rising food prices push two million into food-insecurity – WFP
14 Jan 2008 13:16:47 GMT
KABUL, 14 January 2008 (IRIN) - Soaring staple food prices have pushed 1.3 million previously food-secure people in rural Afghanistan into high risk food-insecurity, according to the latest assessment by the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

In urban areas about 900,000 Afghans are also estimated to have been dragged into acute food-insecurity over the past few months due to spiralling food prices and food shortages.

Investigations into the exact number of people pushed into food-insecurity in urban areas will be conducted in the future, WFP said.

Staple food prices have increased by 100 percent in global markets and by over 60 percent in Afghan markets in the past 12 months, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported.

Recently about 6.5 million [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=73095] out of an estimated 24.5 million people in Afghanistan were considered food-insecure by FAO – a figure which has increased considerably in the past three months.

Appeal for assistance

Rick Corsino, WFP's representative in Afghanistan, said: "We believe humanitarian assistance to this group [1.3 million] of people is justified and necessary until next harvest season."

The government of Afghanistan and the UN are currently working on a joint appeal for assistance through which donors will be asked to help tackle the growing food crisis in the country.

The joint appeal will be made public in the near future, but awareness will be raised among donors about its importance in advance, Corsino told reporters in Kabul on 14 January.

In an effort to meet the increased needs of food-insecure people WFP has agreed to provide 40,000 metric tonnes (mt) of additional wheat (worth US$30 million) on top of its 175,000 mt of food aid to Afghanistan in 2008.

The additional food assistance will be distributed in close cooperation with government bodies through food-for-work projects in the most vulnerable areas.

"Vulnerable"

Both the UN and the government of Afghanistan have given assurances that the country is not facing a "famine" and/or a similar critical situation.

However, there is an increasing need for a robust humanitarian intervention to avert a further deterioration in food-insecurity, particularly among vulnerable communities and during the winter, aid agencies say.

"When people fall into high risk food-insecurity they become very vulnerable to additional shocks," warned Corsino, adding: "Vulnerable people could be pushed to extreme situations" if humanitarian relief is not provided.

The UN humanitarian intervention will only mitigate the suffering of some vulnerable communities and will not have a dramatic impact on food prices in Afghanistan, Rick Corsino said.

Afghanistan requires multiple long-term solutions to overcome its growing food challenges, he said.
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Power cuts still leave Kabul in the dark
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Sun Jan 13, 2:05 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Gul Hussein was standing under a pale street lamp in a poor section of east Kabul when the entire neighborhood suddenly went black.

"As you can see, it is dark everywhere," the 62-year-old man said, adding that his family would light a costly kerosene lamp for dinner that evening. "Some of our neighbors are using candles, but candles are expensive, too."

More than five years after the fall of the Taliban — and despite hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid — dinner by candlelight remains common in the Afghan capital of Kabul. Nationwide, only 6 percent of Afghans have electricity, the Asian Development Bank says.

The electricity shortage underscores the slow progress in rebuilding the war-torn country. It also feeds other problems. Old factories sit idle, and new ones are not built. Produce withers without refrigeration. Dark, cold homes foster resentment against the government.

In Kabul, power dwindles after the region's hydroelectric dams dry up by midsummer. This past fall, residents averaged only three hours of municipal electricity a day, typically from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., according to USAID, the American government aid agency. Some neighborhoods got none.

"That's a scary sounding figure because it's pretty tiny," said Robin Phillips, the USAID director in Afghanistan. "So we're talking about the relatively poorer people in Kabul who have no access to electricity at this time of year."

Electricity was meager under the Taliban too, when Kabul residents had perhaps two hours of it a day in fall and winter. The supply has since increased, but not as fast as Kabul's population — from fewer than 1 million people in the late 1990s to more than 4 million today.

Meanwhile, souring U.S. relations with Uzbekistan have delayed plans to import electricity from that country. Power is not expected to arrive in a significant way until late 2008 or mid-2009.

"Life takes power," said Jan Agha, a 60-year-old handyman from west Kabul who recalled how the city had plentiful power during the 1980s Soviet occupation. "If you have electricity life is good, but if there's no electricity you go around like a blind man."

Some in Kabul do have electricity: the rich, powerful and well-connected.

Municipal workers — under direction from the Ministry of Water and Energy — funnel what power there is to politicians, warlords and foreign embassies. Special lines run from substations to their homes, circumventing the power grid. International businesses pay local switch operators bribes of $200 to $1,000 a month for near-constant power, an electrical worker said anonymously for fear of losing his job.

If high-ranking government officials visit the substations, workers race to cut off the illegal connections. Large diesel generators, which businesses and wealthy homeowners own as a backup, rumble to life.

Ismail Khan, the country's water and energy minister, dismisses allegations of corruption as a "small problem."

"The important thing to talk about is that in six months all of these power problems will be solved, and everyone will have electricity 24 hours a day," he said, an optimistic prediction that relies on heavy rains next spring and quick work on the Uzbekistan line.

Colorful maps on the walls of Khan's office show existing and future power lines. There's a wall-mounted air conditioner — a luxury in Afghanistan.

India, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on new power lines — including transmission towers installed this summer at 15,000 feet over the Hindu Kush mountains — to import electricity from Uzbekistan.

Though the line from Kabul to the Uzbek border is in place, a 25-mile section in Uzbekistan has not yet been built. And the U.S. has little leverage to speed it up, said Rakesh Sood, the Indian ambassador here.

Initially, Uzbekistan supported the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, opening an air base to U.S. planes. But the Uzbek government no longer views America as a friend, ever since U.S. leaders loudly criticized the country's human rights record when government-backed forces massacred peaceful demonstrators in 2005.

Even when the Uzbek line is completed, Afghanistan can no longer expect the 300 megawatts originally envisioned, Sood said. That would have been more than the 190 megawatts Kabul has today and a significant boost to the 770 megawatts Afghanistan has nationwide.

"We know we'll get significantly less. I wouldn't hazard a guess as to what it will be," Sood said. "At that time the U.S.-Uzbek relationship was very high and it has deteriorated substantially."

President Hamid Karzai, during a radio address to the nation last fall, said he discussed with President Bush the country's need to produce its own electricity.

But some efforts have run afoul of the continuing Taliban insurgency. A new U.S.-financed turbine for a hydroelectric dam in Helmand province is a few months away from being installed because of the "lack of permissiveness in the environment," USAID's Phillips said, using a euphemism for the spiraling violence there.

Also, more than $100 million is needed to upgrade Kabul's antiquated distribution system, and it remains unclear who will pay.

"One doesn't like to see the kinds of numbers that we've been talking about, but I wouldn't call it a failure," Phillips said. "To put a little more positive spin on it we all wish things could happen more rapidly."

The lack of power has hamstrung U.S. efforts to boost agriculture production, too.

"The No. 1 challenge to agribusiness is electricity," said Loren Owen Stoddard, USAID director in Kabul for alternative development and agriculture. "You can't keep things cold and you can't bottle them without power."

The U.S. is purchasing fuel-powered generators that will provide 100 megawatts of power for Kabul by late next year. The power will not come cheap at 15 to 20 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with just 3.5 cents for electricity from Uzbekistan.

But until the Uzbek power comes in, Afghanistan has no choice.

"It's going to be more oil-fired power and praying for rain to get the hydropower going," said Sean O'Sullivan, regional director with the Asian Development Bank.

On a smaller scale, India has spent $2.2 million to outfit 100 villages with $450 solar cells. They dot the flat rooftops in Mullah Khatir Khel, a mud-brick village an hour's drive north of Kabul. Each cell can power a couple of light bulbs.

"I am very happy, why should I not be happy? I am using these bulbs and lanterns provided by India," said villager Abdul Gayoom. "Before we used to burn oil lamps, now it's a big saving."
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For Afghan police, staying alive is the first priority
COLIN FREEZE From Monday's Globe and Mail January 14, 2008 at 4:40 AM EST
ZHARI, AFGHANISTAN — When the sun rose over Kandahar yesterday, 10 Afghan police officers were found dead in their compound, killed in the middle of the night.

It was an all-to-common massacre. Suspected Taliban insurgents stormed an Afghan National Police checkpoint west of Kandahar at around 3:30 a.m., according to a police chief. They shot the ANP guardsmen, then entered the compound and killed everyone sleeping inside.

Cop killings occur with such frequency here that they barely register as news.

After the sun set over Kandahar, greater fanfare surrounded another event. Visiting Canadian politicians were wrapping up their trip, once again expressing hopes that the local security forces would hurry up and find their feet.

"At the end of the day, the goal is that they will take care of their country on their own," federal Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion told reporters.

For NATO countries and their politicians, it has become a mantra: As soon as the Afghans become security self-sufficient, then Western soldiers will get out. But several days spent recently at one ANP outpost shows just how far this goal is from reality, as well as the struggles the police face to become self-sufficient.

"Now, there is not real police in our country," said Mohammed Khan Safai, commander of the police substation in Pashmul, an outpost outside Kandahar. "In 10 years, I hope we will be real police."

For Afghan police, staying alive is job No. 1. The number of officers slain in the past year is an estimated 900 - and counting. They are now seen as the ultimate soft target by the Taliban. "If you're not alive then you can't do your job," Major Louis Lapointe, the soldier in charge of a Canadian Forces police-mentoring program, said in an interview.

His team has installed dozens of Canadian soldiers in six police substations, having them bunk beside the ANP members 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in a bid to provide both training and stepped-up security. The up-close-and-personal mentorship has opened the eyes of soldiers to a host of problems they hadn't seen before.

Substation Pashmul houses 15 fledgling officers. The Canadian soldiers who live and work here call them "the dream team," but they are marked less for greatness than for potential competence - which, in Kandahar, is about as good as it gets. The 15 officers share only six Kalashnikov assault rifles among them, so most go unarmed. Some have had a few weeks of police training, but most have had none at all.

The ANP officers are generally in their 20s and 30s, but the newest recruit is a chubby-cheeked orphan. His claims to be 18 are regarded as outlandish by his fellow officers.

The Pashmul squad's main job is to guard a strip of highway between two Canadian military bases, where they are tasked with spotting roadside bombs, running vehicle checkpoints, and inspecting surrounding villages. Until last month, however, they didn't have a vehicle.

Unlike most police in Afghanistan, the Pashmul squad has some literate members, a skill that has helped them identify Taliban from writings found during searches of the pockets of passersby. Still, the police remain outsiders; none of them speak the local language.

Local residents are almost all Pashtun, but the officers are all ethnic Hazaras, who trace their ancestry back to a single province in northern Afghanistan. Canadian soldiers say these out-of-towners are seen as less corruptible than the local option.

But the Pashtun police masters in Kandahar who hold sway over the Hazaras' supplies and paycheques seem less enthusiastic about the crew.

Afghanistan's police brass is notorious for skimming, and the Pashmul group says that in their case, things are so bad that it's anyone's guess whether they'll each get their meagre monthly stipend of 3,500 Afghanis (about $75).

The scant salaries belie the big dangers. Before the Canadians arrived to work with the police in this area, a previous ANP crew lived in a mud-wall complex about 150 metres away.

"Some sort of Taliban came into the old police substation and they killed everyone during the night - it was 13 ANP that was killed about a year ago," said Corporal Eric Dagenais, one of six soldiers at the new outpost. The bodies were strewn across the highway, he said. "It was to send a message: 'Don't send ANP here, we don't want them. We're the Taliban and we're in charge.' "

When Canada's Royal 22nd Regiment arrived in Kandahar last summer, the soldiers had different ideas about who was the boss. Their launch of a police-mentorship program coincided with the arrival of Commander Safai. Already serving with the ANP near Kabul, he headed south after hearing that some jobs had opened up near Kandahar.

He brought along his brother and five cousins, as well as others from his home province. Early on, the new officers found themselves in a firefight after an ambush. They held their ground even after a Canadian soldier accompanying them was shot and wounded by suspected Taliban.

That battle garnered the police the respect of their new Canadian mentors. Still, there were some problems. In Afghanistan, armed militias have long "taxed" vehicles that pass through checkpoints. Initially, Commander Safai's squad helped themselves to extra pay from passersby.

"At one point, he was taxing people, he was roughing people up," Corporal Dagenais recalled. "We said, 'That's not how it works.' "

Such criticisms of Afghan police are common, but what was rare, the Canadians say, is that the Pashmul squad took the advice as constructive criticism and stopped.

The police made many strides over the course of the fall. But by December, all the mentoring work was at risk. Unpaid for a month's work, the Hazara police group headed home for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Given their disgruntlement, nobody knew if they were taking a permanent vacation.

The replacements who arrived in December were, by all accounts, a nightmare. Canadians soldiers say the local recruits included a deaf-mute as well as a former Afghan soldier addled by a head injury. Some of the replacements were caught sleeping on the job in an observation tower. "I was pissed off," Corporal Dagenais said. "They were playing with our lives."

Relations got so bad, he said, that the Canadian soldiers came close to an armed standoff as the replacements tried to walk off the job with their police-issue Kalashnikovs in hand. The episode was resolved peacefully, but the mood was bleak.

During this period, Canadian Forces officials placed many calls to Commander Safai, urging him to come back. In the end, he did come back with some of his cousins, but some of the old guard decided not to return. Today, the future looks brighter, according to Major Lapointe, who runs the mentoring program.

Canadian troops can't live in every ANP outpost, but they plan to put mentors in two more. They are working with Kandahar authorities to root out corruption by working closely with officials who control the purse strings and supplies.

A project, dubbed Focus District Development, is to start in March. The countrywide plan is to get most serving police officers into school for six weeks of formal training. Graduates will receive more than a diploma - they'll also get the weapons and uniforms they have long been craving, alleviating some of the current supply problems.

The Vandoos at Substation Pashmul are to complete their rotation next month. Corporal Jennifer Lettre, one of the mentors, marvels at how her Afghan colleagues make do with so little. Before the Canadians brought in soccer balls for recreation time, she said, the Pashmul group spent their downtime chucking around rocks.

Her advice for her successors? "The best thing we can tell them is take care of these ANP," she said. "If they have new ANP, they're not going to be as good as these guys."

Why join?

The hours are never-ending. The pay is meagre and sporadic. The uniform can be like a bull's eye on one's back. So who would choose to join the Afghan National Police?

Mohammed Khan Safai is one commander. The 28-year-old knows the risks.

Before Canadians arrived to help him, he says, he used to sleep with his boots laced and a loaded rifle by his side. If the Canadians ever pull out, he says he'll probably revert to sleeping with a gun again.

He says he does his job because he loves his country and dreams of a united Afghanistan. Some Canadian soldiers who know him also suggest he has a score to settle with the Taliban.

Unlike many of his fellow ANP officers, he's literate and has a high-school education. Yet for most of his life, he has been a second-class citizen.

This has been the fate of his people, the Hazara, who are Shia by faith.

While he was still a toddler, his family fled to the refugee camps of Iran. He and his cousins spent nearly 20 years there avoiding Afghanistan's wars. The Russians were the initial problem. Then came the Taliban - Sunni extremists - who branded Hazaras infidels who ought to be killed. Iran's refugee camps bloated.

After 9/11, Commander Safai's family trickled back to their ancestral land of Diakundi, only to find there was no work after the influx.

Having no "in" to join the army, he says serving with the police was the next best opportunity to serve Afghanistan. "Our province didn't need us. Kandahar needed us," he said.

Colin Freeze
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Big Weddings Bring Afghans Joy, and Debt
By KIRK SEMPLE The New York Times January 14, 2008 Kabul Journal
KABUL, Afghanistan — On the afternoon before his wedding day this fall, Hamid was sitting in an empty teahouse worrying a glass of green tea between his fingers, his brow furrowed in concern.

He confessed to feeling a certain anxiety at seeing his bachelor’s independence slipping away. But something else was troubling him, as well: the cost of his wedding.

In Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, bridegrooms are expected to pay not only for their weddings, but also all the related expenses, including several huge prewedding parties and money for the bride’s family, a kind of reverse dowry.

Hamid, a midlevel bureaucrat in the Afghan government who supports his six-member family on a salary of $7,200 per year, said his bill was going to top $12,000. And by Afghan standards, that would be considered normal, or even a bargain.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to think about it,” said Hamid, 30, who requested that his full name not be published because his employer forbids him to speak to the news media. “It’s a lot of responsibility.”

Extravagant weddings, a mainstay of modern Afghan life and an important measure of social status, were banned by the Taliban, which also outlawed beauty parlors and the instrumental music that is traditional at wedding parties.

But since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, the Afghan wedding industry has rebounded and is now bigger than ever. The growth is reflected in the proliferation of wedding halls, garish palaces of mirrored blue glass and blinking neon lights that glow incongruously among the country’s dusty streets and mud-and-cinder-block homes. The number in Kabul alone has risen to more than 80 today from four in 2001.

This freedom has been a mixed blessing. While bridegrooms and their families are free to have the huge weddings that tradition demands, they are once again left with bills that plunge them into crushing debt.

Moderate guest lists can top 600 people; the biggest exceed 2,000.

The bridegroom is also responsible for jewelry, flowers, two gowns for the bride, two suits for himself, a visit to the beauty salon for the bride and her closest female relatives, as well as a sound system for the wedding, a photographer and a videography team with a pair of cameramen.

All that, plus the dowry, known as the bride price, can run a middle-class Afghan man on average $20,000, dozens of Afghans said in interviews .

Even the poor do not scrimp. A laborer, for instance, making about the average per capita income of $350 per year, may well spend more than $2,000 for his wedding, Afghans say.

Atta Mohammad Noor, the governor of Balkh Province in the north, became so concerned about the spiraling cost of weddings that early last year he issued a nonbinding decree recommending that the province’s wedding halls be used only for the wedding ceremony. All the other wedding-related parties should be held in private homes, he said.

Afghan bridegrooms say tradition and societal pressure leave them with no alternative but expensive weddings in spite of their poverty. Marriage is arguably the most important rite of passage for a young Afghan man, and the luxuriousness of the ceremony reaffirms his family’s status.

“It’s a way to solidify your position in the tribal network,” explained Nasrullah Stanikzai, a lecturer of law and political science at Kabul University.

The growth of the wedding industry has been enabled in part by the fact that more money than ever is in circulation in Afghanistan.

Lavish weddings have even made a comeback in the south, where security concerns are greatest, though in areas where the Taliban have returned, the weddings have been moved back into private homes and have been toned down.

For Hamid, like most Afghans, a small wedding at home was not an option. Afghan custom dictates that all relatives, even distant cousins, be invited, and his house would not have been big enough. Furthermore, Hamid said, his fiancée and her family had expectations.

As with all Afghan weddings, the style and size of Hamid’s wedding was established in consultation between the families. But also following custom, the consultation was mostly a one-way declaration, with the bride’s family setting the terms.

Fortunately, Hamid said, his fiancée’s family has known his family for many years and had a sense of its finances, so her family did not push for everything to be top-of-the-line.

Still, like most Afghan bridegrooms, Hamid had to empty his savings, borrow money and rely on the largess of an uncle. They had all saved in anticipation of the event, much like an American family might prepare years in advance for college tuitions.

“It’s a joint effort,” Hamid said.

After the wedding, he was going to be left with $2,000 in debt, which he expected to pay off within five months.

But it is not so easy for many other young Afghan men.

Said Sharif, a 27-year-old taxi driver who makes about $200 per month, had to borrow $4,000 from relatives to help cover the $15,000 bill for his wedding last fall, as well as for four related parties. He does not expect to pay off his debt for at least two years.

Ask any Afghan man, and he will say that competition among brides is driving wedding expenditures up. Women who were interviewed did not disagree.

“The unfair thing that is going on in Afghanistan is the competition,” said Haidia Paiman, 20, an engineering student at Balkh University in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. “In 70 percent of the cases, the woman’s family puts pressure on the boy to pay a lot of money.” A result, she said, can often be paralyzing debt — and an early, unwelcome visit by the debt collectors to the newlyweds’ new home.

Even some people who are directly profiting from the soaring costs of weddings say enough is enough.

“All these expenses are unnecessary,” bristled Muhammad Haroon Mustafa, owner of the Mustafa Store, which opened 40 years ago and is one of Kabul’s oldest bridal shops. “If I was in the government, I would close all the wedding halls.”

When a visitor to his store pointed out that such a prohibition would probably cut deeply into his business, he quickly retorted, “Yes, but I’m also part of this society.”

In Balkh Province, Governor Atta’s nonbinding decree on the use of wedding halls was greeted with unbridled joy by the young men there.

“It’s a good thing that the governor is trying to bring down the costs because the economic situation is really bad and the people are very poor,” said Ali Sina Hashemi Muhammad, 21, an agriculture student at Balkh University. “A wife is very expensive!”

But according to Mohammad Zaher Khoram, 62, manager of the Kefayat Wedding Club, one of the most grandiose halls in Mazar-i-Sharif, Governor Atta’s order has not been strictly obeyed. “It’s not compulsory,” he said, shrugging.

Hamid’s wedding unfolded at the East Diamond Wedding Hall in Kabul, in two vast banquet rooms, one for the men and the other for the women. Islamic custom dictates that the sexes be separated.

About 600 people attended, in suits and evening dresses, and a five-piece band played loud, rollicking Eastern music. Dinner included sumptuous amounts of beef, rice, vegetables and bread — much more than even the enormous crowd could possibly eat — served on big platters atop the hall’s banquet tables.

Hamid was mostly absent from the men’s side, choosing to spend his time with the women as is the Afghan bridegroom’s right. “I feel very light,” he said, slipping out of the room briefly about halfway through the long night. Dressed in a white suit, he was smiling and seemed happy. “In our country, the wedding is a big problem — until you’re done with it.”

Hamid’s father, a lifetime civil servant who makes $100 a month, also seemed relieved. Minutes earlier he had reached into an inside pocket of his jacket and handed over a stack of well-worn Afghan bills — worth about $3,000 — to the general manager, Hashmat Ullah.

Neither man smiled. Few words were exchanged. It was pure business.

After the transaction, Hamid’s father was joyful, and a little dazed. He was grinning, and his tie was slightly askew.

Asked how it felt to hand over the equivalent of 30 times his monthly salary, he replied: “It was good! I’m extremely happy!” The payment, he explained, allowed the marriage to happen.

“Only a memory is left,” he said. “A memory of happiness.”

Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting.
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Afghans, Report for Duty
By RONALD E. NEUMANN January 14, 2008 The New York Times Op-Ed Contributor
THE security situation in Afghanistan is bad at the moment, as NATO-led forces face a growing Taliban resurgence. There are 40,000 foreign troops there now (including 14,000 from the United States), but that is not enough to maintain control of villages all over the country. The Afghan Army is slowly growing, in both size and competence, but it is still too small to protect a frightened, war-weary population.

To better the situation, the United States has recently made it a priority to improve the training of local policemen in Afghanistan, district by district. Corruption has been an enormous problem among police departments, which are often controlled by local warlords and militias. So we are working to train both rank and file policemen and their commanders. But even if this strategy is successful, it will take years, and we may not have that much time. It makes no allowance for complicating events — a collapse of security in Pakistan, for example.

We are creating more battalions for the Afghan Army as fast as possible. But it takes time to train senior officers and staff. Time is also needed to build the mobility and technological sophistication required to compensate for the Afghan Army’s small size.

A better strategy would be to institute a draft in Afghanistan. A draft would make it possible to gather a much larger military force, and far more quickly, around the core professional force already in place.

President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan Parliament are likely to embrace a draft as a national response to the present threat from the Taliban. Afghanistan has a long tradition of having a draft. It’s true there would be obstacles: the old draft registers no longer exist, and it would not be acceptable today to exempt certain tribes, as once was done. Also, the Afghan government would need to find a way to pay the new force. (Historically, Afghan draftees were paid almost nothing; they served as a duty.) But Afghans can find solutions to these problems.

History suggests it would be possible to organize the new, large force quickly. During the Korean War in the 1950s, the United States helped build a 700,000-man army in a nation with a population only about two-thirds that of Afghanistan. In the Greek civil war in the 1940s, we helped build a Greek security force of 182,000 soldiers in two years. These armies were not as sophisticated as today’s forces, and they did not require new body armor, high-tech communications equipment and armored Humvees. But they were sufficient to overcome threats greater than those Afghanistan now faces.

An enlarged army would strengthen Afghanistan’s central government, thereby diminishing the power of the often corrupt local police departments. The Afghan Army has a good officer corps respected by the Afghan people.

The insurgency is already being fought mostly by small army units. Rather than build new battalions, we could simply add more platoons and companies. This would reduce the need to train additional senior officers and it would make it possible to promote the good officers we have already identified.

Once the draft began, foreign trainers would still be needed. So it would be important to challenge our NATO partners to play a larger role in training the new troops. But the numbers of trainers needed would actually be smaller than the number of foreigns battalions we currently need — but do not have — from NATO.

The United States should lead the way in providing additional trainers. We will have the forces we need for this as the surge in Iraq ends. In setting the example, we may well inspire the NATO nations to see how adding trainers now could enable them to reduce their forces later.

If we, along with NATO and other participating nations like Australia and New Zealand, begin helping the Afghans plan now, it may be possible to start training new draftees by late 2009, almost two years from now. The timing is not ideal since the extra forces are needed right away, but this is the fastest possible way of solving the security problem in Afghanistan.

Ronald E. Neumann, the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, was the American ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to April 2007.
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'Chic' Afghan president's robe to be auctioned in Washington
KABUL, January 14 (RIA Novosti) - A robe belonging to the current Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, will be sold at a charity auction in Washington, D.C. on January 24, the Afghan news agency Pajhwok said on Monday.

The silken robe, or chapan as the garment is traditionally known in Central Asia, is a green and purple striped robe adorned with intricate threading.

The robe, which once won its owner the title of 'the chicest man in the world' according to the Gucci fashion house, will be auctioned by the Afghan embassy at the Meridian International Center.

The proceeds from the sale will go to Tomorrow's Women and Children of Afghanistan, an Afghan NGO that supports maternity hospitals and orphanages in the Kabul area.

Afghan jewelry, unique hand made carpets, dolls made by local craftsmen, and paintings by Afghan artists are also set to go under the hammer at the auction.
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Soldier's death in Afghanistan blamed on helicopter fault
Richard Norton-Taylor Monday January 14, 2008 The Guardian
A British soldier bled to death in Afghanistan because of faulty equipment, compounded by incompetence, according to a military inquiry into the incident.

Corporal Mark Wright, who died from his injuries in a minefield after rescuing an injured colleague, could have lived if the helicopter summoned to help had been equipped with a winch, the inquiry reveals.

Wright, a 27-year-old paratrooper posthumously awarded the George Cross, was among seven soldiers trapped in a minefield in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, in September 2006. They had to wait five hours for a US Knighthawk helicopter to rescue them. Wright died before the aircraft reached a military hospital in Camp Bastion.

The report of the military inquiry, presided over by Major General Andrew Farquhar and yet to be published, says there were no British helicopters equipped to get soldiers out of a minefield. Had there been, it is understood to say, "Cpl Wright's wounding may not have proved fatal".

It concludes that Wright died because of the non-availability of an aircraft equipped with a suitable winch, that British soldiers did not have a map of the mined area even though one was available, radio problems led to a communications breakdown, and soldiers had to provide their own mine extraction kits. It says that Britain's armed forces need to have their own combat search and rescue capability. None of the problems was mentioned at the time of the incident.

An MoD spokeswoman said yesterday: "We have helicopters, equipped with a hoist, allocated for medical support, of the type and in the number appropriate to the circumstances ... At the time of the incident, all of the helicopters in theatre would have been fully equipped. However, a fault with another system necessitated all of the winches being returned to the UK as a matter of urgency for inspection to ensure their reliability."

Paul Harrington, lawyer for Wright's parents, said: "There was a systemic failure by the MoD in providing adequate resources, equipment and intelligence which led to a wholly avoidable death and serious injuries." Wright's father, Bob, was reported to be furious with the MoD, accusing it of "trying to hide the truth". Harrington is also acting for three soldiers who lost legs in the incident and are suing for negligence.

Des Browne, the defence secretary, said yesterday that Britain could be engaged in Afghanistan for decades. He added in an interview with the People: "But there is only so much our forces can achieve. The job can only be completed by the international community working with the Afghan government and its army. It is a commitment which could last decades, although it will reduce over time."

Defence officials say the commitment does not mean that Britain will deploy its present level of troops in Afghanistan - about 7,700 - for decades.
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ANP, Chaghcharan PRT rescue locals from snow
Source: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 13 Jan 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan (Jan. 13) – The Chaghcharan Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and Afghanistan National Police participated in a rescue operation in Ghowr Province recently.

The Lithuanian-led PRT received information that two minibuses with 20 local people were stuck in snow 30 kilometers from Chaghcharan and both the ANP and PRT sent rescue teams to the snowed-in vehicles.

“We came to Afghanistan not just for province reconstruction, but also to ensure security of the region,” said Col. Albertas Kondrotas, PRT Commander.

The operation was postponed because they weren't able to reach the location through the heavy snow. However, rescuers reached the location the next day and extracted people from the vehicles.

“People were happy to see us,” said PRT Capt. Gregers Svenstrup, rescue team commander. “They were very thankful for food, water, hot tea and blankets which we gave them. Our rescue team was also happy - everybody was safe and healthy.”

Both the Chief of Ghowr National Police, Gen. Shah Jahan Noori, and Governor of Ghowr Province, Baz Mohamad Ahmady, expressed their thanks for the PRT's assistance along with the ANP.

The vehicles and people made it safely out of the snow back to Chaghcharan.
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New UNAMA chief yet to be named
By Lalit K Jha - 12/01/2008 - 12:44
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 12 (Pajhwok Afghan News): UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has not yet taken any decision on the appointment of his new envoy to Afghanistan, a post lying vacant for more than 10 days.

Different options were being worked out right, said Michele Montas, spokesperson for the UN chief. As scheduled the new envoy should have been appointed before the beginning of the New Year after German diplomat Tom Koeings quit as UNAMA chief on December 31.

The appointment of the new UN envoy, sources said, had been delayed mainly because of the new circumstances in the region following the assassination of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

In the two weeks since then, it is believed, Ban Ki-Moon's office has short-listed some names for the post. However, Ban is to take a decision only after meeting th candidates.

Also under consideration is a change in the mandate of the UN envoy to Afghanistan so that he is able to play a more effective role in bringing about co-ordination between the various players - UNAMA, the US, NATO, the European Union, the Afghan government and other international agencies.
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Afghan counter-narcotics officers in Cairo
By Pajhwok Correspondents - 12/01/2008 - 10:41
KABUL, Jan 12 (Pajhwok Afghan News):  Twenty-five senior Afghan police officers in the field of counter-narcotics Friday left Kabul for Egypt under an exchange programme.

The month-long intensive exchange programme would focus on methods of combating and preventing the trade in narcotics and dangerous drugs. The officers are headed by the deputy director of operations at the Ministry of Interior.

According to the Egyptian Embassy in Kabul, the exchange programme is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and held at the Egyptian Police Academy.

It is the second programme of its type to be held in less than 10 months and reflects the importance Egypt attaches to cooperation between the two Muslim states in combating narcotics and dangerous drugs.
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United Club triumph in Martyrs Cup opener
By Ahmad Shah Sabir - 12/01/2008 - 12:09
ZARANJ, Jan 12 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The United Club edged past their rivals in the opener of a soccer tournament played in Zaranj, the capital of the Nimroz province.

A thousand fans looked on as the victors downed the Arman-i-Shuhada Club 1-0 in dying moments of the action-packed encounter. The decisive goal was scored by Ahmad Javed 15 minutes before the end of the match.

Arman-i-Shuhada coach Syed Mehmud told Pajhwok Afghan News on Saturday his players would work harder to give a better performance in remaining matches of the competition.

Provincial Olympic Committee head Muhammad Nasir Husseini said the Inqilab team from Zaranj and their rivals from the Chehar Burjak district were to meet in the second fixture later today.

The Martyrs Cup, featuring 10 clubs, is aimed at discouraging the involvement of the youth in narcotics and social evils, according Husseini, who said the tournament would last a month and a half.

First, second and third teams would be awarded cups and prizes at the end of the competition, the official said.
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