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January 16, 2008 

Iran has stopped expulsion of Afghan nationals, Embassy
Kabul, Jan 16, IRNA - Iranian Embassy in Kabul said on Wednesday that Iran has currently stopped implementing a plan to expel foreign nationals who stay in Iran illegally.

Afghanistan summons Iranian envoy on winter expulsions
Wed Jan 16, 5:34 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The Afghan foreign ministry said it had summoned the top Iranian diplomat in Kabul to complain about the expulsion of thousands of Afghans over the winter and call for an immediate halt.

Severe cold, snow claim 120 lives in Afghanistan
Wed Jan 16, 6:38 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Two weeks of heavy snowfalls, avalanches and severe cold in Afghanistan have killed 120 people and tens of thousands of domestic animals, government officials said Wednesday.

Afghanistan: Over 140 killed, dozens injured as winter bites
KABUL, 16 January 2008 (IRIN) - Heavy snow and extremely cold weather have killed at least 140, mostly children and elderly people, and injured many others in different parts of Afghanistan, over the past two weeks

Winter aggravates IDP hardships
LASHKARGAH, 16 January 2008 (IRIN) - Tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in formal and informal camps, abandoned buildings and other locations in the south, west and north of Afghanistan face

UK's Ashdown accepts job as U.N. Afghan envoy: source
By Darren Ennis Wed Jan 16, 8:33 AM ET
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - British politician and former soldier Paddy Ashdown has agreed to become the United Nations' envoy to Afghanistan, a source close to negotiations on the post said on Wednesday.

Paddy Ashdown to become 'super envoy' in Afghanistan
Philippe Naughton and Greg Hurst Times Online (UK) January 16, 2008
Paddy Ashdown was said today to have agreed terms for him to become the new United Nations “super envoy” to Afghanistan.

Taliban threaten restaurant attacks
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Wed Jan 16, 6:24 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Security experts responsible for the safety of Americans and other Westerners in Kabul were evaluating on Wednesday whether restaurants that cater to foreigners should be off limits after the Taliban

Afghan army to lead military operations, supported by US-led coalition
By ALISA TANG, Associated Press Writer AP
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHANK, Afghanistan - The Afghan army will take the lead in nearly all military operations in eastern Afghanistan this year, with U.S. troops in a support role, a top American general said Wednesday.

Germany Considers Sending More Combat Troops to Afghanistan
By Patrick Donahue
Jan. 16 (Bloomberg) -- The German government is considering sending as many as 240 extra troops to Afghanistan as part of a rapid-reaction combat force, drawing criticism from opposition lawmakers that the move oversteps the original mission mandate.

Gates faults NATO allies in southern Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates has publicly criticized some fellow NATO forces in Afghanistan, saying they do not know how to fight a guerrilla insurgency.

NATO allies resist calls for more troops
By PAUL AMES, Associated Press Writer Tue Jan 15, 4:50 PM ET
BRUSSELS, Belgium - All 26 NATO nations have soldiers in Afghanistan and all agree the mission is their top priority. But the refusal of European allies to send more combat troops is forcing an already stretched U.S. military

Dutch defence minister summons U.S. ambassador over reported Gates remarks
The Canadian Press
THE HAGUE, Netherlands - The Dutch government has summoned the U.S. ambassador Wednesday to explain reported remarks by U.S. defence secretary criticizing the capacity of NATO troops in southern Afghanistan to carry out their mission.

Canadian Panel May Recommend Reducing Afghan Mission, Star Says
By Kevin Bell
Jan. 16 (Bloomberg) -- A Canadian panel will likely recommend that the country reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan and focus more on training Afghan officers to take over security duties, the Toronto Star reported.

US says it has broad support for new Afghan anti-poppy drive
by Lachlan Carmichael
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States says it has garnered broad support for Afghans to mount a new drive next month to wipe out major opium poppy fields and deprive a resurgent Taliban of a key source of funds.

Afghan police need security before they can learn skills: RCMP
Police officers dying in record numbers
Mike Blanchfield, Ottawa Citizen Tuesday, January 15, 2008
OTTAWA -- Training a viable Afghanistan police force is a long way off and totally dependent on first defeating the Taliban insurgency, a senior RCMP official said Tuesday.

Abandoning Afghanistan
Dion and Ignatieff aren't just spineless -- they're misleading Canadians
John Turley-Ewart,  National Post  Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2008
When the tragic news of another Canadian death in Afghanistan was released Tuesday, federal Liberals praised the Canadian Forces for "put[ting] themselves in harm's way to create a safe and secure world for the people of Afghanistan

Liberals get a boost from Kandahar trip
January 16, 2008 - CHANTAL HÉBERT- TORONTO STAR
OTTAWA - With some help from the Liberal leader himself, Conservative strategists had a field day framing Stéphane Dion as a weakling last year. But now there are signs that he is breaking out of that box. His trip to Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, our rivalries conspire to make a great nation small
GEORGE PETROLEKAS Special to Globe and Mail Update January 16, 2008 at 12:54 AM EST
On Monday, the Globe and Mail broke the story of interdepartmental conflict threatening Canada's Strategic Advisory Team (SAT) in Kabul, arguably the most influential contribution that Canada has made to Afghanistan.

Officials reviewing future of Kabul team
DANIEL LEBLANC From Wednesday's Globe and Mail January 16, 2008 at 5:12 AM EST
OTTAWA — A team of Canadian military advisers in Kabul will be a victim of their success if they are disbanded, senior Canadian officials said yesterday as they refused to guarantee the survival of the lauded Strategic Advisory Team.

Iran's Investment Top Priority for Afghanistan
Fars News Agency January 16, 2008
TEHRAN (FNA)- A visiting Afghan official Tuesday night described Iran's investments in his country as vital.

Big cut in Afghan TB cases shows aid works: Canada
Wed Jan 16, 2008 2:07am IST
OTTAWA (Reuters) - The number of Afghans dying from tuberculosis has fallen by half in recent months, a statistic that shows Canada's efforts to help fight the disease are working, officials said on Tuesday.

Afghanistan: Former Taliban Commander Advises U.S. Ambassador
By Ron Synovitz Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty January 16, 2008
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, William Wood, on January 13 met with Mullah Abdul Salaam, the former Taliban commander who recently defected to the side of the Afghan government and now heads the Kabul-backed

Payments made to 17 Afghans for deaths
By ESTES THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer Tue Jan 15, 6:21 PM ET
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - Payments were made to Afghan civilians who were injured or related to those killed by a Marines special operations unit as it reacted to a car bombing and what it believed was a well-planned ambush, a military official testified Tuesday.

American killed in Afghanistan a 'passionate believer'
(CNN) -- Friends and family planned a memorial service in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday for Thor Hesla, who died in Monday's attack on a luxury hotel in Afghanistan.

Militants capture Pakistani fort; 47 dead
By Hafiz Wazir
WANA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Hundreds of militants in northwest Pakistan attacked and captured a paramilitary fort early on Wednesday and seven soldiers and 40 militants were killed, the military said.

US seeks stepped up counter-insurgency training for Pakistan
ST PETERSBURG, Florida (AFP) — The commander of US forces in the Middle East said Wednesday the Pakistani military appears willing to work more closely with the US military on counter-insurgency efforts in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Karzai lends his weight to peace jirga
By Zubair Babakarkhel - 13/01/2008 - 19:19
KABUL, Jan 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A peace caravan from eastern provinces, at a meeting with President Hamid Karzai here on Sunday, pleaded for negotiations with dissident groups in the interest of stability in the war-ravaged country.

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Iran has stopped expulsion of Afghan nationals, Embassy 
Kabul, Jan 16, IRNA - Iranian Embassy in Kabul said on Wednesday that Iran has currently stopped implementing a plan to expel foreign nationals who stay in Iran illegally.

The Embassy said in a statement that the plan is currently on hold on humanitarian ground following a request made by the Afghan government to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The statement said that Iranian Ambassador to Kabul Fada-Hossein Maleki conveyed request of the Afghan government to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and he agreed to stop expulsion of Afghans staying in Iran illegally.

"So, a grace period has been given to the Afghan government to make preparations for hosting the Afghan nationals to be expelled from Iran in future," the statement said.

Some 2.5 million Afghans stay in Iran of whom about 1.5 million do not have documents for longer stay.

The Afghan nationals enjoy dlrs five million a day in subsidies in addition to several thousand job opportunities available for them.
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Afghanistan summons Iranian envoy on winter expulsions
Wed Jan 16, 5:34 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The Afghan foreign ministry said it had summoned the top Iranian diplomat in Kabul to complain about the expulsion of thousands of Afghans over the winter and call for an immediate halt.

Nearly 9,000 Afghans in Iran have been illegally deported in the past two weeks, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The ministry said it summoned the acting Iranian ambassador, Sayed Mohayaddin Najafi, to express "serious concerns about forced and mass repatriation of Afghan refugees during the freezing months of winter."

Officials called on Tehran to immediately halt the repatriation "because we don't have capacity to accept large groups of refugees, particularly in winter months," said the ministry, which called the expulsions a "human tragedy."

It was the second time in just over two months that Afghanistan has summoned the Iranian representative on the issue.

During his meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Kabir Farahi, Najafi was told the forced repatriations were against agreements between the neighbours, the ministry said.

The two countries signed an agreement that the return of registered Afghan refugees from Iran must be voluntary and conducted in a safe and dignified way. But the agreement does not cover unregistered Afghans.

"So far this year nearly 9,000 Afghan nationals who were illegally present were deported from Iran," UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Mohammad Nader Farhad told AFP.

The UNHCR has appealed to Iran "for a more dignified process of deportation of illegal Afghans" given the harsh winter weather, he said.

Iran estimates there are about 1.5 million Afghans illegally living within its borders with another 900,000 there as registered refugees.

Most of the illegal Afghans are young men looking for work. Last year 365,000 were returned from Iran while around 7,000 registered refugees came home voluntarily, Farhad said.

Iranian authorities this month warned Afghans without documents that they faced arrest and detention for up to five years if they did not leave.

Since 2002, around four million Afghans have returned to their country after fleeing during years of war and drought. It is one of the world's biggest repatriation drives.

There are still two million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
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Severe cold, snow claim 120 lives in Afghanistan
Wed Jan 16, 6:38 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Two weeks of heavy snowfalls, avalanches and severe cold in Afghanistan have killed 120 people and tens of thousands of domestic animals, government officials said Wednesday.

Parts of northern Afghanistan are under 3.5 metres (11 feet) of snow with several roads blocked, cutting off scores of remote villages and districts that are home to thousands of people, the disaster management department said.

In two weeks to Tuesday, 106 people were recorded dead and 134 wounded, it said. Nearly 30,000 animals were also killed and more than 50 districts cut off, it said in a statement.

The hardest-hit province was Herat in the west, where 60 people were confirmed dead and 17 missing, it said.

Authorities in the northwestern province of Faryab announced separately Wednesday that 14 people, including four children, had died in the severe cold.

Up to 100,000 animals were also dead, the head of the provincial council, Sayed Farokh Jenab, told AFP. Six people were in hospital, he said.

Afghanistan, where most people live in severe poverty, is a country of climatic contrasts: scorching, dry summers are replaced by bitter winters that claim scores of lives, with many killed in avalanches in the Hindu Kush mountains.
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Afghanistan: Over 140 killed, dozens injured as winter bites
KABUL, 16 January 2008 (IRIN) - Heavy snow and extremely cold weather have killed at least 140, mostly children and elderly people, and injured many others in different parts of Afghanistan, over the past two weeks, according to the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authorities (ANDMA) and provincial authorities.

In Herat Province, bordering Iran, local officials said dozens lost their lives and several others were injured after temperatures fell to 25 degrees Centigrade.

"Our reports indicate that 105 people died and 17 others are missing across the province," said Agha Mohammad Siddiqi, chairman of the emergency response commission in Herat Province.

In neighbouring Ghor Province cold weather and heavy snow killed at least 20 people and injured 25 others, Abdul Matin Edrabk, director of ANDMA, told IRIN.

About 20 people, mostly children, also died in Farah and Daykundi provinces where a shortage of food and fuel in local markets has caused widespread concerns among rural inhabitants, ANDMA said.

Figures compiled by ANDMA show that almost 30,000 farm animals died in Ghor, Faryab, Saripul and Herat provinces.

Aid convoy blocked

For the past two weeks, roads to dozens of districts in over 15 of the country's 34 provinces have remained blocked, and traders have been unable to transport food, fuel and other goods to local markets.

As a result, prices of food items and fuel have risen sharply in many areas making it more difficult for poor rural families to meet their food and heating requirements.

A convoy of commercial trucks carrying about 800 metric tonnes (mt) of UN World Food Programme (WFP) food aid to Daykundi Province in central Afghanistan could not reach its final destination due to blocked roads and extremely cold weather, WFP said.

The food aid was intended for 10,000 vulnerable families through food-for-work projects, said Ebadullah Ebadi, a WFP spokesman in Kabul. "We will keep trying to deliver the aid in the near future."

WFP has already distributed and/or stocked 22,000 mt of mixed food aid in 17 vulnerable provinces across the country through a pre-winter preparatory programme.

Haji Abdul Baqi Akrami, deputy governor of Daykundi Province, told IRIN on the phone that shortages of food items, particularly wheat flour, have increasingly affected people in isolated districts.

Officials in Ghor and Farah provinces echoed the concerns and demanded urgent humanitarian relief be delivered to thousands of food-insecure people.

Weak response capacity

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for "urgent" and "comprehensive" relief delivery to those affected by the severe weather in Herat Province and other parts of the country, said a statement issued by his office on 13 January.

While aid has reached some affected families in Herat Province and elsewhere, the Afghan Red Crescent Society and other government relief bodies say lack of resources and a weak implementation capacity are hindering efforts to respond effectively.
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Winter aggravates IDP hardships
LASHKARGAH, 16 January 2008 (IRIN) - Tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in formal and informal camps, abandoned buildings and other locations in the south, west and north of Afghanistan face the threat of contracting winter diseases and are struggling to keep warm, affected people and officials said.

Pneumonia and acute respiratory infections are two major diseases, which have killed at least seven children, according to several IDPs in Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, where thousands of people have been displaced by armed conflict.

Reports of several child deaths from winter diseases also came from Herat, Balkh and Kunduz provinces where thousands of IDPs, mostly affected by communal tensions, drought and other natural disasters, have sought refuge over the past few years.

Standing outside a mud-hut in the outskirts of Lashkargah near several shivering, barefoot children, a displaced man, Mohammad Ibrahim, moaned over the death of his 3-year-old daughter, saying: "She died because of the cold weather."

A woman in Shaydayee camp, about 10km south of Herat city, said her father-in-law died because of respiratory problems caused by the cold.

"No outbreak so far"

Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) is currently verifying reports of pneumonia deaths in some parts of the country, but has not confirmed a single case to date.

"There is no outbreak of any disease so far," said Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman for the MoPH in Kabul.

"The Ministry of Public Health and its partner NGOs [non-governmental organisations] will provide a prompt and effective response should an emergency or outbreak occur," he said.

On 8 January, Afghanistan declared a public health "alert" after heavy snowfall, avalanches and flooding caused human losses in a number of provinces and raised concerns about a possible outbreak of winter diseases.

How many IDPs are there?

Due to access restrictions and lack of resources in provincial bodies, neither the government nor aid agencies know exactly how many people are displaced throughout the country.

At least 44,000 people were displaced as a result of intense fighting mostly in southern provinces in the first half of 2007, the UN estimated.

More than 120,000 other IDPs known as "protracted" and/or "long-term" displaced persons have also been living at a number of locations across the country since late 2001, the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR) said.

Some experts, including Khalid Koser of the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, estimate that currently there are about 300,000 IDPs in different parts of Afghanistan.

After assisting in the return of about 900,000 IDPs to their original areas in 2002-2005, UN agencies stopped providing relief items to several IDP camps in March 2006.

However, officials in Helmand, Kandahar and Herat provinces say the situation of protracted IDPs - who still live in the old camps - has worsened with the arrival of new conflict-affected IDPs, and that their humanitarian aid needs have gradually increased.

"Both old and new IDPs are widely vulnerable and are in need of assistance particularly during winter months," said Abdul Sattar Mazhari, head of the provincial refugees and repatriation department in Helmand Province.

Avoiding aid dependency

The decision to restart regular relief operations for IDPs has been complicated by at least two factors: the desire on the part of aid agencies to avoid aid dependency, and the lack of resources to sustain effective relief efforts.

"Some IDPs have maintained unrealistic expectations of the government and aid agencies, and have remained in displacement only to receive free aid," Shir Mohammad Etibari, Afghanistan's minister of refugees and repatriation, told IRIN without specifying the exact number of such IDPs.

Etibari agreed, however, there were many vulnerable IDPs who deserve meaningful humanitarian assistance. "Our government does not have the capacity and means to launch and sustain a comprehensive aid programme even for vulnerable IDPs," he said. Back to Top

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UK's Ashdown accepts job as U.N. Afghan envoy: source
By Darren Ennis Wed Jan 16, 8:33 AM ET
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - British politician and former soldier Paddy Ashdown has agreed to become the United Nations' envoy to Afghanistan, a source close to negotiations on the post said on Wednesday.

The role will put Ashdown at the heart of international efforts to combat a Taliban insurgency and guide reconstruction.

"Yes, he has accepted the job," the source said of an agreement between Ashdown, 66, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after talks about Ashdown's request for a strengthened mandate for the post.

A spokesman for Ashdown declined to comment on whether an agreement had been reached. The source said that the United Nations was expected to make an announcement confirming the appointment imminently.

Western sources have said Ashdown will have greater powers than his predecessor, U.N. special envoy Tom Koenigs, to coordinate with the government of President Hamid Karzai, and with bodies such as NATO and the European Union.

However they stress he will have no say in the chain of command in NATO, which is leading a 42,000-strong peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he could not confirm Ashdown's appointment but told reporters in Brussels:

"I would very much appreciate and applaud the nomination of a strong coordinator by the secretary general of the United Nations. I would applaud it."

"He (Ashdown) is somebody with great experience of course for such a job," he added.

ENHANCED MANDATE
In an interview with Reuters in October, Ashdown -- former U.N. High Representative and EU special representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina -- called for "for a high-level coordinator" to lead the foreign mission in Afghanistan.

He said that if such a new position was not created, the West would lose the war in Afghanistan, risking a regional conflict that could match the magnitude of previous world wars.

But the former leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats, who now heads the Brussels-based EU-Russia Centre think tank, at the time ruled himself out of the job.

He saw active service as a soldier with Britain's Royal Marine commando units in the jungles of Borneo and on the streets of Belfast.

The source said a main focus of Ashdown's efforts will be to liaise between the 39-nation NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a smaller U.S.-led military coalition, a small EU police mission and the U.N. presence.

He will also be responsible for coordinating U.N. agencies and NGOs delivering humanitarian assistance in the country.

"There definitely seems to be an understanding on the U.N. side about the enhanced mandate needed for the job," the source said.

The Taliban have in past months increased the number of suicide attacks after suffering heavy casualties in conventional clashes with foreign forces and the Afghan army.

While Western forces, alongside the Afghan army, have claimed victories against Taliban rebels in the south, many remote areas and some towns remain under rebel control and insurgent attacks have hit regions once considered safe.

(Additional reporting by Mark John and Ingrid Melander, editing by Keith Weir)
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Paddy Ashdown to become 'super envoy' in Afghanistan
Philippe Naughton and Greg Hurst Times Online (UK) January 16, 2008
Paddy Ashdown was said today to have agreed terms for him to become the new United Nations “super envoy” to Afghanistan.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, the former Liberal Democrat leader, was said by United Nations sources to have accepted the role. A formal announcement is expected to follow, although his precise responsibilities have yet to be confirmed.

He has been keep to do the job but has insisted on been given enhanced powers to give him the scope and authority he felt were needed to undertake the role. Otherwise he felt the job would not be worth doing, he had told friends.

His conditions required extra negotiation and approval, particularly from the Americans. There were also sensitivities within the Afghan government about beefing up the role in a way that carries echoes of a British colonial-style governor.

Lord Ashdown, who left the Commons in 2001, two years after stepping down as leader of the Liberal Democrats, is a former Royal Marine Commando and special forces officer.

He was held to have acquitted himself well in his previous role as the international administrator, as the European Union’s special representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 2002 to 2006.

He will replace a German diplomat, Tom Koenigs, who has had a low profile as the UN’s Special Representative in Afghanistan.

As part of his wish for a stronger mandate, Lord Ashdown has sought to combine the post with some of the former responsibilities of Nato’s civilian envoy to Afghanistan, Daan Everts, who concluded his mission at the end of last year.

Mr Koenigs had expressed his frustrations at the lack of coordination between the various missions and international agencies in Afghanistan, where Nato has 42,000 troops and there is still a separate US-led military coalition.

Mr Everts, his Nato counterpart, had also criticised the lack of strong central power in Afghanistan, which had meant a fragmented approach to running the country and an unhelpful division of responsibilities among the various states that have committed troops there.

As “super envoy”, Lord Ashdown would be expected to become the main point of contact between President Karzai and the international forces, EU policing mission and UN contingent, as well as co-ordinate reconstruction efforts. He would have to balance the need for "Afghanisation" with that of combating the Taleban insurgency.

A spokesman for Lord Ashdown declined to comment on whether an agreement had been reached on the post, nor on what precise powers he might enjoy. But Western diplomats said that he would have no oversight over the chain of command in Nato, which is leading the peace effort in Afghanistan.

His candidacy for the post, against other contenders including Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister, had been backed notably by the United States.
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Taliban threaten restaurant attacks
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Wed Jan 16, 6:24 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Security experts responsible for the safety of Americans and other Westerners in Kabul were evaluating on Wednesday whether restaurants that cater to foreigners should be off limits after the Taliban warned that suicide bombers would target them.

The warning came the day after a deadly attack Monday on the Serena Hotel — a well-guarded, high-profile property in Kabul frequented by Westerners.

The country's intelligence chief linked the assault to a Pakistani militant, and Afghan officials arrested four people, and said they included one of the three attackers, who was disguised in a police uniform for the assault.

The death toll in the bombing and shooting attack on the hotel rose to eight. An American, a Norwegian journalist and a Filipina who died of her wounds Tuesday were among those killed.

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

Taliban spokesmen often boast that militants plan to step up attacks, claims that often fail to come true. Suicide bombings have increased in the last two years, however, and the hotel attack was the first against a facility favored by Westerners.

Security companies that protect international workers in Afghanistan restricted Westerners' movements Tuesday, placing restaurants and stores frequented by foreigners off-limits for some.

Kabul has about a half dozen restaurants popular with Westerners. The establishments — run by ex-pats with themed menus such as French or Mexican — do not allow Afghans entry because they serve alcohol, which is illegal for Muslims here. The restaurants sit behind nondescript walls and do little advertising, relying on word-of-mouth to bring in customers.

Some Westerners said they would continue to eat out. Christoph Klawitter, the head of a German logistics company, said he dined out two to three times a week, including at the Serena, before the attack.

"I will still go out but not as often as before, maybe, and the venue now is more important," he said. "The Serena was pretty secure, and even there they got in. So I don't know. The more security, the more likely it is I might go there."

The Taliban have targeted aid workers and civilian contractors with kidnappings and killings. But the Islamic militants have typically focused attacks on Western and Afghan officials or security personnel, not civilians.

If there are more attacks on Western establishments, it will likely restrict Westerners' freedom of movement even further, and eventually could force aid agencies from the country, the way attacks in Iraq did.

"This is a new kind of target for the Taliban," Barney Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, wrote on his blog. "Foreigners going to restaurants in Kabul ... sometimes joke that they feel like targets. Up to now, however, they have not been."

Referring to the attack on the Serena, Rubin added: "I imagine it will not be the last" such attack.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N. Security Council issued separate statements condemning the hotel attack and called for redoubled efforts to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.

"The attack will not diminish the commitment of the international community to Afghanistan," Ban said.

The Serena attack was a grim start to 2008 after record violence last year, possibly showing that militants could be refining their strategy to undermine the government of President Hamid Karzai and the Western-backed campaign to stabilize Afghanistan.

Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan's intelligence service, said police found a video made by two of the attackers in a home in Kabul, where they arrested two men. Police also arrested a man they said was one of the attackers, while a fourth man — believed to have driven the attackers to the hotel — was arrested in eastern Afghanistan while trying to flee to Pakistan.

Saleh said three militants stormed the hotel just after 6 p.m., hunting down Westerners who hid in the gym. A guard shot and killed one attacker at the gate to the hotel parking lot, which triggered his suicide vest.

A second attacker blew himself up near the entrance to the hotel lobby, and the third attacker made it inside the hotel and shot his way through the lobby and toward the gym, Saleh said. The third attacker wore a police uniform and an explosive vest, he said.

More than 30 U.S. soldiers in a half-dozen Humvees rushed to the scene, and security personnel from the nearby U.S. Embassy ran through the hotel in search of Americans.

Thor Hesla, 45, of Atlanta, was among the dead, friends and his company said Tuesday. Hesla worked for BearingPoint Management & Technology Consultants, which had a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development to help Afghanistan rebuild, a company spokesman said.

Samina Ahmed, the South Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, was in her hotel room when the attack began. She said a hotel employee led her to the basement but there was little protection until U.S. troops arrived.

The attack "certainly is a demonstration of intent by the Taliban to make their presence felt, and it also counters in a lot of ways this growing talk that they're responsible actors and let's include them in the (peace negotiations) process," said Ahmed.

Saleh said the attack was masterminded by Mullah Abdullah, a close ally of Pakistani militant leader Siraj Haqqani. Haqqani is thought to be based in Miran Shah, the main town in Pakistan's lawless tribal region of North Waziristan and the U.S. military has a $200,000 bounty out on him. Saleh said he did not known whether Abdullah is Afghan or Pakistani.

Saleh displayed a picture taken from the hotel's security cameras showing the gunman disguised in a police uniform inside the hotel lobby.

"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.

"I commit this suicide attack for Allah," the attacker named Farouq said on the video. He was the one believed to have blown himself up during the attack.
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Associated Press writers Noor Khan in Kandahar and Amir Shah and Fisnik Abrashi in Kabul contributed to this report.
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Afghan army to lead military operations, supported by US-led coalition
By ALISA TANG, Associated Press Writer AP
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHANK, Afghanistan - The Afghan army will take the lead in nearly all military operations in eastern Afghanistan this year, with U.S. troops in a support role, a top American general said Wednesday.

Since the first major Afghan-led operation last July in southern Ghazni province, U.S. troops have been training their Afghan counterparts across the country to take over a larger share of the security responsibilities.

"Our intention is for all 2008 operations in Regional Command East to be led by Afghan National Security Forces with enabling assistance (fire support and medical evacuation in particular) from coalition forces," Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel, deputy commanding general for operations for American forces in Afghanistan, wrote in an e-mail.

"It is very seldom that coalition forces do something by themselves without Afghan participation _ and the level that we are now at is Afghans leading and coalition force supporting ... and performing operations that support the (Afghan) commander," he said.

Afghanistan had a strong army under communist rule in the 1980s, but it fell apart during the civil war a decade later. A new army was formed from scratch in 2002, after the fall of the Taliban.

The Afghan Defense Ministry plans to expand its 50,000-strong army to 70,000 troops by the end of this year, though it has said an army of 200,000 would be ideal. U.S. officials are now considering a proposal to expand the Afghan army's target strength from 70,000 to 80,000.

The international community is banking on the development of the Afghan army so that it can eventually withdraw its forces. There are more than 50,000 foreign troops in the country, including about 25,000 U.S. forces.

Lt. Col. Steven A. Baker, the commander in charge of Forward Operating Base Shank in Logar province, said that he has seen the Afghan soldiers improve dramatically from "zero" just over a year ago.

"Our objective is to have them take the lead in everything, so that we're going into more of a support and education role so that our kids don't have to come here," he said.

"Their abilities on the ground, tactically, are very good," Baker said. "They're very brave soldiers. You get in a fight, and they're with you 100 percent, but the planning and logistics piece is what we're working on."

Whereas a year ago Afghan commanders might not have even attended a high-level military briefing, on Sunday it was Afghans at this forward operating base who gave the briefing in the local language, Dari, with English translation for Votel.

"This year, hopefully, in our area of operation, the Afghan National Army is going to take the lead in operations," said Gen. Mohammad Rahim Wardak, the 201st Corps commander overseeing troops in 14 provinces, including Logar.

Afghanistan in 2007 saw a record year of insurgent violence. More than 6,500 people _ mostly militants _ died, according to an Associated Press count based on official figures.

In Logar, the brigade of Afghan commander Maj. Gen. Qadam Shah is devising and commanding operations, with coalition forces in a subordinate supportive role, Votel said.

Of seven major operations under way in eastern Afghanistan, six are "essentially being led or have the major tactical role being executed by Afghan National Security Forces," he said.

"They are taking the lead militarily, but we still have a very important role in enabling them _ things like providing fire support to them, medical evacuations, command and control," assistance that will continue for years to come.

The Afghan troops will establish positions in areas where people have long been sympathetic to the Taliban, in part because the villagers have been intimidated for so long that they can't do anything else, Votel said.

By moving into an area with "a concentration of bad people that we're trying to take care of," Afghan and coalition forces hope to create a separation between militants and the area's residents, he said.
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Germany Considers Sending More Combat Troops to Afghanistan
By Patrick Donahue
Jan. 16 (Bloomberg) -- The German government is considering sending as many as 240 extra troops to Afghanistan as part of a rapid-reaction combat force, drawing criticism from opposition lawmakers that the move oversteps the original mission mandate.

The troops would replace a detachment in northern Afghanistan headed by Norway, which wants to end its command this summer, Bernd Siebert, defense spokesman in parliament for the ruling Christian Democrats, said today in a statement. The deployment would not take Germany's commitment in Afghanistan beyond the 3,500 personnel agreed by parliament, he said.

``Should Germany take over the Quick Reaction Force, it will happen in the context of our current mandate and be limited to the northern region,'' Siebert said in the statement. ``Missions beyond that can only follow -- as has been the case - - with individual endorsement of the federal government.''

The deployment represents a ``new quality'' of engagement for Germany, with different equipment, training and orders to regular German soldiers, allowing them to be deployed ``hunting terrorists,'' Rainer Arnold, Siebert's counterpart in the Social Democrats, told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper today. Until now, German military deployments have been confined to ``stability troops'' in Mazar-e-Sharif, he said.

Germany has been criticized by U.K. and U.S. officials for refusing to send troops to fight Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan, where the U.S., Britain, Canada and the Netherlands do the bulk of the fighting.

Awaiting NATO

Defense Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe confirmed the government was considering the mission during a press briefing in Berlin today. Germany is awaiting a request from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Raabe said.

Additional combat troops will increase Germany's participation in the ``illegal war in Afghanistan,'' Oskar Lafontaine, head of the opposition Left Party, said in a statement.

Party colleague Paul Schaefer, in the same statement, said the deployment would overstep the mandate for German troops to be Afghanistan, as voted on by lawmakers in parliament. ``The German military is sinking deeper into the quagmire,'' he said.

Germany's lower house of parliament, or Bundestag, voted in October last year to extend the country's involvement with NATO forces in Afghanistan to assist rebuilding efforts. A month later, parliament renewed a mandate for troop participation in U.S.-led anti-terrorism operations, including the fight against Taliban insurgents.

NATO has about 42,000 troops in Afghanistan to stabilize the country under President Hamid Karzai after a 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime. The Taliban has launched a guerrilla insurgency that has caused stepped up violence in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where U.S., British, Canadian and Dutch troops have come under increased attack.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates yesterday approved a temporary increase of 3,200 Marines in Afghanistan, adding to its 26,000 troops, in anticipation of a possible spring offensive by the Taliban.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at pdonahue1@bloomberg.net .
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Gates faults NATO allies in southern Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates has publicly criticized some fellow NATO forces in Afghanistan, saying they do not know how to fight a guerrilla insurgency.

The remarks by Gates, who on Tuesday ordered extra 3,200 U.S. Marines to Afghanistan, were expected to raise the hackles of other NATO states, many of which have found fault with the U.S. approach to conflicts in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

In an interview published in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, Gates said that some European allies were still geared to the type of combat envisioned by Cold War planners before the fall of the Soviet Union.

"I'm worried we're deploying (military advisors) that are not properly trained and I'm worried we have some military forces that don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

"Most of the European forces, NATO forces, are not trained in counterinsurgency. They were trained for the Fulda Gap," said Gates, referring to the German region where a Soviet invasion of Western Europe was considered most likely.

The open criticism contrasted with an earlier more diplomatic approach by Gates, who had tried to smooth over differences with European allies angered by caustic comments from his predecessor as defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

Many European countries have criticized the U.S. approach in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion, saying U.S. forces failed to quell the Taliban, as well as the U.S.-led 2003 Iraq invasion which led to years of bloody insurgency.

Strong differences in approach emerged between the British and U.S. forces after bloodshed worsened last year.

The U.S. defense chief has spent months vainly urging NATO allies to send extra combat troops to Afghanistan to thwart an expected spring offensive by the Taliban, particularly in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.

The Los Angeles Times said a European NATO official involved in Afghan planning had angrily denounced Gates' comments. It quoted him as saying much of the violence in the south was a result of the small number of U.S. troops who had patrolled the region before NATO's takeover in mid-2006, a strategy that had allowed the Taliban to reconstitute there.

In the interview Gates recalled raising his concerns about the allies' counterinsurgency skills with NATO allies at a meeting in Scotland last month but said they did not appear to share his views. "No one at the table stood up and said: 'I agree with that,"' he said.

NATO troops deployed to southern Afghanistan include forces from Britain, Canada and the Netherlands.

In the interview, Gates contrasted NATO's troubled experience in southern Afghanistan with the success of a U.S. counterinsurgency program in the east under Army Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez.

"Our guys in the east, under Gen. Rodriguez, are doing a terrific job. They've got the (counterinsurgency) thing down pat," Gates said. "But I think our allies over there, this is not something they have any experience with," he said.

The NATO forces are led by a U.S. commander, Army Gen. Dan McNeill, who has called for greater contributions by NATO countries. Some member nations have been reluctant to deepen their involvement.
(Writing by David Morgan, editing by Vicki Allen)
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NATO allies resist calls for more troops
By PAUL AMES, Associated Press Writer Tue Jan 15, 4:50 PM ET
BRUSSELS, Belgium - All 26 NATO nations have soldiers in Afghanistan and all agree the mission is their top priority. But the refusal of European allies to send more combat troops is forcing an already stretched U.S. military to fill the gap, and straining the Western alliance.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday authorized the deployment of about 3,200 U.S. Marines in April to meet an expected surge in Taliban violence, raising the number of American personnel there to around 30,000, the highest since the U.S.-led 2001 invasion.

U.S. officials say Washington had to act because its European allies weren't filling the shortfall in combat units.

Several European governments have voters who harbor misgivings about President Bush's war on terrorist groups and don't want their troops on the front lines. Some also have troop commitments in Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East and are under pressure to do more for peacekeeping in Darfur.

The refusal to deploy to Afghanistan's dangerous south and east has opened a rift with Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and others which, along with the United States, have borne the brunt of Taliban violence.

The U.S. contributes one-third of the 42,000-strong NATO mission, making it the largest participant, on top of the 16,000 American troops operating independently. Of the new troops, 2,200 will join the NATO force. The other 1,000 are instructors who will be in a separate U.S. force that trains Afghan forces and hunts al-Qaida fighters.

Washington is adamant that sending the Marines won't let the allies off the hook. It stresses the new deployment will be for only seven months to reinforce NATO's International Security Assistance Force over the spring and summer "fighting season."

In a statement, the Pentagon said it "will work intensively with allies and partners to ensure all outstanding ISAF requirements are filled and the need for future extraordinary deployments by the U.S. or any ally and partner is minimized."

Turkey has NATO's second-largest military but keeps just 1,200 soldiers in Afghanistan based around Kabul. The Turks argue they are under no obligation to do more, since they get no international support for their war against Kurdish insurgents.

"There would be strong public reaction if a single soldier were killed in what is essentially seen as a U.S. war against Taliban or al-Qaida," said Gokcen Ogan at the Eurasia Strategic Research Center, a Turkish think tank.

Some allies actually make a bigger proportional contribution than the United States. The U.S. has 1.1 percent of its troops serving with NATO in Afghanistan, while Britain has 4 percent, Denmark 3.5 percent, the Netherlands 2.9 percent and Canada 2.6 percent. All of those are active in the south.

France, traditionally wary of NATO, is taking a changing stance under President Nicholas Sarkozy, who hinted last month that France's contingent of 1,300 could be strengthened.

Sarkozy has agreed to deploy Mirage warplanes from Tajikistan to a NATO base in southern Afghanistan and to send 150 military experts into the south for the first time to train Afghan army units.

NATO diplomats hope Britain will increase its contribution in Afghanistan as it scales down operations in Iraq.

Poland recently announced it would add 400 soldiers and eight much-needed helicopters to its contingent of 1,140, despite an opinion poll in December that said just over 80 percent of Poles opposed their country's participation.

Germany's more than 3,000 soldiers and Italy's 2,550 put them among the biggest contributors to the NATO force, but they bar their troops from fighting in the front-line provinces. Both face domestic political pressure to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan.

They and other nations tend to define the Afghan mission as reconstruction rather than fighting. Spain stresses the role of its 770 soldiers is helping build hospitals and schools in the western region where they operate, and has put strict limits on their combat role.

Even under Sarkozy, a significant injection of new French combat troops is not expected. A French defense ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly on the matter, said France believes greater focus should be placed on reconstruction and training the Afghan army.
___
Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Paris, Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Ryan Lucas in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this story.
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Dutch defence minister summons U.S. ambassador over reported Gates remarks
The Canadian Press
THE HAGUE, Netherlands - The Dutch government has summoned the U.S. ambassador Wednesday to explain reported remarks by U.S. defence secretary criticizing the capacity of NATO troops in southern Afghanistan to carry out their mission.

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates was quoted in an interview in the Los Angeles Times as saying he's worried some military forces don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations.

Defence Ministry spokesman Otto Beeksma says the minister has asked the ambassador to give an explanation of these remarks.

The remark, if accurate, could be considered insulting to the Dutch, who along with the British, Canadians and Australians, have been among the few NATO allies willing to take on missions in southern Afghanistan.

The question is especially sensitive for the Dutch, who on Saturday killed two of their own troops and two allied Afghan soldiers in "friendly fire" incidents.

Around 1,650 Dutch troops are stationed in the southern province of Uruzgan and the Dutch government last month extended their mission through 2010.

That despite polls showing that more Dutch people oppose involvement in Afghanistan than support it.

U.S. Ambassador Roland Arnall was asked to come to the ministry at his earliest convenience, Beeksma said.

He said that if Gates was quoted correctly, then the Defence Ministry would reject his remarks.

"NATO countries meet regularly to discuss strategy, as we did recently in Edinburgh, and we have very clear communications and a useful co-operation," he said.

He added that saying the Dutch mission in southern Afghanistan is to fight a "counterinsurgency" would be inaccurate.

"It's a reconstruction mission, it's a fighting mission, it's a counterinsurgency, it's a training mission, it's a 'war among the people' - about the only thing you could definitely say is it's not a conventional war," he said.
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Canadian Panel May Recommend Reducing Afghan Mission, Star Says
By Kevin Bell
Jan. 16 (Bloomberg) -- A Canadian panel will likely recommend that the country reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan and focus more on training Afghan officers to take over security duties, the Toronto Star reported.

The panel's recommendation, due next week, will support the transformation of the mission that is already under way, the newspaper said today, citing Alain Pellerin, of the Conference of Defence Associations.

Former Deputy Prime Minister John Manley is leading the panel that is studying the future of Canada's mission after February 2009.

Manley may suggest delaying any decisions on the mission until after the North American Treaty Organization meets in April, when troop commitments to Afghanistan are expected to dominate the discussions, the Star said.
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US says it has broad support for new Afghan anti-poppy drive
by Lachlan Carmichael
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States says it has garnered broad support for Afghans to mount a new drive next month to wipe out major opium poppy fields and deprive a resurgent Taliban of a key source of funds.

After spurning US calls for an aerial chemical spray campaign, Afghanistan and European countries now back a "very tough manual," albeit more dangerous ground-based eradication plan, State Department official Thomas Schweich said.

He said the plan is "an integrated part of a program" aimed at planting alternative crops, "interdicting" top drug traffickers, prosecuting corrupt officials abetting the trade, and improved public information.

"I believe we have a lot of support from the allies ...," the department's coordinator for counter narcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan told AFP after touring London and seven other European capitals at the end of last year.

"Even those that were very skittish about aerial eradication have come in now and are supportive of a ground-based eradication campaign against wealthier farmers in wealthier areas," Schweich said.

Eradication efforts have stumbled on "sort of a myth" that poppy farmers are poor, he said. "A lot of the poppy is being grown on government land. A lot of the fields are owned by corrupt officials and wealthier Afghans."

He cited a report from the Vienna-based United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime which last year said opium cultivation is no longer associated with poverty.

His argument was well-received in Europe, he added.

Eradication plans have also snagged on a failure by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces to link the drug trade with the security threat posed by the Taliban as well as on arguments over methods and strategy.

But NATO has changed tack in disseminating public information, he said.

"In Helmand province, for example, NATO's new campaign is narcotics breeds insecurity," he said.

As for strategy, he said it was important to press ahead now with poppy eradication rather than wait until the justice system is capable of gathering evidence and successfully prosecuting those involved in the drug trade.

"We can't sit back," he argued.

But Washington lost its argument for the method of chemical spraying from the air, even though it is much safer than a ground campaign where he said "you have to fight your way in and you have to fight your way out."

With Afghan police and army offering security in broad coordination with NATO forces, he said, Afghan workers using tractors and other equipment will manually eliminate poppies from the farms.

The goal is 50,000 hectares under cultivation, compared to 20,000 hectares last year. The targets will also be better, he said.

Though a top ally, the British government was among those "actively opposed" to the air campaign for fear it would lose the "hearts and minds" of Afghans who recall harsh chemicals sprayed on fields during the Soviet occupation.

Germany and Sweden were also strongly opposed, he added.

In Kabul on January 2, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander US General Dan McNeill said Afghansitan's opium production was likely to boom in 2008.

He also predicted continued Taliban-led violence, which he said was fueled by the illicit drug trade.

Robert Templer, director of the Asia Program for the International Crisis Group, was skeptical about chances for the new campaign, saying Washington has failed to ensure key steps were taken, such as building effective policing.

He was not sure the allies would cooperate either.

"I think you'll find there's far less enthusiasm on the ground, and therefore it would not surprise me if we saw some footdragging on the part of some governments" that see a different order of priorities, he said.
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Afghan police need security before they can learn skills: RCMP
Police officers dying in record numbers
Mike Blanchfield, Ottawa Citizen Tuesday, January 15, 2008
OTTAWA -- Training a viable Afghanistan police force is a long way off and totally dependent on first defeating the Taliban insurgency, a senior RCMP official said Tuesday.

Chief Supt. David Beer, head of the RCMP's international policing directorate, said the top priority in the efforts by Canada and its allies in training fledgling Afghan police officers is to train them "to survive" because Afghan police are dying at a record rate -- 22 police officers are killed for every Afghan or coalition soldier.

That means it is premature to teach even the most basic investigative techniques. As far as protecting rights of women in Afghanistan's male-dominated society, the investigation of domestic abuse cases is at a rudimentary level, the RCMP said.

"We won't make positive and sustainable progress in developing the security forces until such time as we, and the police in particular, until such time as we have a more secure environment," said Chief Supt. Beer.

The candour of the senior Mountie is significant because training Afghan police to protect their own people is a key pillar in the exit strategy for western troops, including the 2,500 Canadians based in Kandahar.

Chief Supt. Beer's assertion that the anti-western insurgency -- which on Tuesday claimed the life of a 77th Canadian soldier -- must first be defeated before serious development and training efforts can begin flatly contradicts the calls by the Liberals and other opposition parties to "recalibrate" or "refocus" Canada's military efforts towards training Afghan security forces, instead of combat.

"True development in a policing model as we understand it is some way away. We can't trick ourselves that way," said Chief Supt. Beer.

As recently as Sunday, at least nine Afghan policemen died in two separate attacks, including eight who were slain after gunmen stormed their police outpost in Kandahar province.

Canada has 16 police officers attached to various international training efforts across Afghanistan and is expected to open a training centre for senior police officers in Kandahar city next month next to its provincial reconstruction team.

So far the PRT has relied on seven Mounties and three other municipal police officers to conduct some specialized training for Afghan police recruits, including how to administer first aid and control bleeding of roadside bomb attack victims.

Chief Supt. Beer said illiteracy remains a problem among new recruits. He also said that new measures are in place to ensure that police officers are paid on time.

Afghan police have been plagued by corruption and mass desertions because of long delays in paying officers.

Canadian military personnel are also working more closely with Afghan police, to help them deal with the occupational hazard of being a "soft target" for terrorist attacks.

Chief Supt. Beer said he has no doubt that Afghan police trained by Canadians have been killed, but he did not have statistics on the number of Afghan police who have died.

"For this reason, the military has taken an aggressive role in training, which will provide then a better opportunity, first of all, to survive," said Chief Supt. Beer.

"We're in a combat situation. Having civilian police operate in that environment demands that they have special training, indeed basic training not unlike soldiers."

As a result, don't expect Afghan police to be on the vanguard of advancing the cause of women's rights in the patriarchal southern Afghanistan.

While Canadian officials tout aid programs aimed at increasing the rights of Afghan women, particularly to protect them from domestic abuse, Chief Supt. Beer said the reality on the ground in Afghanistan makes it unfair to impose the cultural standards of western society.

"This amounts to behaviour and cultural change. It isn't done overnight," said Beer.

Speaking from the PRT in Kandahar, RCMP Staff Sgt. Higgins Elliot said he has actually seen a Kandahari policeman investigate a complaint of domestic violence.

"They do an investigation as far as talking to people to find out what happened. It's very basic. It's not as in depth as in Canada."

Ottawa Citizen
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Abandoning Afghanistan
Dion and Ignatieff aren't just spineless -- they're misleading Canadians
John Turley-Ewart,  National Post  Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2008
When the tragic news of another Canadian death in Afghanistan was released Tuesday, federal Liberals praised the Canadian Forces for "put[ting] themselves in harm's way to create a safe and secure world for the people of Afghanistan." So what were the party's two most powerful politicians doing in the country undercutting that very mission?

Stephane Dion was promoted as a principled, honest political leader -- an academic-turned-pol who would do politics differently from Jean Chretien, Paul Martin and their amoral lieutenants. Yet when he emerged from his Saturday meeting in Kabul with the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, Mr. Dion, flanked by his deputy, Michael Ignatieff, was sounding the language of cut-and-run.

Mr. Dion spoke of how a Liberal government would abandon Canada's combat-oriented posture in Afghanistan once our current missions ends there in February, 2009, declaring (without a hint of conscious irony): "Even though it's not combat, it will be for security." He assured Canadians that Mr. Karzai would "welcome" a noncombat role from Canada. "After three years of a combat mission," said Mr. Dion, "it's normal that Canada would say, 'We want to do something else.' " (One presumes the Canadian veterans who fought the Nazis from 1939 to 1945 -- six years for those counting -- would disagree.)

Aside from evincing an unbecoming spinelessness, the Liberal leader was also misleading the Canadian public. Far from "welcoming" a Canadian military that put daisies in its rifles, President Karzai made it clear that this would make his country a more dangerous place.

In a statement produced following the meeting, the Afghan President emphasized that fighting the Taliban must continue and that Canada's withdrawal could jeopardize "the need to maintain the momentum that has been created in the south, in particular in Kandahar, to solidify the gains and provide consistency and continuity for the population as well as the government." President Karzai reportedly made this point directly to Messrs. Dion and Ignatieff at their meeting, yet the Liberals made no mention of it.

President Karzai added: "The events of Sept. 11 serve us well in reminding ourselves that not fighting terrorism head-on can have disastrous consequences for Afghanistan, the region and the world at large." I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I suppose the words "head-on" were aimed squarely at the President's Canadian visitors.

For his part, Mr. Ignatieff appeared even more out of place than Mr. Dion. This is a man who once represented one of the English-speaking world's strongest proponents of muscular liberalism -- or, as Paul Martin put it, the "responsibility to protect." Be it Muslims in Kosovo or Kurds in Iraq, Mr. Ignatieff has rightly supported the need for military intervention to protect the innocent. Yet now that he is a Liberal MP, he appears ready to walk away from those principles.

If Mr. Dion's party does form the next Canadian government, and he makes good on his pledge to turn our forces into NGO bodyguards in Afghanistan's safer regions, it is the Afghan people who will pay the price. As they have in the past, the Taliban will fill the vacuum left by our departing combat troops and exact revenge upon teachers, health workers, women and others who co-operated with Canadian and NATO forces. It's for that reason that NGOs such as the Senlis Council -- as well as no less a multilateral authority than UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon -- support military intervention in that country, and not just development aid.

Mr. Dion's position is apparently that Afghanistan is a worthy cause, but not so worthy that Canadians should continue to fight for it. If this is what passes for principle in the new Liberal party, then it is easy to see why most Canadians don't think much of Mr. Dion's leadership.
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Liberals get a boost from Kandahar trip 
January 16, 2008 - CHANTAL HÉBERT- TORONTO STAR
OTTAWA - With some help from the Liberal leader himself, Conservative strategists had a field day framing Stéphane Dion as a weakling last year. But now there are signs that he is breaking out of that box. His trip to Afghanistan last weekend was a well-executed move based on a coherent strategy and a message that resonates with a majority of voters.

Liberal strategists seem to have finally figured out that Dion needs to be seen as more than just another opposition leader. Too often over the past year, he has been busy shooting at everything that moves within the Conservative government rather than focusing on a few key issues that will matter in the next election.

As essential as the role of chief critic of the government may be to the parliamentary system, it is largely incompatible with the goal of showcasing oneself as a prime-minister-in-waiting.

Canadians only too easily see Dion in opposition. They need all the help they can get to imagine him in power. In Afghanistan and, to a lesser degree, in Bali at the December climate-change talks, the Liberal leader managed to at least give them a taste of the latter.

One message from the Afghan trip is that the Liberal caucus will not again be split by the issue. Michael Ignatieff and Dion – who were on opposing sides of the decision to extend the deployment to 2009 – are singing from the same hymn book as to its future, as is Bob Rae, the party's foreign affairs critic.

Another message is that the Liberals have largely made their bed on the follow-up to the deployment or at least on their bottom line of not supporting another combat mission. And that almost certainly means leaving Kandahar, a province that is not pacified enough for the kind of Canadian support role Dion has repeatedly sketched out.

If the group presided over by former deputy prime minister John Manley is to bring the Liberals and Conservatives under the same Afghan tent, the recommendation it will make next week will need to amount to a substantial departure from the current mission. Otherwise, the Prime Minister is unlikely to achieve a consensus on the way forward in the current House of Commons. There simply is no opposition support in sight for an extended Canadian combat role in Afghanistan.

On the basis of the Conservative critique of the Dion trip, it seems the government is still hoping to browbeat the Liberal opposition into submission. But not only will that probably fail, it also detracts from attempts to portray Harper as taking a non-partisan road on the issue.

The dismissive tone of secretary of state Helena Guergis – who railed at Dion for needing the protection of the very soldiers he would reassign away from Kandahar – and the gist of a published open letter penned by parliamentary secretary Laurie Hawn – who accused the Liberals of running away from the war on terrorism – indicate that the Conservatives may have forgotten a key lesson from their own recent past.

It is foolhardy to engage an opponent on the basis of his caricature. The Martin Liberals learned that the hard way when they convinced themselves that they had so successfully assassinated Harper's political character in 2004 that he could not rise from the grave to beat them two years later.

Chantal Hébert's national affairs column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
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In Afghanistan, our rivalries conspire to make a great nation small
GEORGE PETROLEKAS Special to Globe and Mail Update January 16, 2008 at 12:54 AM EST
On Monday, the Globe and Mail broke the story of interdepartmental conflict threatening Canada's Strategic Advisory Team (SAT) in Kabul, arguably the most influential contribution that Canada has made to Afghanistan. What a shame that limited vision and bureaucratic pettiness have apparently conspired to jeopardize this contribution.

The Achilles heel to good governance in Afghanistan is the limitations of the Afghan civil service savaged by circumstance from being efficient and incorrupt. Chief of the Defence Staff Rick Hillier saw this in 2004 and dispatched strategic planners to pass on to Afghan officials the best practices that we, in Canada, take for granted. It was hoped that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would rise to the challenge itself, but, if not, President Hamid Karzai requested that Gen. Hillier, whom the President affectionately calls "my general," might help.

Former ambassador Chris Alexander, along with his key staff and high-ranking NATO officials whom I met to confirm Mr. Karzai's request, were unequivocal in endorsing the plan. Yet, even then, they cautioned that this team would become a lightning rod of envy for those who did not comprehend it or felt threatened by it. That warning sadly proved true, as ready access to the President's office, to important ministries and the unprecedented freedom that went with it, challenged the bureaucratic status quo. On one occasion, David Sproule, who succeeded Mr. Alexander as ambassador, had to send one of his staff back to Canada as this person objected to SAT members using the embassy swimming pool, not understanding that we are all Canadians in a foreign land.

Mr. Alexander and Mr. Sproule understood that the SAT did not diminish their position as Canada's chief representative in Kabul — it only enhanced their stature. Other countries could not even hope for such influence. Colonel Mike Capstick, the team's first commander (now retired), went to the landmark Afghanistan Compact discussions in London as an Afghan delegate, and the whole SAT was more of an adjunct to, or seconded to, the Afghan civil service than Canadians working in their government. It is a subtle difference, but that nuance means everything.

But such troubles are not entirely new. Reporting to the chief of the defence staff, instead of to the ambassador, was somehow seen as sinister, ignoring the motivation that sought to preserve this team's independence. Gen. Hillier fervently wished that other government departments would join in to make it, as he calls it, "a true Team Canada affair" — yet only the Canadian International Development Agency took up the offer (albeit reluctantly and beset by doubts). The strongest testament to the SAT's worth is that every CIDA person who has worked with it has become a convincing advocate. It represents the absolute best in Pearsonian diplomacy, which we wistfully memorialize — independent, absent of partisan agenda, with Canada's name heralded in consequence.

As I was present at the birth of this team, I was also privileged to be present in the last days of the first rotation. During a farewell party in Kabul, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection from members of non-governmental organizations that were also working in the capital, from key embassy staff and, most importantly, from Afghan ministers and lower-level civil servants. On his last night in Kabul, I saw Andy Tamas, the CIDA representative on SAT, eyes watering with intense pride as he said farewell, expressing his profound gratitude for having been able to serve Afghans with his military colleagues. I was so intensely proud of the Canadian flag on my shoulder that day.

Critics of Canada's military mission casually label it a combat mission, conveniently ignoring the roads, irrigation ditches, bridges, causeways, schools and orphanages that Canadian soldiers have built, not to mention the strategic advice the SAT has provided. Canadian values of humility and assistance, which are emblematic of the SAT team, might very well be sacrificed on the altar of vanity, envy and perceived competition. It is no wonder that our allies sometimes raise an eyebrow with respect to Canada. It is equally wondrous that we permit such rivalries to make a great nation small.

George Petrolekas, author of Wednesday's web exclusive comment, is a Colonel, not a Lieutenent-Colonel, currently on leave, and is no longer affiliated with the Royal Montreal Regiment.
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Officials reviewing future of Kabul team
DANIEL LEBLANC From Wednesday's Globe and Mail January 16, 2008 at 5:12 AM EST
OTTAWA — A team of Canadian military advisers in Kabul will be a victim of their success if they are disbanded, senior Canadian officials said yesterday as they refused to guarantee the survival of the lauded Strategic Advisory Team.

Sources have said that SAT, a group of about 20 high-level military planners embedded in the capital with Afghanistan's fledgling government, is facing the axe.

At a briefing yesterday, senior officials insisted that no decision has been made regarding the future of SAT, adding that its existence is being reviewed.

A senior government official, who has seen SAT in action in recent days, said the team works effectively and in a collegial manner alongside Afghan officials. However, the official said, it's time to take a deep look at the structure of the three-year-old group of military officials.

The senior official said that DND, the RCMP, Foreign Affairs and Correctional Service Canada are trying to find "the best formula to be able to continue having the impact that we have.

"For the Afghan government, a major problem is the human capacity to co-ordinate its activities and its progress. That team helps them, and now we have to find the formula to continue, either through a team or through another means."

Another official insisted that SAT will survive - for now."At this time, there has been no decision, either by Foreign Affairs or anyone else, to put an end to the activities of the SAT," the official said.

Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier put the team in place in 2005 after Afghan President Hamid Karzai mentioned he had appreciated the work of a small group of senior Canadian military officers who performed similar tasks. The Afghan ambassador to Canada said this week that SAT will be missed if the team is disbanded.

But Paul Heinbecker, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, said that SAT produces a confusing power structure in Afghanistan.

He added it's time to bring the advisory role back under the authority of Canada's diplomats.

"The problem I have is with making it permanent. It leads to confusion, and sooner or later, it becomes a problem about who is speaking for Canada," Mr. Heinbecker said.
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Iran's Investment Top Priority for Afghanistan
Fars News Agency January 16, 2008
TEHRAN (FNA)- A visiting Afghan official Tuesday night described Iran's investments in his country as vital.

"Investments made in Afghanistan by Iran are much more important to us than those made by any other country," head of Afghanistan's Office for Supporting Investments said in a meeting with the governor general of the northern province of Qazvin last night.

"Afghanistan prefers Iran's investments to those of other countries, thus, action should be taken to create more trading and investment opportunities for these two countries," he further reiterated.

"From any perspective, the Afghan government gives a top priority to Iran's investments because these two countries share ample commonalities in religion, culture and language," the official added.

He also stressed the need for Iranian and Afghan experts to increase their interactions in a bid to assist expansion of trade and economic ties between the two neighboring states.
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Big cut in Afghan TB cases shows aid works: Canada
Wed Jan 16, 2008 2:07am IST
OTTAWA (Reuters) - The number of Afghans dying from tuberculosis has fallen by half in recent months, a statistic that shows Canada's efforts to help fight the disease are working, officials said on Tuesday.

Ottawa is keen to show signs of progress in Afghanistan, particularly since critics accuse Canada of focusing too much effort on fighting the Taliban and not enough on development and reconstruction.

The World Health Organization and Afghanistan's public health ministry said last week that people were dying from tuberculosis at the rate of 10,000 a year, down from 20,000 a year a few months earlier.

Canada is working with the WHO and the World Food Program on a campaign to combat the disease.

"You are starting to see far more people now benefiting from treatment early on," a government official told a news conference.

The full course of treatment to fight tuberculosis lasts eight months and the WFP is offering patients food and heating oil in a bid to ensure they do not back out.

"(This campaign) takes the partnership and support of a whole range of players ... we're starting to see real payoffs in this specific area," the official said.

More than 80 percent of Afghans now have access to basic medical services, compared with 9 percent after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, he added.

Canada has 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. A soldier died in a mine blast on Tuesday, the 77th member of the armed forces to die in the country since 2002.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson)
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Afghanistan: Former Taliban Commander Advises U.S. Ambassador
By Ron Synovitz Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty January 16, 2008
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, William Wood, on January 13 met with Mullah Abdul Salaam, the former Taliban commander who recently defected to the side of the Afghan government and now heads the Kabul-backed administration in Musa Qala.

Wood traveled to Musa Qala with the goal of clearing the obstacles that prevent reconstruction aid from reaching the northeastern part of Helmand Province. His meeting with Mullah Salaam was meant to advance the ambassador's goal of aiding the region's transformation from a volatile Taliban stronghold into a center of peace, stability, and prosperity.

But during his meeting with Mullah Salaam, Wood wasn't doing all of the talking. The U.S. ambassador also got advice from Mullah Salaam about what the United States and Kabul can do to reduce popular support for the Taliban.

The former Taliban commander's advice included references to Shari'a law and its warnings about government corruption and cronyism, which, he says, prevent government aid from reaching his community.

Mullah Salaam also said as many as half of the people in his district are addicted to opium. And he said farmers in the area need help to grow alternative crops because they have become economically dependent on opium-poppy cultivation.

Strategic Site

Mullah Salaam, a powerful local commander who has brought some 300 militia fighters to the side of the Afghan government in northeastern Helmand Province, even gave the U.S. ambassador tactical advice on how to prevent the Taliban from attacking the strategic Kajaki hydroelectric dam, which is about 25 kilometers from Musa Qala.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on the sidelines of the talks, Mullah Salaam said the international community must understand that residents of Musa Qala blame British forces for allowing the Taliban to seize their town in February 2007.

He says that is because of a deal brokered by the British in 2006 under which local militia fighters were disarmed and then expected to prevent the Taliban from moving back into the area.

"For the people to realize that these [NATO] troops have come to rebuild Musa Qala, the people must be convinced that they will not be abandoned, as they were in the past when the foreigners delivered us to the terrorists -- which was not the fault of the people and the elders," Mullah Salaam said. "The international community is to be blamed for that. They disarmed the people and the elders. Then the Taliban came and took over."

Salaam also told RFE/RL that it is crucial for a new turbine to be installed at the Kajaki hydroelectric dam and for power to start being distributed to Afghan homes and businesses so that residents see improvements in their living conditions.

"The people will take advantage of the new situation if they are reassured that Musa Qala will not be abandoned again -- if Musa Qala is rebuilt, if Musa Qala becomes stable, and if the people of Musa Qala are taken care of," Mullah Salaam said. "The people want this area to be made into its own province. If the Kajaki Dam is rebuilt, it will be a source of livelihood for the whole of the country as well as the two districts [in Helmand Province, Musa Qala and Kajaki.] So if this work is done, the people will trust the government more. Governments earn trust as a result of their actions."

From Taliban To Government

Mullah Salaam was once the Taliban's governor in the southern Afghan province of Oruzgan -- birthplace of Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Omar, as well as Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

By siding with the Kabul government in December, Mullah Salaam has helped extend the central government's authority into an area previously seen as a bastion of popular support for the Taliban.

But Mullah Salaam warns that reconstruction funds from the Afghan government are not being forwarded to Musa Qala by Helmand's provincial administration in the town of Lashkar Gah. He also says his requests for the Afghan Interior Ministry to send an additional 200 police officers to Musa Qala have so far fallen on deaf ears.

As a result, he says the only reconstruction work being done in Musa Qala has been by the U.S. military's so-called Provincial Reconstruction Team.

Mullah Salaam says that has led residents of Musa Qala and nearby Kajaki to demand that their districts break away from Helmand's provincial administration in Lashkar Gah to create a new Afghan province.

Eyes On Musa Qala

For his part, the U.S. ambassador promised Mullah Salaam that more U.S. aid would come to the people in the northeastern part of Helmand Province.

"You can count on the support of the United States," Wood said. "We are already working with others to provide furnishings for your school. We are already supporting other development projects relating to agriculture, relating to health, relating to the paving of roads, and other things."

"We believe it is very important that the community of Musa Qala come together to decide what your priorities are so that we can help you fulfill them," Wood continued. "It is the people of Musa Qala who know what Musa Qala wants and needs. And we want to hear their voices."

But Wood told Mullah Salaam that residents of Musa Qala also need to help Afghan and NATO-led security forces so that Taliban attacks are unable to thwart reconstruction efforts.

"The eyes of the world will be on Musa Qala. And whatever happens here will be known. And we want the eyes of the world and the eyes of Afghanistan to see success, to see peace, to see reconciliation, to see health, to see education, and to see good governance," Wood said. "We want to see the voice of the people of Musa Qala represented in the government of Lashkar Gah and the government of Kabul through [Mullah Salaam's] voice. And we want to see the government of Kabul and the government of Lashkar Gah represented in Musa Qala through [Mullah Salaam's] voice."

Mullah Salaam said there are two types of Taliban in Helmand: Afghan nationals who he described as as "true Afghan mullahs," and foreign Taliban. He told Wood it is possible to separate Afghan and foreign Taliban fighters because Afghans are unwilling to destroy their own country.

Mullah Salaam said he expects his appointment as district chief in Musa Qala to foster reconciliation between the Kabul government and other moderate Taliban members. And he said some moderate Afghan Taliban already are talking to him about the possibility of backing Karzai's government -- but he added that it would be premature to announce any fresh wave of Taliban defections.

Wood told Mullah Salaam that the U.S. government would welcome all Taliban who respect the Afghan Constitution, lay down their weapons, and decide to join in a peaceful reconciliation process.
(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Ahmad Zubair Zhman contributed to this story from Musa Qala.)
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Payments made to 17 Afghans for deaths
By ESTES THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer Tue Jan 15, 6:21 PM ET
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - Payments were made to Afghan civilians who were injured or related to those killed by a Marines special operations unit as it reacted to a car bombing and what it believed was a well-planned ambush, a military official testified Tuesday.

Lt. Col. Gordon Phillips, an Air Force officer in charge of reconstruction in Nangahar Province, said he organized two ceremonies during which money was given to people on a list approved by the provincial governor. Since then, there have been no bombings in the area and "we are able to pretty much operate freely," Phillips said.

The so-called "solatia" payments weren't an admission of guilt but rather a gesture to soothe feelings, he told a military panel investigating the March 4 shootings.

"I did say we're very sorry for this event and an investigation would be forthcoming," Phillips testified, noting that Afghans living in the area were aware of the court proceeding. "They are looking for justice to be served."

The Court of Inquiry, a rarely used fact-finding proceeding, is focusing on two officers involved in the shootings: the special operations unit's commander, 38-year-old Maj. Fred C. Galvin of the Kansas City area, and a platoon leader, Capt. Vincent J. Noble, 29, of Philadelphia.

The court could recommend whether charges be filed against the two men.

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.

Phillips testified that more than 200 people attended the two May ceremonies, in which a meal was served, turbans were given as gifts and payments were made.

He said that in total, 17 payments of $2,300 were provided for deaths, 25 for injuries — $466 for major injuries and $236 for minor — and that 14 payments of varying amounts were made for property damage, mostly cars damaged by bullets.

But lawyers for the officers have said the unit of about 30 Marines was ambushed just after a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed minivan near the second Humvee in their six-vehicle convoy. During the first week of testimony, nearly a dozen Marines 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 upon.
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American killed in Afghanistan a 'passionate believer'
(CNN) -- Friends and family planned a memorial service in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday for Thor Hesla, who died in Monday's attack on a luxury hotel in Afghanistan.

Hesla, 45, loved a game of ultimate Frisbee, a motorcycle ride and a great adventure. Friends say he found no adventure greater than helping people.

He set off for another adventure in October, this time to Afghanistan to work with the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, to help build civil society.

"Thor Hesla was a passionate believer in what is possible in the world ," said a statement posted online by Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a friend of 20 years.

The Taliban said it was behind the attack that killed him, carried out by suicide bombers and gunmen. Six other people were killed at Kabul's Serena hotel that day.

Six days after Hesla arrived in Afghanistan, he had e-mailed details of his new surroundings to his far-away friends.

Despite the violence wracking the nation, Hesla described Kabul as a city with potential and "astonishing beauty."

He said he was struck by glimpses of "desperately poor" Afghans. "I saw a man moving down the street who was, literally, wearing only rags yesterday," Hesla wrote.

He expressed pride in his work and the American effort to rebuild Afghanistan, writing, "You are forcibly reminded how good and inspirational Americans can be."

Life in Kabul isn't easy. Diplomats and contractors in Afghanistan are under strict security and their travel is severely restricted.

A witness to Monday's attack said terrorists forced their way into the hotel gym and shot three or four people who were working out.

Hesla's friends said he joined the hotel's gym and spa as a diversion from his limited daily routine.

"You're always, always, always, reminded how great a blessing it is to come from a land which has never known -- since 1865 -- serious war," Hesla wrote his friends, referring to the Civil War. "It's really difficult to calculate how damaging all-out war can be on a society."

"He was very passionate about everything," said friend Stefan Tigges, according to CNN affiliate WGCL. "He was very generous. He was very spirited, very kind."

Tigges told the Atlanta TV station his friend was "larger than life in every way in terms of his sense of humor, his intellect, his capacity to love, all these things."

At Atlanta's Emory University, Hesla studied English literature and played rugby. He also worked for the Atlanta Olympic Committee and various Democratic political campaigns, including the 2000 campaign for Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley.

In countries such as Trinidad and Tobago; Venezuela, St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Antigua, Barbados and Aruba, Hesla tried to build bridges between feuding groups, and worked on political campaigns seeking to fight crime and corruption, create jobs and improve education, his friends said.

For more than three years, Hesla had worked in war-ravaged Kosovo, where he helped reform economic systems.

After taking time off to travel and write both a screenplay and a novel, he had set off for Afghanistan to work as a contractor for USAID in its "capacity building" program, helping government institutions, social organizations and universities with financial matters.

"We mourn the loss of our fellow employee, Thor Hesla, " said Elizabeth Palmer of BearingPoint, Hesla's employer. "He was a loving son and brother and an important part of our BearingPoint family. His commitment to helping the people of Afghanistan was well known, and we will miss him terribly."

Following Thursday's services in Georgia, another is planned for Hesla in Washington D.C., which friends said was his "adopted home."
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Militants capture Pakistani fort; 47 dead
By Hafiz Wazir
WANA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Hundreds of militants in northwest Pakistan attacked and captured a paramilitary fort early on Wednesday and seven soldiers and 40 militants were killed, the military said.

The militants attacked the fort in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border at about midnight on Tuesday and fighting went on for at least two hours, said military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas.

"About 200 miscreants attacked from different directions," Abbas said.

"They were able to breach one of the walls of the fort. In the process, there were about 40 militants dead and seven FC personnel were reported killed," he said, referring to the Frontier Corps paramilitary force.

Fifteen soldiers escaped and 20 were missing, he said.

Security forces have been battling al Qaeda-linked militants in South Waziristan for several years.

The Sara Rogha area where the fort is located is a stronghold of al Qaeda-linked militant leader Baitullah Mehsud, who the government said was behind the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi on December 27.

Security forces retaliated with artillery but Abbas said the fort was still in the hands of the militants.

Separately, a bomb exploded as a military patrol was passing along a road in the Swat valley in North West Frontier Province on Wednesday but there was no immediate word on casualties, police said.

Security forces have been trying to clear hundreds of militants from the Swat valley since November.

A wave of militant violence in recent months, including many suicide bomb attacks, has added to a sense of crisis in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where President Pervez Musharraf has been facing opposition to his rule.

(Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony in Islamabad)

(Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
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US seeks stepped up counter-insurgency training for Pakistan
ST PETERSBURG, Florida (AFP) — The commander of US forces in the Middle East said Wednesday the Pakistani military appears willing to work more closely with the US military on counter-insurgency efforts in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Admiral William Fallon said the US military already has some training activities with the Pakistanis, but it would grow "in terms of focusing on the counter-insurgency, the unconventional problems that they are recognizing are really driving the program."

"We would like to -- assuming they are willing, and I think they are going to be -- make this more robust, to try to help them more. There is more willingness to do that now," said Fallon, who heads the Tampa, Forida based US Central Command.

In an interview with three wire service correspondents, Fallon said the new Pakistani military leader, General Ashfaq Kiyani, recognizes the threat to Pakistan emanating from Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists ensconced in lawless tribal areas along the Afghan border.

"He understands," Fallon said. "I was very heartened by his understanding of what those problems are and what he needs to do to meet them. So we're going to try to help that."

Fallon provided few details, but said part of the effort involves US training and equipping of Pakistan's Frontier Corps, a tribally based force formed during British colonial rule to pacify the region.

The US overtures toward Pakistan come amid a wide-ranging review that Fallon is conducting of US strategy in neighboring Afghanistan, which has experienced rising violence over the past two years, amid the biggest insurgent challenge since the Taliban's ouster in 2001.

"You can't think about Afghanistan without Pakistan, because of the tremendous overlap on the border, (which is) the reality of the Pashtun tribal areas which encompass both countries," he said.

Besides the Taliban, US intelligence has warned that Al-Qaeda has regrouped in the border areas and Defense Secretary Robert Gates last month warned that it appeared to be turning its focus on destabilizing nuclear-armed Pakistan.

"Based on the events of the past six or so months in Pakistan, they (the Pakistanis) see now that they have real problems internally, and those are emanating from the west," Fallon said.

"My sense is, there is an increased willingness to address these problems, and we're going to help them," he said.

Fallon said coordination between US, Afghan and Pakistani has improved in recent months and "is really taking hold now."

But he said the border problems needed to be addressed in a comprehensive way with support of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf and Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, who have had a contentious relationship in the past.

"If they are polarized, it's not going to work. My sense is that's improved," he said.

Fallon also gave an upbeat assessment of the situation in Afghanistan despite an upsurge in violence and the emergence of what officials say is a classic insurgency.

"Some say things are going to Hell in a handbasket and I'm trying to put a finger in the dike," Fallon said. "I think its the other way altogether. We're going to try to take advantage of where we are and spring forward to much better security next year."

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that it is sending 3,200 marines to Afghanistan in the spring, 2,200 of which will be used to beef up NATO-led combat forces in the south, a Taliban stronghold.

Fallon would not comment on the performance of the NATO-led troops in the south, but said US troops operating in eastern Afghanistan had sharply reduced violence in that troubled area through improved counter-insurgency tactics.

"I think we maintained the initiative, and what I'd like to do is push hard to expand security. I'd like to see more and more provinces in the situation that we find Khost province," he said.

"I will not pass judgement on the NATO gang down south, because I haven't spent that much time down there," he said. "But I see opportunities in the south that I would really like to capitalize on."
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Karzai lends his weight to peace jirga
By Zubair Babakarkhel - 13/01/2008 - 19:19
KABUL, Jan 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A peace caravan from eastern provinces, at a meeting with President Hamid Karzai here on Sunday, pleaded for negotiations with dissident groups in the interest of stability in the war-ravaged country.

Formed by governors, lawmakers and tribal elders from four eastern provinces in Jalalabad some three months back, the jirga won stout support from the Afghan president for its initiative aimed at ending the ongoing wave of violence.

Members of the jirga presented to the president the recommendations they finalised at the end of two-day talks at the Governors House in Nangarhar earlier in the day. Karzai welcomed the formation of the peace forum as a new message and glad tidings while assuring to lend his weight to the enterprise.

Its a very food step which I wholeheartedly endorse, he observed, acknowledging the need for peace in the country. The president asked his interlocutors to take the message that peace in Afghanistan meant peace in the world to the neighbouring countries. You lead the peace procession and we will follow you where you go.

Reading out the recommendations, Maulvi Sadiqullah said residents of the eastern zone had always worked for guarding national sovereignty. The jirga will also include members from other provinces to make the endeavour a success, according to one of the proposals floated to the Afghan leader.

Speaking on the occasion, Nangarhar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai observed: The jirga deserves full support not only from President Karzai but also from the entire global fraternity. He was optimistic the caravan would be able to achieve its objective.

At the meeting, all cabinet members including Energy and Water Minister Ismail Khan were present to hear complaints of tribal elders from the eastern zone. They identified a deficient power-supply system as a lingering problem that needed immediate attention of the government. 

Former Nangarhar University teacher Muhammad Anwar Sultani launched a broadside against Ismail Khan, who was slammed as a non-professional and incompetent minister.

The Energy and Water Ministry is not the kind of portfolio that should be leased out to Ismail Khan, remarked Sultani, who demanded of Karzai to replace the minister with a competent man. He stressed the issue of brazen corruption at the ministry should be addressed on a war footing.

Translated & edited by S. Mudassir Ali Shah
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