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January 15, 2008 

Taliban promises more Kabul attacks
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - A Taliban spokesman warned Tuesday that militants would increase attacks against restaurants in Kabul frequented by Westerners, a day after eight people died in a brazen assault on a luxury hotel in the Afghan capital.

Four arrested after Kabul hotel attack
by Bronwen Roberts
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan security forces arrested four men after Taliban attackers disguised as police stormed Kabul's top hotel and killed seven people, including at least three foreigners, officials said Tuesday.

U.S. sending 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will send an additional force of about 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan this spring to help NATO troops and Afghan security forces confront rising Taliban violence, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

Australia may boost troops in Afghanistan
January 16, 2008 The Age, Australia
AUSTRALIA may boost its troop numbers in Afghanistan under a new surge strategy drafted by the US to crush a revived Taliban insurgency.

Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan
COLIN FREEZE Globe and Mail Update January 15, 2008 at 12:32 PM EST
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Another Canadian Forces soldier was killed by a roadside bomb this morning, in what's already turning out to be an exceptionally bloody week of insurgent activity in Afghanistan.

Norway maintains its presence in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-16 00:28:13
STOCKHOLM, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere insisted Tuesday that Norway will maintain its presence in Afghanistan, according to a statement posted on the Norwegian Foreign Ministry website.

Afghan force on track despite Taliban attacks: British commander
Tue Jan 15, 7:27 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - Taliban suicide attacks are setbacks but will not prevent coalition forces from squeezing insurgents out, the British commander in Afghanistan told BBC radio on Tuesday.

Afghan hotel raid targeted Western civilians
By Jon Hemming Tue Jan 15, 7:00 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - A commando-style suicide raid on Afghanistan's top hotel, frequented by foreigners and diplomats, shows a new style of Taliban attack aimed at soft civilian targets, diplomats and analysts said on Tuesday.

AFGHANISTAN: UN, NGOs review security measures after Kabul attack
15 Jan 2008 10:31:47 GMT
KABUL, 15 January 2008 (IRIN) - Some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in Afghanistan have temporarily imposed restrictions on their international staff members' movements in Kabul after gunmen attacked

Canadian advisers are still needed, Afghan envoy says
GLORIA GALLOWAY From Tuesday's Globe and Mail January 15, 2008 at 5:40 AM EST
OTTAWA — The Afghan ambassador to Canada says a small group of Canadian military personnel working alongside members of his government to rebuild state institutions in Afghanistan would be missed if their team were disbanded.

Afghan paper slams Browne comments
Reuters - Tuesday, January 15 07:22 am
KABUL (Reuters) - The warning by Defence Secretary Des Browne that British troops could be engaged in Afghanistan for decades is an irresponsible one and against the country's national sovereignty, an Afghan paper said on Tuesday.

Navy: No evidence of attack on Marines
By ESTES THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer Mon Jan 14, 10:13 PM ET
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - A brief investigation of a suicide car bombing site in Afghanistan uncovered no physical evidence to support claims that a Marine unit was hit by small arms fire after the attack, an investigator testified Monday.

Afghanistan bans "Kite Runner" film
By Sayed Salahuddin Tue Jan 15, 5:06 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan has banned the import and exhibition of "The Kite Runner," a film about the troubled friendship of two Afghan boys, on the grounds that it could incite violence.

Poppy cultivation a growing problem in Afghanistan
Calcutta News.Net Tuesday 15th January, 2008
Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is increasing alarmingly by 20 to 30 percent every season, even though U.S-led forces are operating in the war-ravaged country.

Afghan kidnap gang arrested
News 24 South Africa - Jan 15 12:34 AM
Kabul - Afghan police have arrested a gang of abductors who chopped off the fingers and toes of their hostages and sent them to families with ransom demands, the interior ministry said on Monday.

Roadside blast kills former provincial governor in S Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-15 16:05:46
KABUL, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- A roadside bomb blast triggered by remote-control has killed two tribal elders, including a former provincial governor, in Tirin Kot district of southern Afghanistan's Uruzgan province, the police said Tuesday.

Militants Escape Control of Pakistan, Officials Say
By CARLOTTA GALL and DAVID ROHDE The New York Times January 15, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s premier military intelligence agency has lost control of some of the networks of Pakistani militants it has nurtured since the 1980s, and is now suffering the violent blowback of that policy

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Taliban promises more Kabul attacks
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - A Taliban spokesman warned Tuesday that militants would increase attacks against restaurants in Kabul frequented by Westerners, a day after eight people died in a brazen assault on a luxury hotel in the Afghan capital.

Afghan officials said they had arrested four men following Monday's assault on the Serena Hotel a heavily guarded and high-profile property often used by Western workers and officials. Among those detained was one of the attackers disguised in a police uniform.

"We will target all these restaurants in Kabul where foreigners are eating," Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told The Associated Press by phone. "We have jihadists in Kabul right now and soon we will carry out more attacks against military personnel and foreigners."

Taliban spokesmen commonly boast of plans to increase their attacks, threats that often are not realized. But in the past two years, militants have stepped up suicide attacks, and the multi-pronged bombing and shooting against the Serena was the first of its kind against a facility frequented by Westerners.

Afghan officials accused a militant connected to an insurgent leader in Pakistan of masterminding the attack. At least one American, a Norwegian reporter and a Filipina hotel worker were among the dead.

Police said they also found a video made by two of the attackers in a home in Kabul, where they arrested two men. A fourth man — believed to have driven the attackers to the hotel — was arrested in eastern Afghanistan while trying to flee to Pakistan.

Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan's intelligence service, said three militants stormed the hotel. A guard shot and killed one attacker at the gate to the hotel's parking lot, which triggered his suicide vest.

A second attacker blew himself up near the entrance to the hotel's lobby, and the third attacker made it inside the hotel and shot his way through the lobby and toward the gym, Saleh said. A man suspected of being the third attacker was arrested after the assault Monday.

The three militants stormed the popular luxury hotel just after 6 p.m., hunting down Westerners who had cowered in a gym. More than 30 U.S. soldiers in a half-dozen Humvees rushed to the hotel, and security personnel from the nearby U.S. Embassy ran to the scene.

Blood covered the lobby floor as gunfire rang out, witnesses said.

Saleh said the attack was masterminded by Mullah Abdullah, a close ally of Siraj Haqqani, a well-known militant leader thought to be based in Miran Shah, the main town in Pakistan's lawless tribal region of North Waziristan. The U.S. military has a $200,000 bounty out on Haqqani.

Police arrested a man named Humayun, allegedly a key link to Abdullah, in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday as he was trying to flee to Pakistan, Saleh said, accusing him of supplying the assailants with weapons, explosives and suicide vests and driving them to the hotel.

Saleh showed a picture taken from the hotel's security cameras showing a gunman in a police uniform inside the hotel's lobby, apparently the third attacker. He was apprehended 15 to 20 minutes after the attack began, he said.

"The third person, after killing a number of the guests, maybe he changed his mind for some reason, he didn't detonate himself," Saleh said. "He changed his clothes and later when security forces searched the premises, he was arrested."

Authorities raided a house in Kabul early Tuesday where the alleged attackers had spent the night before the attack. Police found a video showing two of the assailants, identified as Farouq and Salahuddin, saying they were ready to die. The owner of the house and his brother were arrested.

"I commit this suicide attack for Allah," the video showed the attacker named Farouq saying. He was believed to have blown himself up during the attack.

There was confusion over the death toll. Saleh said three Americans and a French woman were among those killed, but the U.S. Embassy said only one American citizen died. The French embassy was not aware of any French casualties.

The Serena spokesman said three hotel employees and two guards were killed during the attack. Officials have said an American citizen and a Norwegian reporter also died, and the Philippines Foreign Affairs Department said a Filipina spa supervisor wounded in the attack died on Tuesday, bringing the death toll to eight.

The Taliban has targeted aid workers and civilian contractors with kidnappings and killings, but this was the most daring and sophisticated attack yet on a prominent symbol of the foreign presence.

The Taliban have typically focused attacks on Western and Afghan officials or security personnel, not Western civilians.
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Associated Press reporters Amir Shah and Fisnik Abrashi contributed to this report.
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Four arrested after Kabul hotel attack
by Bronwen Roberts
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan security forces arrested four men after Taliban attackers disguised as police stormed Kabul's top hotel and killed seven people, including at least three foreigners, officials said Tuesday.

A US national, a Norwegian and a Filipina were among the dead after Monday's assault on the five-star Serena hotel, a hub of foreign businessmen and diplomats and home to embassies including Australia's.

The attack, one of the most brazen assaults on foreign civilians in the capital since a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime in 2001, raised questions about degenerating security in the heavily guarded city.

Bullets and blood were spilt across the lobby, said Roshan Khadivi, a UN employee who was in the hotel's health club changing room at the time of the attack.

"It was quite shocking. It was something you would never think would happen in the Serena, which is so well protected," she told AFP.

"It makes you wonder, they can go anywhere, they could target my guesthouse... it makes you wonder about the rest of the year, this is just the beginning of 2008."

Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Salah said the arrested suspects included an attacker who was supposed to have carried out one of multiple suicide bombings at the hotel, but "for some reason did not."

Two other attackers carried out suicide blasts, he said.

The other detainees were a man said to have transported the militants to the hotel and supplied them with explosives and weapons, and two brothers suspected of accommodating them in the city, Salah said.

A video found at the home of one of them and shown to reporters showed two of the attackers, including the failed suicide bomber who is seen saying: "I'm ready to carry out a suicide attack."

The same man was captured later by hotel security cameras wearing a police uniform, pointing a rifle and later opening fire.

Salah, citing intelligence reports, said the attack was planned two months ago by a Taliban-linked rebel commander in Pakistan's tribal area of North Waziristan.

Officials and witnesses were still giving conflicting reports of the attack and how many militants were involved -- the number of which ranged from two to five.

A bodyguard wounded in the gunfire said he saw five rebels in police uniform storm the hotel compound, three of whom ran into the building and mowed down several people.

A hotel spokesman said the group first stormed the security gate, killing two Afghan guards.

"They then penetrated through the main gate. The suicide bomber blew himself up (in the arrivals court). One or more gunmen, who were armed with pistols and grenades, then ran amok in the hotel, firing indiscriminately," he said.

Three people were killed in the health club -- a US national who was a member of the facility, a Filipina employee and an Afghan staffer, the hotel spokesman said.

A 39-year-old Norwegian photographer was also killed.

The Afghan interior ministry said seven people were dead and six wounded in all. But even a full day later, it could not give details of the victims including how many were foreign nationals.

The Taliban said it carried out the attack to herald a year of new tactics in its intensifying insurgency against the government and its international allies.

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said, meanwhile, that the movement would carry out a wave of attacks on restaurants and guest houses frequented by Western nationals, warning they are "not safe anymore."

And the Pentagon announced that US President George W. Bush has signed off on a recommendation to send some 3,200 additional troops to Afghanistan.
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U.S. sending 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will send an additional force of about 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan this spring to help NATO troops and Afghan security forces confront rising Taliban violence, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

The U.S. troop expansion, which increases the number of U.S. forces deployed to Afghanistan by more than 10 percent, follows months of U.S. efforts to persuade NATO allies to provide extra combat forces.

Violence has surged in Afghanistan over the past two years, with the hard-line Islamist Taliban fighting a guerrilla war in the south and east and carrying out high-profile suicide and car bombings across the country.

Extra U.S. combat forces are needed to help thwart an expected offensive by Taliban militants as snows melt in the coming months, U.S. defense officials say.

President George W. Bush approved the Marine deployment on the recommendation of Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The Pentagon said 2,200 troops from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit will be sent to southern Afghanistan to serve under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF.

About 1,000 Marines from another battalion will expand the training Afghan national security forces.

The move, which was widely expected, suggests the Bush administration cannot expect NATO to provide a large share of extra combat forces needed in Afghanistan, analysts said.

The United States has about 27,000 troops in Afghanistan -- the most since leading the 2001 invasion. About half serve in a 40,000-strong NATO-led force, while the rest conduct missions ranging from counterterrorism to training Afghan troops.

Gates met with NATO allies in Scotland in December and later signaled a shift away from pressing NATO nations to make politically difficult decisions to provide combat troops.

The defense secretary has suggested that allies could help with other areas of the mission of rebuilding Afghanistan.

(Reporting by David Morgan, editing by Patricia Wilson and Kristin Roberts)
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Australia may boost troops in Afghanistan
January 16, 2008 The Age, Australia
AUSTRALIA may boost its troop numbers in Afghanistan under a new surge strategy drafted by the US to crush a revived Taliban insurgency.

The news comes amid fresh security fears after at least seven people were killed in a bombing at the luxury Kabul hotel that houses the Australian embassy.

Both of the Australian diplomats at the embassy escaped injury. They were later moved to a safer compound as the Federal Government ordered a review of their security.

Four men have been arrested over the bombing. Australian embassy staff were inside the heavily guarded Serena hotel when Taliban militants stormed in, setting off suicide blasts and opening fire with machine-guns.

One suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to the hotel allowing three others to enter the compound, Afghanistan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh said.

Another bomber then blew himself up near the hotel lobby. One gunman entered the hotel gym and shot dead three American men, a French woman and a Norwegian journalist. A Filipina spa supervisor later died of her wounds.

The Taliban attack on the five-star Serena Hotel came as the US considers sending another 3200 marines to Afghanistan in an echo of its surge strategy in Iraq.

Australia may also consider a troop increase, under a blueprint drafted by the US to hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives in the turbulent south.

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said yesterday that more foreign troops were an "essential ingredient" in defeating terrorism in Afghanistan.

He left open the door to increase Australia's commitment if other nations did likewise. "It's clear a long-term success in Afghanistan will require significantly more troops and we welcome those additional troops, no matter what the source," he said.

But Mr Fitzgibbon warned that any extra commitment by Australia hinged on the NATO-led coalition outlining a strategy and bringing in more troops.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was more coy, insisting he had seen "nothing … which will cause us to conclude that we need to increase our current troop deployment to that country".

However, eight nations with troops stationed in the south of Afghanistan — including Australia — will meet later this month or in early February to review a new strategy.

The blueprint, drafted by the US, will be sent to a full NATO meeting in Bucharest, Romania, in April.

Mr Fitzgibbon said he expected the US would boost its troop numbers, as would other countries. But he said non-military resources were also needed, including more aid for the Afghan police and the public service.

Australia has 970 defence personnel in Afghanistan, and this will reach 1000 later this year with the deployment of two Chinook helicopter teams.

Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson, who had stayed at the Serena when he was defence minister, said more NATO countries must let their troops fight in the south. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, who was at the hotel for a meeting hosted by the Norwegian embassy, was the target of the attack.

Mr Rudd said it was "a sober reminder of the difficult, dangerous operating environment in Afghanistan", but Australian officials and Afghanistan experts said the Australian embassy had not been a specific target.

Professor William Maley, director of the Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University, said it was unlikely that Australia had been targeted. He said the Serena was most likely targeted to send a signal about the Afghan Government's inability to control security even in its heartland.
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Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan
COLIN FREEZE Globe and Mail Update January 15, 2008 at 12:32 PM EST
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Another Canadian Forces soldier was killed by a roadside bomb this morning, in what's already turning out to be an exceptionally bloody week of insurgent activity in Afghanistan.

Trooper Richard Renaud, 26, of Alma Que., a member of the 12th Regiment of Blinde du Canada, Val Cartier, Que., was killed in the blast.

The explosion, which occurred during at patrol at around 7:15 this morning local time.

It is the third known improvised explosive device (IED) attack against the Canadian military in the Kandahar area in the past three days. The previous two attacks did not result in fatalities.

The Canadian Forces are saying only that an armoured vehicle was hit about 10 kilometres north of the city today, without specifying details. Another soldier was injured by the blast, but released from hospital shortly afterward.

Trooper Renaud is the third soldier killed in 2008 and the 77th since the Canadian military sent troops to Afghanistan. Most of the dead have been killed by IEDS.

“Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with the family and friends of the brave soldier who was killed whilst on patrol today,” said Wing Commander Antony McCord, a NATO spokesman. “This soldier's life was taken while trying to help bring peace and security to Afghanistan.”

The three recent IED attacks against the Canadian Forces have occurred over a wide area.

On Sunday, soldiers were working 35 kilometres southwest of Kandahar City, when their vehicle hit an IED. They were working to clear mines from near the village of Zangabad. All four were sent to hospital but were released.

On Monday, one soldier was injured by an IED in nearby Taloqan, but was soon released from hospital.

Today's deadly attack occurred in the Arghandab, immediately north of the city of Kandahar. The area is an emerging source of concern for NATO. A local warlord who had been friendly to NATO forces and hostile to the Taliban died of a heart attack two months ago.

The Canadian Forces is investing heavily in armoured vehicles and in mine-detecting equipment.

While releasing no statistics, the military says it is getting better at spotting threats and thwarting attacks before they happen, and taking fewer casualties when the bombs do go off.

Brigadier-General Guy Laroche, the top Canadian soldier in Afghanistan, said in a recent interview that he plans to divert force-protection funds to pave up to 10 kilometres of highways around Kandahar.

The move is intended to give local residents jobs while making it tougher for insurgents to plant bombs under roadways.

In addition to continued bombings of military targets, insurgents have also been focusing on "soft" targets against policemen and foreigners.

Ten policemen were killed last weekend as Taliban stormed a checkpoint before dawn in the Maywand province, north of Kandahar.

The Taliban has also stepped up operations in Kabul, killing eight yesterday at a luxury hotel frequented by Westerners.

The Associated Press reported today that the Taliban has announced it will target restaurants in the capital city.
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Norway maintains its presence in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-16 00:28:13
STOCKHOLM, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere insisted Tuesday that Norway will maintain its presence in Afghanistan, according to a statement posted on the Norwegian Foreign Ministry website.

A Norwegian delegation headed by Jonas Gahr Stoere was hit by a terrorist attack which took place Monday at a luxury hotel in Afghan capital Kabul. Norwegian Foreign Minister avoided injury. But a Norwegian journalist was killed and an employee of Norway's Foreign Ministry was seriously wounded.

"The attack will not affect the great importance we attach to maintaining an active international presence in Afghanistan," the Norwegian Foreign Minister said in the statement.

Although there is no any indication that this attack was specifically targeted at Norway, but we must assume that it was aimed at the international presence in Afghanistan, he added.

Norway's main priority in Afghanistan is to promote stability, development and good governance. "This is not a struggle we can win by military means alone. We can only succeed by promoting development and through civilian efforts," Jonas Gahr Stoere said in the statement.

The Norwegian Foreign Minister and his delegation cut short their visit to Afghanistan and return to Norway on Tuesday, according to the Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
Editor: Yan Liang
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Afghan force on track despite Taliban attacks: British commander
Tue Jan 15, 7:27 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - Taliban suicide attacks are setbacks but will not prevent coalition forces from squeezing insurgents out, the British commander in Afghanistan told BBC radio on Tuesday.

Brigadier Andrew Mackay declined to say his 7,800-odd troops in Afghanistan were winning the battle against the Taliban, but insisted they were succeeding in sweeping them out of urban areas.

Asked if Monday's attack on a Kabul hotel, which killed seven people, was worrying for the long term, he replied: "If you take a daily snapshot of life in Afghanistan it can probably lead you to some wrong conclusions.

"You've got to stand back and see the wood for the trees in order to take some deeper meaning away from the progress that's being made," he told BBC radio in Lashkar Gah, the capital of the restive southern Helmand province, where British troops are mostly based.

"The question is... of being pretty sure about the direction you are travelling, holding your nerve when you come across the occasional setback, and then pressing on with what you think is the right thing to do."

Asked if British troops were winning the battle, he said: "We're succeeding, I think the term winning is probably too absolute in these conditions with the complexities and the frictions that we have to endure daily."

British troops enjoyed the consent of local Afghans, he added.

"It's really a question of squeezing this insurgency to limit its effect throughout Helmand.

"What we're looking to do is secure the major urban centres of population.

"Those areas are by quite some distance better than they were a couple of years ago.

"If you go into the more rural areas, yes, there's a tougher fight going on and its certainly less secure. But bit by bit as we establish our presence in those areas, this insurgency is being squeezed out."

He added that the Taliban were "inextricably linked" with growing opium to gain revenue, which had weakened them.

"I do genuinely think that over the next year, next two years we will start to make progress in this area."
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Afghan hotel raid targeted Western civilians
By Jon Hemming Tue Jan 15, 7:00 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - A commando-style suicide raid on Afghanistan's top hotel, frequented by foreigners and diplomats, shows a new style of Taliban attack aimed at soft civilian targets, diplomats and analysts said on Tuesday.

At least seven people, including a number of foreigners, were killed when attackers set off two suicide bombs at Kabul's five-star Serena Hotel and opened fire on guests. The hardline Islamist Taliban said they carried out the attack.

"Last night's attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul is a matter of very great concern to us, representing as it does a deliberate targeting of foreign guests and Afghan civilians working together in support of Afghanistan," the U.N. acting special representative to Afghanistan, Bo Asplund, said in a statement.

One attacker shot dead a guard at the gate of the hotel to gain entrance to the compound. He was then shot by a second guard and blew up his explosive belt just inside the hotel grounds.

A second attacker then blew himself up at the entrance to the hotel building. "It is unclear whether he was shot dead by the guards or he panicked," Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh told a news conference.

The third man entered the hotel and opened fire on guests in the lobby and the hotel gym, killing three American men, a French woman and a Norwegian journalist, before being arrested, Saleh said. The U.S. embassy in Kabul said it had confirmed the death of only one American.

A Filipina spa supervisor died of her wounds on Tuesday.

A fourth man, named Humayoun, who drove the attackers to the hotel but escaped the scene, was arrested on the road east from Kabul towards the city of Jalalabad and the Pakistan border.

Saleh said Humayoun had confessed the attack was organized by a man called Abdullah based in the city of Miranshah in Pakistan's tribal border region and that he worked for the Haqqani network, which is allied to the Taliban.

Two other men who had accommodated the attackers in Kabul were also arrested, Saleh said.

FOREIGN CIVILIANS TARGETED
Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere and Australian embassy staff were in the hotel at the time, but were unhurt. Stoere was cutting short his visit and leaving Kabul on Tuesday instead of Thursday, Norwegian broadcaster NRK said.

"It has a big impact on perceptions of what it's like to be a Westerner in Kabul. But I think what is much more problematic is the style of attack, because it did seem to be pretty professional, certainly well-planned," said a senior Western diplomat. "The Taliban are usually amateur compared to this."

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said the attack would not deter Norway from its work in Afghanistan, where the country has about 500 soldiers as part of a NATO-led force.

"What stands out about this attack is that it was 100 percent concentrated on foreign civilian targets ... in that sense it is unique," said a Western security analyst.

Western aid workers would be reviewing security precautions, but would have to wait and see if this was part of a new pattern of attacks or a "one-off" incident.

Taliban rebels, fighting to overthrow the pro-Western Afghan government and eject 50,000 foreign troops, have increasingly turned to suicide bombs with more than 140 such attacks in 2007, killing more than 200 civilians.

But the proportion of Western troops killed by suicide bombs has gone down as NATO soldiers have deployed better armed vehicles and improved their defenses, security analysts say.

Attacking Western civilians also has greater propaganda value for the Taliban.

"If it was aimed at taking them to the top of the news bulletins then it was very successful, you are just not going to achieve that these days by attacking an American military convoy," the Western diplomat said.

Afghans were also worried that the attack on the Serena Hotel, surrounded by high walls in the centre of Kabul, next to the presidential palace, indicated a deterioration in security.

"The international community is in Afghanistan to build security for the people, but now we can see they are not even able to ensure their own safety," said Mohammad Shaker, another resident of the city.

(Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin and Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Alex Richardson)
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AFGHANISTAN: UN, NGOs review security measures after Kabul attack
15 Jan 2008 10:31:47 GMT
KABUL, 15 January 2008 (IRIN) - Some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in Afghanistan have temporarily imposed restrictions on their international staff members' movements in Kabul after gunmen attacked a high-profile hotel, aid workers and Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said on 15 January.

Seven people were killed, including two foreigners, and six others were injured in the attack on the city's Serena Hotel, which is close to the Presidential Palace where many foreign diplomats and other visiting dignitaries reside.

The incident has caused some NGOs to review their security measures but would not greatly affect the activities of international aid agencies in the country, Anja de Beer, director of ACBAR, a network of NGOs in Afghanistan, told IRIN in Kabul.

Zemaray Bashari, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, asked international aid organisations to continue their work as normal. "Afghan police will ensure their safety and security," he said.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) was also reviewing staff security measures on 15 January, but no restrictions had been announced.

The UN condemned the attack calling it "a senseless crime under both national and international laws".

"Last night's attack... is a matter of very great concern to us, representing as it does a deliberate targeting of foreign guests and Afghan civilians working together in support of Afghanistan," said a UNAMA statement.

A purported Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, confirmed to the media that Taliban insurgents had organised and carried out the attack.

Taliban fighters have often been accused of suicide attacks, using roadside explosive devices and other tactics which invariably affect non-combatants and violate international humanitarian law.
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Canadian advisers are still needed, Afghan envoy says
GLORIA GALLOWAY From Tuesday's Globe and Mail January 15, 2008 at 5:40 AM EST
OTTAWA — The Afghan ambassador to Canada says a small group of Canadian military personnel working alongside members of his government to rebuild state institutions in Afghanistan would be missed if their team were disbanded.

"For the past three years or so, the Afghan government has benefited from the diverse set of skills and experiences that SAT [strategic advisory team] members have provided and we are thankful for their contributions," Ambassador Omar Samad said yesterday.

"We are in such a situation in Afghanistan where any help goes a long way as long as it's well co-ordinated with all of the different parties involved - whether Afghan or other Canadian parties - and its aims and objectives are well defined."

The Globe and Mail reported yesterday that the work of the SAT, a group of about 20 military planners embedded in the Afghan government, will end this year, largely because of "bureaucratic jealousy" on the part of Foreign Affairs staff.

Sources say the move is coming at the instigation of Arif Lalani, Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan.

They also say there is a push to get a decision from the Conservative government before the release of a report by a commission headed by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley that is looking into Canada's role in the war-torn country. That report is expected to reflect favourably upon the SAT.

General Rick Hillier put the team in place in 2005 after Afghan President Hamid Karzai mentioned that he had appreciated the work of a small group of senior Canadian military officers who performed similar tasks.

Doug Goold, president of the Canadian International Council, a Toronto-based think tank on international affairs, said he has been told by people working closely with the SAT that the team is performing an important role in reconstruction.

"There has been a lot of criticism [that] we're putting most of our money and most of our eggs in the military basket, and to the extent that we can move forward on either development or diplomacy, that's a good thing. The SAT is part of that initiative," Mr. Goold said.

Experts suggest that only a handful of Afghan cabinet ministers are truly effective and corruption is still a problem, he said. "I would think that, to the extent that you can provide outside help from a country like Canada, that's a good thing."

But Paul Heinbecker, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and now the director of the Centre for Global Relations, Governance and Policy at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., disagrees.

Mr. Heinbecker said he was annoyed by the suggestion that any move to disband the SAT would be the result of departmental jealousies.

The senior Canadian representative in any foreign country is the ambassador, he said, and it could be quite confusing to have officials working directly with the foreign government that might undermine that structure.
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Afghan paper slams Browne comments
Reuters - Tuesday, January 15 07:22 am
KABUL (Reuters) - The warning by Defence Secretary Des Browne that British troops could be engaged in Afghanistan for decades is an irresponsible one and against the country's national sovereignty, an Afghan paper said on Tuesday.

Britain, which has about 7,800 troops operating in Afghanistan in a 40,000-strong NATO stabilisation force, is expected to increase that number as it withdraws from Iraq.

Asked when British soldiers would be withdrawn from Afghanistan, Browne told Sunday's The People newspaper: "We cannot risk it again becoming an ungoverned training haven for terrorists who threaten the UK."

He said: "It is a commitment which could last decades, although it will reduce over time."

"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," he added.

The private Arman-e Millie daily lashed out at Browne's comments.

"This irresponsible comment of Britain's defence minister from the view points of political experts, is regarded as explicit sign of deviation of international treaties and against the national sovereignty of Afghanistan," the daily wrote.

"For (deciding) on the continuation of foreign troops presence in Afghanistan is the right of the government, the parliament and our people. No authority of any country has the right to extend the duration of its troops' presence without the consent and request of the Afghan people," it added.

Foreign troops, now under NATO and the U.S. military's command, have been stationed in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban government in 2001.

The al-Qaeda-backed Taliban are largely active in southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan and have made a comeback in the past two years, the bloodiest period since the militants' ouster.

Foreign commanders have not specifically said when the troops will pull out, saying it depends largely on the security situation of Afghanistan and after the Western-backed national security forces can stand on their own feet.

While considering the presence of foreign troops as vital for fighting the insurgency, the Afghan government has been demanding more resources and funds for its national forces as a remedy rather than dispatch of additional troops from its Western backers.
(Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; editing by Jon Hemming and David Fogarty)
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Navy: No evidence of attack on Marines
By ESTES THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer Mon Jan 14, 10:13 PM ET
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - A brief investigation of a suicide car bombing site in Afghanistan uncovered no physical evidence to support claims that a Marine unit was hit by small arms fire after the attack, an investigator testified Monday.

But Navy criminal investigators didn't arrive at the scene until two months after last year's deadly attack and had only an hour to look at the site, Marine Chief Warrant Officer Robert O'Dwyer said during testimony at a hearing investigating the actions of two Marines.

There wasn't enough manpower to provide security to allow for more investigation, said O'Dwyer, of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

"From a law enforcement standpoint, that's ludicrous," he said.

His testimony opened the second week of a Court of Inquiry, a rarely used administrative fact-finding proceeding investigating the actions of Fox company commander Maj. Fred C. Galvin, 38, of the Kansas City area, and Capt. Vincent J. Noble, 29, of Philadelphia, a platoon leader.

Citing witness accounts, Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission concluded last year that the Marines fired indiscriminately at pedestrians and people in cars, buses and taxis in six locations along a 10-mile stretch of road. As many as 19 civilians were estimated to have been killed.

But the officers' lawyers have said the unit of about 30 Marines was ambushed just after a suicide bomber detonated an explosive-packed minivan near the second Humvee in their six-vehicle convoy.

Nearly a dozen Marines have told the court that they heard small arms fire after the explosion and that the convoy's gunners didn't fire until they were fired on.

A Marine riding in the convoy testified last week that the convoy was shot in two locations and that Marines fired back over a span of about 1 1/2 miles long. Navy investigators said the firing occurred over about 6 miles, O'Dwyer said.

O'Dwyer said witnesses interviewed by NCIS agents said "all the firing came from the gun trucks," but he added that the death toll was unclear. One investigation determined two civilians died and 23 were wounded, while an Army probe concluded as many as 19 died and 50 were wounded.

None of the Afghan police and civilians, as well as members of an Army military police unit that arrived at the scene less than an hour after the bombing, confirmed the Marine unit's story that there was a coordinated ambush after the bombing, O'Dwyer said.

The 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.
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Afghanistan bans "Kite Runner" film
By Sayed Salahuddin Tue Jan 15, 5:06 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan has banned the import and exhibition of "The Kite Runner," a film about the troubled friendship of two Afghan boys, on the grounds that it could incite violence.

The U.S. studio behind "The Kite Runner," based on the 2003 best-selling novel by U.S.-based Afghan author Khaled Hosseini, last year had to get its three young stars out of their homeland before the movie debut to protect them from a possible backlash.

Paramount Vantage released the film last month after delays due to the extraordinary precautions taken to address concerns about the film's depiction of one boy's rape and other scenes of conflict between members of Pashtun and Hazara tribes.

Protests erupted last year after pirate copies of another film, "The Kabul Express" which was seen as anti-Hazara, made their way into the multi-ethnic country that is struggling to emerge from decades of invasion and civil war.

The Afghan government, whose power does not extend much beyond the main cities, then banned the film, sending prices of pirate copies soaring.

"On the basis of the instruction of the Information and Culture Ministry, the "Kite Runner" film's depiction and import has been banned," Latif Ahmadi, the head of state-run Afghan Film told Reuters late on Monday.

"Because some of its scenes are questionable and unacceptable for some people and would cause sensitiveness and would cause trouble for the government and people," he added.

"Kite Runner" explores Afghan society over three decades, from before the Soviet invasion through the rise of the Taliban, focusing on the friendship between Amir, the son of a wealthy Pashtun, and Hassan, the Hazara son of Amir's father's servant.

In one controversial scene, Hassan is raped in an alley by a Pashtun bully. A third character, Sohrab, is later forced to perform an erotic dance by a corrupt Taliban official.

Ahmad Jaan Mahmoodzada, father of Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada who plays Hassan, has said in media interviews that he was not informed about the rape scene until just before it was shot.

The producers dispute this, saying he was told about the scene well in advance and consented. The rape scene is considered inflammatory and anti-Islamic in Afghan society.
(Editing by Alex Richardson)
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Poppy cultivation a growing problem in Afghanistan
Calcutta News.Net Tuesday 15th January, 2008
Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is increasing alarmingly by 20 to 30 percent every season, even though U.S-led forces are operating in the war-ravaged country.

Brigadier Babar Idrees, who heads the Anti Narcotic Force Punjab unit, says Kabul's failure to stem the menace is multiplying Pakistan's problems in hunting down drug smugglers.

During the current season, poppy was being cultivated over an area of around 180,000 hectares across the border, Idrees said.

He added that nearly 36 percent of Afghanistan's heroin production was being smuggled to western countries through Pakistan, which they consider has safe passages for smuggling.

The ANF currently has only 2,400 personnel and this would be raised to 3,100 to reinforce its capability to operate against drug pushers.
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Afghan kidnap gang arrested
News 24 South Africa - Jan 15 12:34 AM
Kabul - Afghan police have arrested a gang of abductors who chopped off the fingers and toes of their hostages and sent them to families with ransom demands, the interior ministry said on Monday.

The six men operated in the southern town of Lashkar Gah and were arrested on Sunday, ministry spokesperson Zemarai Bashary told AFP.

"They are professional abductors. They used to chop fingers or toes of hostages and send them to their families in packets demanding a ransom," he said.

The gang was caught with knives and other tools that they used and had confessed, he said. They had on three occasions obtained ransoms of between $40 000 and $70 000, he said.

In addition to violence linked to a bloody Taliban-led insurgency, corruption and crime have soared in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Kidnappings in particular have increased, with some abductions carried out by Taliban insurgents for political purposes but most were committed by criminal gangs seeking ransom.
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Roadside blast kills former provincial governor in S Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-15 16:05:46
KABUL, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- A roadside bomb blast triggered by remote-control has killed two tribal elders, including a former provincial governor, in Tirin Kot district of southern Afghanistan's Uruzgan province, the police said Tuesday.

"The two were heading towards their houses from a mosque at around 7:00 p.m. (1430 GMT) Monday when the bomb exploded," Uruzgan's police chief Juma Gul Himat told Xinhua.

Fazl Rabi once served as Uruzgan governor during the Mohammad Najibullah regime in the 1990s and deputy governor of Uruzgan in 2003-2004, Himat said.

No one or group took the responsibility yet.

Militancy-related violence left over 6,000 people dead in war-torn Afghanistan in 2007, the bloodiest year since the Taliban regime were toppled six years ago.

Both Afghans and NATO commanders have expected more militants attacks this year in Afghanistan.
Editor: Sun Yunlong 
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Militants Escape Control of Pakistan, Officials Say
By CARLOTTA GALL and DAVID ROHDE The New York Times January 15, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s premier military intelligence agency has lost control of some of the networks of Pakistani militants it has nurtured since the 1980s, and is now suffering the violent blowback of that policy, two former senior intelligence officials and other officials close to the agency say.

As the military has moved against them, the militants have turned on their former handlers, the officials said. Joining with other extremist groups, they have battled Pakistani security forces and helped militants carry out a record number of suicide attacks last year, including some aimed directly at army and intelligence units as well as prominent political figures, possibly even Benazir Bhutto.

The growing strength of the militants, many of whom now express support for Al Qaeda’s global jihad, presents a grave threat to Pakistan’s security, as well as NATO efforts to push back the Taliban in Afghanistan. American officials have begun to weigh more robust covert operations to go after Al Qaeda in the lawless border areas because they are so concerned that the Pakistani government is unable to do so.

The unusual disclosures regarding Pakistan’s leading military intelligence agency — Inter-Services Intelligence, or the ISI — emerged in interviews last month with former senior Pakistani intelligence officials. The disclosures confirm some of the worst fears, and suspicions, of American and Western military officials and diplomats.

The interviews, a rare glimpse inside a notoriously secretive and opaque agency, offered a string of other troubling insights likely to refocus attention on the ISI’s role as Pakistan moves toward elections on Feb. 18 and a battle for control of the government looms:

One former senior Pakistani intelligence official, as well as other people close to the agency, acknowledged that the ISI led the effort to manipulate Pakistan’s last national election in 2002, and offered to drop corruption cases against candidates who would back President Pervez Musharraf.

A person close to the ISI said Mr. Musharraf had now ordered the agency to ensure that the coming elections were free and fair, and denied that the agency was working to rig the vote. But the acknowledgment of past rigging is certain to fuel opposition fears of new meddling.

The two former high-ranking intelligence officials acknowledged that after Sept. 11, 2001, when President Musharraf publicly allied Pakistan with the Bush administration, the ISI could not rein in the militants it had nurtured for decades as a proxy force to exert pressure on India and Afghanistan. After the agency unleashed hard-line Islamist beliefs, the officials said, it struggled to stop the ideology from spreading.

Another former senior intelligence official said dozens of ISI officers who trained militants had come to sympathize with their cause and had had to be expelled from the agency. He said three purges had taken place since the late 1980s and included the removal of three ISI directors suspected of being sympathetic to the militants.

None of the former intelligence officials who spoke to The New York Times agreed to be identified when talking about the ISI, an agency that has gained a fearsome reputation for interfering in almost every aspect of Pakistani life. But two former American intelligence officials agreed with much of what they said about the agency’s relationship with the militants.

So did other sources close to the ISI, who admitted that the agency had supported militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir, although they said they had been ordered to do so by political leaders.

The former intelligence officials appeared to feel freer to speak as Mr. Musharraf’s eight years of military rule weakened, and as a power struggle for control over the government looms between Mr. Musharraf and opposition political parties.

The officials were interviewed before the assassination of Ms. Bhutto, the opposition leader, on Dec. 27. Since then, the government has said that Pakistani militants linked to Al Qaeda are the foremost suspects in her killing. Her supporters have accused the government of a hidden hand in the attack.

While the author of Ms. Bhutto’s death remains a mystery, the interviews with the former intelligence officials made clear that the agency remained unable to control the militants it had fostered.

The threat from the militants, the former intelligence officials warned, is one that Pakistan is unable to contain. “We could not control them,” said one former senior intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We indoctrinated them and told them, ‘You will go to heaven.’ You cannot turn it around so suddenly.”

The Context

After 9/11, the Bush administration pressed Mr. Musharraf to choose a side in fighting Islamist extremism and to abandon Pakistan’s longtime support for the Taliban and other Islamist militants.

In the 1990s, the ISI supported the militants as a proxy force to contest Indian-controlled Kashmir, the border territory that India and Pakistan both claim, and to gain a controlling influence in neighboring Afghanistan. In the 1980s, the United States supported militants, too, funneling billions of dollars to Islamic fighters battling Soviet forces in Afghanistan through the ISI, vastly increasing the agency’s size and power.

Publicly, Mr. Musharraf agreed to reverse course in 2001, and he has received $10 billion in aid for Pakistan since then in return. In an interview in November, he vehemently defended the conduct of the ISI, an agency that, according to American officials, was under his firm control for the last eight years while he served as both president and army chief.

Mr. Musharraf dismissed criticism of the ISI’s relationship with the militants. He cited the deaths of 1,000 Pakistani soldiers and police officers in battles with the militants in recent years — as well as several assassination attempts against himself — as proof of the seriousness of Pakistan’s counterterrorism effort.

“It is quite illogical if you think those people who have suffered 1,000 people dead, and I who have been attacked thrice or four or five times, that I would be supportive towards Taliban, towards Al Qaeda,” Mr. Musharraf said. “These are ridiculous things that discourages and demoralizes.”

But some former American intelligence officials have argued that Mr. Musharraf and the ISI never fully jettisoned their militant protégés, and instead carried on a “double-game.” They say Mr. Musharraf cooperated with American intelligence agencies to track down foreign Qaeda members while holding Taliban commanders and Kashmiri militants in reserve.

In order to undercut major opposition parties, he wooed religious conservatives, according to analysts. And instead of carrying out a crackdown, Mr. Musharraf took half-measures.

“I think he would make a decision when a situation arises,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a leading Pakistani military analyst, referring to militants openly confronting the government. “But before that he would not alienate any side.”

There is little dispute that Pakistan’s crackdown on the militants has been at best uneven, but key sources interviewed by The Times disagreed on why.

Most Western officials in Pakistan say they believe, as Pakistani officials, including President Musharraf, insist, that the agency is well disciplined, like the army, and is in no sense a rogue or out-of-control organization acting contrary to the policies of the leadership.

A senior Western military official in Pakistan said that if the ISI was covertly aiding the Taliban, the decision would come from the top of the government, not the agency. “That’s not an ISI decision,” the official said. “That’s a government-of-Pakistan decision.”

But former Pakistani intelligence officials insisted that Mr. Musharraf had ordered a crackdown on all militants. It was never fully carried out, however, because of opposition within his government and within ISI, they said.

One former senior intelligence official said that some officials in the government and the ISI thought the militants should be held in reserve, as insurance against the day when American and NATO forces abandoned the region and Pakistan might again need them as a lever against India.

“We had a school of thought that favored retention of this capability,” the former senior intelligence official said.

Some senior ministers and officials in Mr. Musharraf’s government sympathized with the militants and protected them, former intelligence officials said. Still others advised a go-slow approach, fearing a backlash against the government from the militants.

When arrests were ordered, the police refused to carry them out in some cases until they received written orders, believing the militants were still protected by the ISI, as they had been for years.

Inside the ISI, there was division as well. One part of the ISI hunted down militants, the officials said, while another continued to work with them. The result was confusion.

In interviews in 2002, Kashmiri militants in Pakistan said they had been told by the government to maintain a low profile and wait. But as Pakistani military operations in the tribal areas intensified, along with airstrikes by C.I.A.-operated drones, militant groups there issued highly charged and sometimes exaggerated accounts of women and children being killed.

The first suicide bombing attack on a military target outside the tribal areas came days after an airstrike on a madrasa in the tribal area of Bajaur in October 2006 killed scores of people.

Another turning point came last July when Pakistani forces stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad, where militants had armed themselves in a compound less than a mile from ISI headquarters and demanded the imposition of Islamic law. Government officials said that more than 100 people died. The militants have insisted that thousands did.

Several weeks later, militants carried out the first direct attacks on ISI employees. Suicide bombers twice attacked buses ferrying agency employees, killing 18 on Sept. 4 and 15 more on Nov. 24. According to Pakistani analysts, the attacks signaled that enraged militants had turned on their longtime patrons.

The Militant

One militant leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, typifies how extremists once trained by the ISI have broken free of the agency’s control, turned against the government and joined with other militants to create powerful new networks.

In 2000, Mr. Azhar received support from the ISI when he founded Jaish-e-Muhammad, or Army of Muhammad, a Pakistani militant group fighting Indian forces in Kashmir, according to Robert Grenier, who served as the Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Islamabad from 1999 to 2002. The ISI intermittently provided training and operational coordination to such groups, he said, but struggled to fully control them.

Mr. Musharraf banned Jaish-e-Muhammad and detained Mr. Azhar after militants carried out an attack on the Indian Parliament building in December 2001. Indian officials accused Jaish-e-Muhammad and another Pakistani militant group of masterminding the attack. After India massed hundreds of thousands of troops on Pakistan’s border, Mr. Musharraf vowed in a nationally televised speech that January to crack down on all militants in Pakistan.

“We will take strict action against any Pakistani who is involved in terrorism inside the country or abroad,” he said. Two weeks later, a British-born member of Mr. Azhar’s group, Ahmed Omar Sheikh, kidnapped Daniel Pearl, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who was beheaded by his captors. Mr. Sheikh surrendered to the ISI, the agency that had supported Jaish-e-Muhammad, and was sentenced to death for the kidnapping.

After Mr. Pearl’s killing, Pakistani officials arrested more than 2,000 people in a crackdown. But within a year, Mr. Azhar and most of the 2,000 militants who had been arrested were freed. “I never believed that government ties with these groups was being irrevocably cut,” said Mr. Grenier, now a managing director at Kroll, a risk consulting firm.

At the same time, Pakistan seemingly went “through the motions” when it came to hunting Taliban leaders who fled into Pakistan after the 2001 American invasion of Afghanistan, he said.

Encouraged by the United States, the Pakistanis focused their resources on arresting senior Qaeda members, he said, which they successfully did from 2002 to 2005. Since then, arrests have slowed as Al Qaeda and other militant groups have become more entrenched in the tribal areas.

Asked in 2006 why the Pakistani government did not move against the leading Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, and his son Sirajuddin, who are based in the tribal areas and have long had links with Al Qaeda, one senior ISI official said it was because Pakistan needed to retain some assets of its own.

That policy haunts Mr. Musharraf and the United States, according to American and Pakistani analysts. Today Pakistan’s tribal areas are host to a lethal stew of foreign Qaeda members, Uzbek militants, Taliban, ISI-trained Pakistani extremists, disgruntled tribesmen and new recruits.

The groups carried out a record number of suicide bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan last year and have been tied to three major terrorist plots in Britain and Germany since 2005.

Mr. Azhar, who once served his ISI mentors in Kashmir, is thought to be hiding in the tribal area of Bajaur, or nearby Dir, and fighting Pakistani security forces, according to one former intelligence official. Militants who took part in the Red Mosque siege in Islamabad in July were closely affiliated with Mr. Azhar’s group. This fall, his group fielded fighters in the Swat Valley, the famous tourist spot, where the militants presented a challenge of new proportions to the government, seizing several districts and mounting battles against Pakistani forces that left scores dead.

One militant from a banned sectarian group who joined Mr. Azhar’s group, Qari Zafar, now trains insurgents in South Waziristan on how to rig roadside bombs and vests for suicide bombings, according to the former intelligence official.

Cooperation against the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan has improved since 2006, and three senior Taliban figures have been caught, according to Western officials and sources close to the ISI. Yet doubts remain about the Pakistani government’s intentions.

Senior provincial ISI officials continue to meet with high-level members of the Taliban in the border provinces, according to one Western diplomat. “It is not illogical to surmise that cooperation is on the agenda, and not just debriefing,” the diplomat said.

“There are groups they know they have lost control of,” the Western diplomat added. But the government moved only against those groups that have attacked the Pakistani state, the diplomat said, adding, “It seems very difficult for them to write them off.”

The Agency Now

Western officials say that before Mr. Musharraf resigned as army chief in December, he appointed a loyalist to run the ISI and appears determined to retain power over the agency even as a civilian president.

“For as long as he can, Musharraf will keep trying to control these organizations,” a Western diplomat said. “I don’t think we should expect this man to become an elder statesman as we know it.”

That puts Mr. Musharraf’s successor as army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who headed the ISI from 2004 to 2007, in a potentially pivotal position. General Kayani, a pro-American moderate, is loyal to Mr. Musharraf to a point, according to retired officers. But he will abandon him if he thinks Mr. Musharraf’s actions are significantly undermining the standing of the Pakistani army.

Mr. Musharraf will maintain control over the agency as long as his interests coincide with General Kayani’s, they said, while the new civilian prime minister who emerges from February’s elections is likely to have far less authority over the agency. Opposition political parties already accuse the agency of meddling in next month’s election. The Western diplomat called the ISI “the army’s dirty bag of tricks.”

Since Ms. Bhutto’s assassination, members of her party have accused government officials, including former ISI agents, of having a hidden hand in the attack or of knowing about a plot and failing to inform Ms. Bhutto.

American experts played down the chances of a government conspiracy against Ms. Bhutto. They also said it was unlikely that low-level or retired officers working alone or with militants carried out the attack.

But nearly half of Pakistanis said in a recent poll that they suspected that government agencies or pro-government politicians had assassinated Ms. Bhutto. Such suspicion stems from decades of interference in elections and politics by the ISI, according to analysts, as well as a high level of domestic surveillance, intimidation and threats to journalists, academics and human rights activists, which former intelligence officials also acknowledged.

Pakistani and American experts say that distrust speaks to the urgent need to reform a hugely powerful intelligence agency that Pakistan’s military rulers have used for decades to suppress political opponents, manipulate elections and support militant groups.

“Pakistan would certainly be better off if the ISI were never used for domestic political purposes,” said Mr. Grenier, the former C.I.A. Islamabad station chief. “That goes without saying.”

Pakistani analysts and Western diplomats argue that the country will remain unstable as long as the ISI remains so powerful and so unaccountable. The ISI has grown more powerful in each period of military rule, they said.

Civilian leaders, including Mrs. Bhutto, could not resist using it to secure their political aims, but neither could they control it. And the army continues to rely on the ISI for its own foreign policy aims, particularly battling India in Kashmir and seeking influence in Afghanistan.

“The question is, how do you change that?” asked one Western diplomat. “Their tentacles are everywhere.”
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