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January 24, 2008 

9 police killed in Afghanistan
By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Nine Afghan policemen were killed Thursday during an anti-Taliban operation by U.S.-led coalition troops in central Afghanistan, officials said.

U.S.-led air raid kills 11 in Afghanistan: doctor
Thu Jan 24, 3:32 AM ET
GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Nine police and two civilians were killed in an air strike by U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan, a provincial doctor said on Thursday, but the coalition said Taliban fighters had been killed.

Reporter death penalty not final: Afghan information ministry
Thu Jan 24, 4:14 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's information ministry said Thursday a court's decision to sentence an Afghan reporter to death on blasphemy charges was not final and the case would be handled "very carefully."

Netherlands: investigate Afghan death sentence
Thursday 24 January 2008 13:10 UTC Radio Netherlands, Netherlands
Damascus - Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen is planning to protest together with the European Union against the pronouncement of a death sentence against an Afghan journalist. The man was sentenced

Afghan journalist's death sentence blamed on warlords
Julian Borger, diplomatic editor Thursday January 24, 2008 The Guardian
An Afghan reporter was sentenced to death for blasphemy by a court yesterday for allegedly questioning the prophet Muhammad's respect for women's rights.

U.S. commander orders plans on Pakistan
By ROBERT BURNS Thu Jan 24, 2:02 AM ET
WASHINGTON - The commander of U.S. forces in Central Asia has launched planning for more extensive use of U.S. troops to train Pakistani armed forces, a senior defense official said Wednesday.

Still Wrong in Afghanistan
By Richard Holbrooke Wednesday, January 23, 2008; The Washington Post Page A19
"I'm a spray man myself," President Bush told government leaders and American counter-narcotics officials during his 2006 trip to Afghanistan. He said it again when President Hamid Karzai visited Camp David in August

Karzai warns of spreading terrorism
By GEORGE JAHN, Associated Press Writer Wed Jan 23, 8:37 PM ET
DAVOS, Switzerland - Afghanistan's president warned Wednesday that the whole world could suffer from the "wildfire" of terrorism engulfing his region, a grim message for a meeting of political and business leaders already

Terrorism a 'political mutant' unleashed across region: Karzai
Wed Jan 23, 3:51 PM ET
DAVOS, Switzerland (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Wednesday that recent turmoil in Pakistan showed that a "political mutant" of extremism was stalking the region.

US commander pledges more help to Afghan army
Wed Jan 23, 11:39 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The US military commander for the Middle East pledged more assistance to Afghanistan's growing security forces to help them tackle a Taliban insurgency, the Afghan defence ministry said.

US military: Taliban spring offensive unlikely in Afghanistan
Concerns grow over inadequate US military intelligence about Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan
By David Montero January 24, 2008 at 10:14 am EST Christian Science Monitor
The Taliban are unlikely to launch a spring offensive in Afghanistan this year because all their energies will be focused in Pakistan, United States military officials said. But as that battle heats up, US officials added that they

Taliban offensive unlikely in east Afghanistan: U.S.
By Andrew Gray and Kristin Roberts Wed Jan 23, 3:49 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior U.S. military commander said on Wednesday he did not expect the Taliban to mount a major offensive in eastern Afghanistan this spring, but experts warned of rising violence and a stronger insurgency.

Afghanistan sets up prison for women
Thu Jan 24, 2008 6:46am EST
KABUL, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Afghanistan launched its first prison for women in the capital Kabul on Thursday as part of a plan to build 15 such facilities, officials said.

Redirect Afghan aid
Jan 24, 2008 04:30 AM Toronto Star EDITORIAL
Canada may be pumping $1.2 billion into Afghanistan's redevelopment, and doing much good there, but people in Kandahar region where our troops are stationed see scant improvement in their lives.

Manley panel avoids real reason for Afghan role
Jan 24, 2008 04:30 AM Haroon Siddiqui Toronto Star,  Canada
Asked when the United States might withdraw from Iraq, George W. Bush has, for the last four years, been telling Americans, "we will stand down when the Iraqis stand up."

Canada quietly halts prisoner transfers
Decision taken more than two months ago after diplomats found instruments of torture under chair in secret Kandahar prison
PAUL KORING From Thursday's Globe and Mail January 24, 2008 at 5:08 AM EST
Canada stopped transferring prisoners into Afghan custody months ago after discovering compelling evidence of torture, Ottawa admitted yesterday.

AFGHANISTAN: UN, government appeal for $80 million to avert food-insecurity
24 Jan 2008 13:31:30 GMT
KABUL, 24 January 2008 (IRIN) - The government of Afghanistan and the UN have jointly appealed for over US$80 million to assist 2.55 million Afghans who have been pushed into "high risk" food-insecurity

Snow brings wonder, misery for homeless Afghans
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, Jan 24 (Reuters) - The "strange white stuff" falling from the sky was a revelation for Abdullah's children but it only meant more misery.

Attacks on Afghan students up sharply
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Wed Jan 23, 4:21 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The number of students and teachers killed in Taliban attacks has tripled in the past year in a campaign to close schools and force teenage boys to join the Islamic militia, Afghanistan's education minister says.

Being in Afghanistan is dangerous, not being in Afghanistan is more dangerous
BAN KI-MOON Special to Globe and Mail Update January 24, 2008 at 1:28 AM EST
Afghanistan is a potent symbol of the costs inherent in abandoning nations to the lawless forces of anarchy. That alone justifies international efforts to help rebuild the country. Lest there be any doubt, remember Sept. 11, 2001

Exclusive: Afghanistan is the bad war, Iraq the good, says White House co-ordinator
Richard Beeston, Foreign Editor of The Times Online January 24, 2008
Iraq may turn out to be America’s “good war” while Afghanistan goes “bad”, the Bush Administration official responsible for co-ordinating efforts in Baghdad has told The Times.

Norwegian troops may have beaten Afghans
OSLO, Norway, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- The Norwegian military is investigating allegations its troops kicked and beat civilians in Afghanistan, Aftenposten reported Wednesday.

Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan
Thu Jan 24, 2008 8:17am EST
TORONTO (Reuters) - A Canadian soldier was killed and two others were injured in Afghanistan on Wednesday when a military convoy struck an improvised mine near the southern city of Kandahar, the Canadian government said.

Army officer: Marines didn't coordinate
By ESTES THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer Wed Jan 23, 11:21 PM ET
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - The Army commander who apologized to Afghans after as many as 19 civilians were killed said Wednesday that a Marine special operations company involved in the shooting frequently didn't coordinate

Japanese ship leaves port on Afghan mission
Wed Jan 23, 2008 9:59pm EST
YOKOSUKA, Japan, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Triumphant Japanese officials waved off a naval destroyer headed for the Indian Ocean on Thursday, where it will resume a refuelling mission in support of U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan.

Security up as parliament begins third year
By Mustafa Basharat - Jan 21, 2008 - 14:29
KABUL, Jan 21 (PAN): Afghan Parliament entered its third year on Monday with a session that got under way amid stringent security measures. President Hamid Karzai and members of both houses were in attendance.

Eight developmental projects completed in Logar
By Shahpoor Arab - Jan 21, 2008 - 17:16
PUL-I-ALAM, Jan 21 (PAN): Eight uplift projects were completed in Muhammad Agha district of central Logar province on Monday.

Computer, language courses program launched
By Abdul Moeed Hashmi - Jan 21, 2008 - 17:03
JALALABAD, Jan 21 (PAN): A program of English language and computer learning courses have been launched with the financial support of Save the Children, an international NGO for at least 4000 students of Khugiano

NRC head gunned down in Zabul
By Saeed Zabuli - Jan 21, 2008 - 20:18
KANDAHAR CITY, Jan 21 (PAN): The provincial head of the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) has been assassinated in the restive southern province of Zabul, an official said on Monday.

Taliban kill two drivers, torch 13 vehicles
By Akram Noorzai - Jan 21, 2008 - 15:40
LASHKARGAH, Jan 21 (PAN): Suspected Taliban fighters shot dead two drivers and torched 13 vehicles belonging to a road construction company in the Greshk district of the lawless southern province of Helmand, a senior officer said on Monday.

ASSRD to honour 'star students'
By Pajhwok Reporter - Jan 20, 2008 - 10:54
KABUL, Jan 20 (PAN): The Afghan Society for Social Reform and Development (ASSRD) has said it will honour talented pupils from all high schools across Kabul under a programme called star students.

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9 police killed in Afghanistan
By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Nine Afghan policemen were killed Thursday during an anti-Taliban operation by U.S.-led coalition troops in central Afghanistan, officials said.

Separately on Thursday, a NATO soldier was killed and two others were wounded when an explosion struck their patrol in southern Afghanistan, an alliance statement said, without giving their nationalities or the exact location of the blast.

The nine police, including a district police chief, died in Ghazni province during an operation that included U.S. ground forces and airstrikes, said a provincial official, Habeb-ul Rahman. Two civilians also died.

It was unclear whether Afghan troops took part.

The U.S.-led coalition said it killed "several insurgents" and detained nine others during the operation, which targeted a Taliban commander associated with suicide bombings in Ghazni. The two sides exchanged fire and airstrikes were called in.

Afghan police officials in Ghazni, who spoke on condition of anonymity since they were not authorized to speak to the media, said the police appeared to have been killed by airstrikes, which also destroyed several houses.

Coalition spokesman Maj. Chris Belcher said four policemen were wounded by insurgents and that the coalition was looking into the reports of the police deaths.

However, an area resident named Ismail, who like many Afghans goes by only one name, said police approached the area as the U.S.-led operation was under way, and were attacked by American troops.

Hundreds of angry people protested the killings in Ghazni city and shouted anti-American slogans, Rahman said.

The bodies of the policemen, some showing bullet wounds, were taken to Ghazni's hospital. A tape obtained by the AP Television News shows a bullet-riddled police vehicle close to the area where American troops conducted the operation.

Faced with troop shortages, U.S. and NATO-led troops rely heavily on the use of airpower in their fight against the Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan. Such tactics have caused many civilian casualties in past years, and at times caused friction with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has urged caution and coordination with Afghan authorities.

U.S. and NATO officials accuse militants of using civilians as human shields.
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U.S.-led air raid kills 11 in Afghanistan: doctor
Thu Jan 24, 3:32 AM ET
GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Nine police and two civilians were killed in an air strike by U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan, a provincial doctor said on Thursday, but the coalition said Taliban fighters had been killed.

The raid, which sparked protests, happened in a village outside Ghazni town to the southwest of Kabul on Wednesday night, Dr. Ismail Ibrahimzai, the head of the local public health department said.

"Nine police, including an officer, two civilians, one of them a woman, were killed in the raid," he told Reuters.

Five police were wounded, he said, adding they were in a vehicle patrolling the area when it was hit in the air strike.

The U.S.-led coalition confirmed the attack but said several Taliban insurgents were killed in the raid involving small-arms and aerial-delivered conventional munitions.

Coalition troops arrested nine suspected insurgents and destroyed a cache of explosives, it said in a statement.

Civilian casualties fuel resentment of foreign forces in Afghanistan and the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly urged U.S. and NATO troops to do everything they can do to minimize civilian deaths.

Some 200 villagers marched toward Ghazni town to protest against the latest strike, witnesses said. They chanted slogans against Karzai's government and U.S. troops who form the bulk of the coalition force in Afghanistan.

More than 500 civilians were killed last year in air strike or during operations by foreign troops, aid agencies and Afghan officials say.

Western forces dispute such estimates but say some civilians have been killed, mostly when the Taliban attack from civilian houses.

Separately, a soldier from the NATO-led force was killed and two were wounded when a blast hit their vehicle in southern Afghanistan, an alliance spokesman said on Thursday.

He did not identify the victims of Wednesday's attack.

(Additional reporting and writing by Sayed Salahuddin, Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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Reporter death penalty not final: Afghan information ministry
Thu Jan 24, 4:14 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's information ministry said Thursday a court's decision to sentence an Afghan reporter to death on blasphemy charges was not final and the case would be handled "very carefully."

However, the case involving 23-year-old Perwiz Kambakhsh did not relate to his journalistic activities and therefore was not a matter for the ministry, which handles media matters, it said in a statement.

The primary court in the northern province of Balkh issued the death penalty for Kambakhsh on Tuesday for distributing articles downloaded from the Internet that are said to question the Koran -- which is a crime in Islamic law.

"The ministry is concerned about Perwiz Kambakhsh's case," the ministry statement said.

"But his arrest and sentence given to him has not been in relation with his journalistic activities and thus has no connection with the work of this ministry," it added.

Afghan and international media rights groups say the case is about basic democratic rights and comes amid increasing pressure on journalists. They have called on President Hamid Karzai to intervene.

Kambakhsh, who was arrested three months ago, is a volunteer reporter on a small newspaper called Jahan-e Naw ("The New World") in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif and a media student at Balkh University.

The small daily has not published for about two months.

The information ministry however expressed optimism that the country's judiciary system would make sure proper justice was applied.

"The ministry is confident that since the primary court's ruling is not the final decision, Afghanistan's judicial system will handle issue of death penalty very carefully and implement justice," it said.
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Netherlands: investigate Afghan death sentence
Thursday 24 January 2008 13:10 UTC Radio Netherlands, Netherlands
Damascus - Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen is planning to protest together with the European Union against the pronouncement of a death sentence against an Afghan journalist. The man was sentenced to death in northern Islam for blasphemy after writing a report that was allegedly insulting to Islam. The Foreign Ministry wants to know if the journalist received a fair trial.

The Afghan Information Ministry has released a statement saying the death sentence is not definitive. The journalist, Perwiz Kambakhsh, was working for a small newspaper when he was arrested in October. The newspaper, which appeared in the city Mazar-i-Sharif, is no longer published.
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Afghan journalist's death sentence blamed on warlords
Julian Borger, diplomatic editor Thursday January 24, 2008 The Guardian
An Afghan reporter was sentenced to death for blasphemy by a court yesterday for allegedly questioning the prophet Muhammad's respect for women's rights.

The case has raised concerns over declining press freedom in Afghanistan and the growing power of militia commanders and ultra-conservative clerics.

Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh, a 23-year-old reporter for the Jahan-e-Now daily, was tried behind closed doors and without a lawyer in the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif after allegations by university classmates that he had mocked Islam and circulated an article that argued the prophet Muhammad had ignored the rights of women. Kaambakhsh denied writing the article, saying his name was added after it was printed, but he was found guilty.

Imposing the death sentence, the judge said Kaambakhsh would have the opportunity to appeal to three higher courts.

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), which trains Afghan journalists and promotes independent reporting around the world, said the case against Kaambakhsh was a fabrication, motivated by a desire by warlords in northern Afghanistan to silence his brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, also a journalist, who had written investigative reports exposing their abuse of human rights.

One story last October reported on the sexual abuse of "dancing boys" - teenage boys who dress as girls and are made to entertain the warlords and their guests at parties. Hafizullah Khaliqyar, a local prosecutor, was quoted as saying that the "catastrophic" practice was on the rise.

He said: "If the UN and the government don't take this issue as seriously as they do child-trafficking and drug smuggling, and punish the offenders, it's going to be almost impossible to prevent it."

Ibrahimi also exposed the terrorising of villages by warlords who have become increasingly assertive in the north. Kaambakhsh was arrested soon after the articles were published, according to Jean MacKenzie, IWPR director in Afghanistan. "This is an excuse to go after Yaqub," she said. "He no longer sleeps at home. He's being followed and he's being targeted."

MacKenzie said the harassment of Ibrahimi was being carried out by the national directorate for security. "In the north, it is clear evidence of the growing power of former commanders or warlords, who are working through religious fundamentalist mullahs, who are also growing in power."

Two journalists sentenced to death for blasphemy in recent years escaped from jail and were granted asylum in the west.
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U.S. commander orders plans on Pakistan
By ROBERT BURNS Thu Jan 24, 2:02 AM ET
WASHINGTON - The commander of U.S. forces in Central Asia has launched planning for more extensive use of U.S. troops to train Pakistani armed forces, a senior defense official said Wednesday.

Adm. William J. Fallon, commander of U.S. Central Command, issued a planning order, an internal instruction to lower-level commanders, to propose ideas for a long-term approach to helping Pakistan combat what has become an expanding, homegrown insurgency that threatens the stability of the government.

Fallon's intent is to develop new approaches to help Pakistan, with a time horizon stretching to 2015, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the order has not been made public.

A central assumption in the planning is that no such U.S. training contribution would be made without the Pakistani government's prior approval, the official said.

Fallon was in Pakistan this week meeting with senior Pakistani military officials.

In an interview last week during a conference with Middle Eastern defense chiefs in Florida, Fallon said Pakistan is taking a more welcoming view of U.S. suggestions for using American troops to train and advise its own forces in the fight against anti-government extremists.

Fallon said he believes increased violence inside Pakistan in recent months has led Pakistani leaders to conclude that they must focus more intensively on extremist al-Qaida hideouts near the border with Afghanistan.

"They see they've got real problems internally," Fallon said. "My sense is there is an increased willingness to address these problems, and we're going to try to help them." He said U.S. assistance would be "more robust," but he offered few details. "There is more willingness to do that now" on Pakistan's part, he said.

The Bush administration's anxiety about Pakistan's stability has grown in recent months, not only because of its potential implications for U.S. stability efforts in neighboring Afghanistan but also because of worry about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Wednesday with Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf, the highest-level meeting of U.S. and Pakistan officials since the assassination last month of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. While Rice praised Musharraf as a steadfast ally and promised continued U.S. support, she pressed him to keep his commitment to democracy and to free and fair elections in February.

At the Pentagon, one of Fallon's subordinate commanders, Army Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, said the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is unlikely to stage a spring offensive in the volatile eastern region bordering Pakistan.

Rodriguez, who commands U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, told a Pentagon news conference that Taliban and al-Qaida fighters operating from havens in the largely ungoverned tribal areas of western Pakistan appear to have shifted their focus toward targets inside Pakistan rather than across the border in Afghanistan.

"I don't think there'll be a big spring offensive this year," Rodriguez said.

That is partly due to ordinary Afghans' disillusionment with the Taliban movement, he said, and partly because the Taliban and al-Qaida fighters see new opportunities to accelerate instability inside Pakistan. He also said Afghan security forces are becoming more effective partners with U.S. forces.

The Taliban generally has staged stepped-up offensives each spring, when the weather is more favorable for ground movement, although an anticipated offensive last spring did not materialize.

U.S. officials have said in recent days that they do expect a spring offensive in the southern area of Afghanistan, a traditional Taliban stronghold where fighting is most intense. That is one reason Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week approved the deployment of an additional 2,200 Marines to the southern sector, where NATO forces are in command.

In all, there are about 28,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, of whom roughly half are under Rodriguez's command. Rodriguez said he needs no more U.S. troops in his area but looks forward to having two more Afghan National Army brigades, due to begin operating in his sector this spring.

Rodriguez also said he sees no sign that the United States is preparing to send forces into Pakistan without the Pakistan government's approval.

"We're not planning that," he said. "Pakistan is a sovereign government, and we have no plans that I'm involved in or have even heard of to do anything like that."

On Capitol Hill, the House Armed Services Committee heard testimony from retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, a former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The committee chairman, Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., opened the session with an expression of concern about trends in Afghanistan.

"I believe that we currently risk a strategic failure in Afghanistan and that we must do what it takes to avoid this disastrous outcome," Skelton said in a prepared statement. "We must re-prioritize and shift needed resources from Iraq to Afghanistan. We must once again make Afghanistan the central focus in the war against terrorism — our national security and Afghanistan's future are at stake."
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Still Wrong in Afghanistan
By Richard Holbrooke Wednesday, January 23, 2008; The Washington Post Page A19
"I'm a spray man myself," President Bush told government leaders and American counter-narcotics officials during his 2006 trip to Afghanistan. He said it again when President Hamid Karzai visited Camp David in August. Bush meant, of course, that he favors aerial eradication of poppy fields in Afghanistan, which supplies over 90 percent of the world's heroin. His remarks -- which, despite their flippant nature, were definitely not meant as a joke -- are part of the story behind the spectacularly unsuccessful U.S. counter-narcotics program in Afghanistan. Karzai and much of the international community in Kabul have warned Bush that aerial spraying would create a backlash against the government and the Americans, and serve as a recruitment device for the Taliban while doing nothing to reduce the drug trade. This is no side issue: If the program continues to fail, success in Afghanistan will be impossible.

Fortunately, Bush has not been able to convince other nations or Karzai that aerial spraying should be conducted, although he is vigorously supported by the American ambassador, William Wood, who was an enthusiastic proponent of aerial spraying in his previous assignment, in Colombia. Wood, often called "Chemical Bill" in Kabul, has even threatened senior Afghan officials with cuts in reconstruction funds if his policies are not carried out, according to two sources.

But even without aerial eradication, the program, which costs around $1 billion a year, may be the single most ineffective program in the history of American foreign policy. It's not just a waste of money. It actually strengthens the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as well as criminal elements within Afghanistan.

According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, the area under opium cultivation increased to 193,000 hectares in 2007 from 165,000 in 2006. The harvest also grew, to 8,200 tons from 6,100. Could any program be more unsuccessful?

The program destroys crops in insecure areas, especially in the south, where the Taliban is strongest. This policy pushes farmers with no other source of livelihood into the arms of the Taliban without reducing the total amount of opium being produced. Meanwhile, there is far too little effort made against the drug lords and high-ranking government officials who are at the heart of the huge drug trade in Afghanistan -- probably the largest single-country drug production since 19th-century China -- whose dollar value equals about 50 percent of the country's official gross domestic product. There is a direct correlation between opium production and security. In relatively secure areas, production has dropped, but along the Pakistan border in the insecure south, production is increasing and amounts to about 80 percent of the overall crop.

Everyone talks about "alternative livelihoods" and alternative crops as the solution to the drug problem. This is true in theory -- but this theory has been tried elsewhere with almost no success. Poppies are an easy crop to grow and are far more valuable than any other product that can be grown in the rocky, remote soil of most of Afghanistan. Without roads, it is hard to get heavier (and less valuable) crops to market -- and what market is there, anyway? It will take years to create the networks of roads, markets and lucrative crops that would induce farmers to switch, especially when government officials, including some with close ties to the presidency, are protecting the drug trade and profiting from it. (Any Kabul resident can point out where drug lords live -- they have the largest and fanciest houses in town.)

Barnett Rubin, a leading expert on Afghanistan and a fellow at the Asia Society in New York and New York University's Center on International Cooperation, writes in a forthcoming study that "the location of narcotics cultivation is the result -- not the cause -- of insecurity." He adds, "Escalating forced eradication" -- as the U.S. Embassy wants to do -- "will only make the effort fail more quickly because it actually builds the insurgency it is trying to eliminate."

To be sure, breaking the narco-state in Afghanistan is essential, or all else will fail. But it will take years, and American policies today are working against their own objective. Couple that with the other most critical fact about the war in Afghanistan -- it cannot be won as long as the border areas in Pakistan are havens for the Taliban and al-Qaeda -- and you have the ingredients for a war that will last far longer than the war in Iraq, even if NATO sends more troops and the appalling National Police training program is finally fixed. Solving this problem requires bold, creative thinking. Consideration should be given to a temporary suspension of eradication in insecure areas, accompanied by an intensified effort to improve security, build small market-access roads and offer farmers free agricultural support.

When I offered these thoughts on this page almost two years ago [" Afghanistan: The Long Road Ahead," op-ed, April 2, 2006], I was told by several high-ranking U.S. government officials that I was too pessimistic. I hope they do not still think so. Even more, I hope they will reexamine the disastrous drug policies that are spending American tax dollars to strengthen America's enemies.

Richard Holbrooke, a former ambassador to the United Nations, writes a monthly column for The Post.
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Karzai warns of spreading terrorism
By GEORGE JAHN, Associated Press Writer Wed Jan 23, 8:37 PM ET
DAVOS, Switzerland - Afghanistan's president warned Wednesday that the whole world could suffer from the "wildfire" of terrorism engulfing his region, a grim message for a meeting of political and business leaders already fretting over the threat of global recession.

Formally opening the World Economic Forum, Hamid Karzai gave a sobering rundown of recent attacks attributed to Islamic extremists — among them the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and bombings in Afghanistan and Pakistan that have killed hundreds, including many children.

With militant violence still on the rise in the two nations six years after the ouster of the Taliban, "it seems like the mutant of extremism is dangerously unleashed across the region," Karzai said. The trend "bodes terribly badly for the whole world," he said.

In an apparent allusion to Pakistan — whose president, Pervez Musharraf, originally supported the Taliban — Karzai called terrorism "a venomous snake that some among us tried to nurture and befriend at the expense of others, which I hope we realize now was a mistake."

Musharraf, now a U.S. ally in the war on extremist groups, has often been accused by Karzai of not doing enough to shut down sanctuaries for Taliban fighters in Pakistan's tribal region along the border with Afghanistan.

The Pakistani president is attending the conference in Davos as well, as part of a European tour seeking to reassure the West that he is in control of his country after months of political instability and increased attacks by Islamic militants.

Both leaders held separate talks Wednesday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but there was no indication they would meet with each other.

Musharraf spokesman Rashid Qureshi told The Associated Press the meeting with Rice "went very well," saying there was "total consonance and unanimity of views" on joint efforts to fight terrorism.

How to stem terrorism is one of the themes at this year's World Economic Forum, along with dealing with climate change, implementing a workable peace process in the Middle East and discussing how technology is ushering in a new age of social networking that knows no borders.

Still, with many participants sharing a realization that economic downturn can breed political turmoil, the main focus Wednesday was on the chances for worldwide recession.

World markets remained volatile Wednesday, with Asia closing up and Wall Street staging a stunning comeback but European stocks falling despite the U.S. Federal Reserve's surprise interest rate cut the day before aimed at shoring up the sagging American economy. The fireworks added weight to fears at Davos that the world could be sliding into recession.

Rice, in a nod to the economic anxiety, told an audience of chief executives, politicians and others that the U.S. economy is resilient and will remain an "engine of growth."

She urged the world to "have confidence in the underlying strength of the global economy — and act with confidence on the basis of the principles that lead to success in today's world."

But many leading participants shared the view that the world cannot escape the effects of America's economic slowdown, marked by the subprime mortgage crisis, loss of business confidence, poor corporate profits and a sharp drop in stock prices.

A year ago, Davos attendees predicted the global economy would move ahead with confidence. But now many seemed to share a glum mood that the world could be sliding into recession.

"We're in Round 1 or 2. This is a 15-round fight," said Guillermo Ortiz, governor of the Central Bank of Mexico, suggesting the worst might yet be coming.

Billionaire George Soros called for a radical cure — the imposition of heavy regulation and oversight over financial markets whose participants he accused of using "excessive" freedom to create "not a normal crisis but the end of an era."

"Authorities ought to go in and examine the books" of financial institutions, and provide assurance that "they will rescue and even take over banks that become insolvent," Soros said.

He argued the U.S. Federal Reserve has kept interest rates too low for too long.

Soros predicted a realignment of power and wealth, with the developed world suffering a recession while the developing world continues to grow.

Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin suggested his country and others with large gold and currency reserves could help the world economy weather the crisis by providing a financial cushion.

"Of course, we have become more dependent on the world economy, and this (crisis) will affect us, but we have a good system of defense and immunity," he said. "And therefore I think it will affect us less than the leading markets."

Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, said Asia, too, might weather the storm. If China's economic growth is reduced this year to 7-8 percent instead of the 10-11 percent it has registered in recent years, "that's not bad," he said.

Others painted a bleak picture for the United States.

Nouriel Roubini, chairman of New York-based Roubini Global Economics, said it was no longer a case of America sneezing and the rest of the world catching a cold, because "in this case the U.S. is going to have a protracted case of pneumonia."

"It's not about a soft landing or a hard landing," he said, but "rather how hard a landing it will be."

Still, some were more upbeat in the wake of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank's decision to cut its benchmark refinancing rate to 3.5 percent from 4.25 percent.

"The United States economy will correct itself," said David O'Reilly, chairman and CEO of Chevron Corp. "I'm an optimist when it comes to the length of what may be a slowdown or a mild recession. ... the outlook is still pretty good."
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Associated Press writers Paul Haven, Matt Moore, Matthew Lee, Dan Perry, Edie Lederer and Bradley S. Klapper contributed to this report
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Terrorism a 'political mutant' unleashed across region: Karzai
Wed Jan 23, 3:51 PM ET
DAVOS, Switzerland (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Wednesday that recent turmoil in Pakistan showed that a "political mutant" of extremism was stalking the region.

"I am sure that the events of the past few weeks in Pakistan have caused tremendous distress in many corners of the world. It seems like the mutant of extremism is dangerously unleashed across the region," Karzai said.

"The terrorism we are fighting is a political mutant, a Frankenstein, created through the folly of short-sighted policy for the reckless pursuit of misperceived interests," he told the annual World Economic Forum in Davos.

"It is a venomous snake that some among us tried to nurture and befriend at the expense of others, which I hope we now realise was a mistake."

Stressing the need to strike at the sources of financing for extremist groups as well as their recruiting networks, Karzai said it was time for regional neighbours to step up to the plate.

"Governments in the region need to move beyond rhetoric and stop to seek the pursuit of interests in the use of extremist politics," he said.

Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, currently visiting Europe, were due to appear together on Thursday morning at a Davos discussion on the quest for peace and stability, along with Barham Salih, Iraqi deputy premier.
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US commander pledges more help to Afghan army
Wed Jan 23, 11:39 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The US military commander for the Middle East pledged more assistance to Afghanistan's growing security forces to help them tackle a Taliban insurgency, the Afghan defence ministry said.

Admiral William Fallon met top defence officials including Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and General Bismullah Khan Ahmadi, the army chief of staff, the ministry said in a statement.

During his meetings, Fallon "promised to pay more attention to ... equipping the air force and arming the army and strengthening their (US) forces in Afghanistan," it said in a statement.

The US military, which has about 26,000 soldiers stationed here, has agreed to send a reinforcement of 3,200 extra troops to fight Taliban militants in the coming months as well as to ship over 500 roadside bomb-resistant vehicles.

The US military is also involved in training and re-equipping the security forces, and has pledged about 120 aircraft to the Afghan air force.

With the insurgency last year at its deadliest since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, officials have stressed the unrest will not end through military force and have put more emphasis on reconciliation with rebels and development.

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher, also visiting Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul Wednesday that Washington strongly supported reconciliation efforts.

There were many people who had been sympathetic with the Taliban who could be persuaded to side with the government if they saw advances in security and development, he said.

But, "we should not be naive about this -- there is a hard core of violent extremists that we are going to have to fight," including Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters, he said.
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US military: Taliban spring offensive unlikely in Afghanistan
Concerns grow over inadequate US military intelligence about Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan
By David Montero January 24, 2008 at 10:14 am EST Christian Science Monitor
The Taliban are unlikely to launch a spring offensive in Afghanistan this year because all their energies will be focused in Pakistan, United States military officials said. But as that battle heats up, US officials added that they do not have enough intelligence on the ground in Pakistan.

Taliban and Al Qaeda militants have killed more than 600 people in Pakistan in recent months, making 2007 the deadliest year for militancy in Pakistan. Although Pakistan's military has 100,000 troops stationed along the border of Afghanistan, violent extremism has spread inland to large cities like Lahore, where a suicide bomber killed 25 policemen in early January. Pakistan's government and the CIA have also blamed Taliban militants, working with Al Qaeda, for the assassination in late December of Benazir Bhutto.

The deteriorating security makes Pakistan more of a viable target for the Taliban, US officials told the Associated Press.

Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other militants are staying behind in Pakistan to fight the government there, contributing to a drop in cross-border infiltrations into eastern Afghanistan, a top US commander said Wednesday.

Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez said he does not expect insurgents to mount a spring offensive this year in eastern Afghanistan, once one of the most violent areas of the country.

"The enemy will try to take advantage of some of the challenges they are having over there (in Pakistan) right now," said Rodriguez, who commands US forces in eastern Afghanistan.

The New York Times reports that Rear Adm. William J. Fallon recently traveled to Pakistan to meet with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Musharraf's successor as chief of the Army staff.

The commanders discussed "the overall security situation in the region," a spokesman for the Pakistan Army said. Admiral Fallon was recently quoted as saying that the US military would play a greater role in training Pakistani forces and would provide technical advice to its troops.

That meeting comes as US officials said that they do not have enough intelligence about Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a lawless zone where Al Qaeda and the Taliban have set up a new base.

The Associated Press reports:

"There's gaps in intelligence," [Dell Dailey, the State Department's counterterrorism chief] said during a meeting with reporters. "We don't have enough information about what's going on there. Not on al-Qaida. Not on foreign fighters. Not on the Taliban."

Dailey, a retired Army lieutenant general with extensive background in special operations, said the lack of information makes him "uncomfortable." Yet the solution to the problem rests mainly with the Pakistanis, who would likely see too much U.S. involvement as an unwelcome intrusion.

During his trip to Davos, Switzerland, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf tried to allay the heightened concerns. But he may have added to them by revealing that his soldiers on the border are not actively hunting for Osama bin Laden.

The New York Times blog "The Lede" quotes Musharraf as saying,

The 100,000 troops that we are using … are not going around trying to locate Osama bin Laden and Zawahri, frankly," Musharraf told a conference at the French Institute for International Relations. "They are operating against terrorists, and in the process, if we get them, we will deal with them certainly."

But that's not what the US government wants to hear. The New York Times reported in early January that concerns about catching Mr. bin Laden have led the US military to consider plans for a covert push of its Special Forces inside Pakistan:

President Bush's senior national security advisers are debating whether to expand the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military to conduct far more aggressive covert operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

In part, the White House discussions may be driven by a desire for another effort to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Currently, C.I.A. operatives and Special Operations forces have limited authority to conduct counterterrorism missions in Pakistan based on specific intelligence about the whereabouts of those two men, who have eluded the Bush administration for more than six years, or of other members of their terrorist organization, Al Qaeda, hiding in or near the tribal areas.

So far, Musharraf has been categorical in refusing any direct US intervention, which means that intelligence gathering will remain limited.
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Taliban offensive unlikely in east Afghanistan: U.S.
By Andrew Gray and Kristin Roberts Wed Jan 23, 3:49 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior U.S. military commander said on Wednesday he did not expect the Taliban to mount a major offensive in eastern Afghanistan this spring, but experts warned of rising violence and a stronger insurgency.

Army Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, the top commander of NATO troops in eastern Afghanistan, said Afghan security forces and other civilian authorities had established a stronger presence in the east of the country.

"I don't think there will be a big spring offensive this year," said Rodriguez, on a visit back to the United States.

"The people of Afghanistan don't want the Taliban back and the strength of their institutions has grown significantly in the last year," he said at the Pentagon.

Fighting has traditionally surged in Afghanistan in the spring after winter snows melt, allowing fighters to move around more easily.

U.S. officials say eastern Afghanistan, which borders Pakistan, has become substantially more stable in the past year, thanks to the work of U.S. troops and Afghan officials in countering the influence of Taliban Islamist militants.

But violence overall in Afghanistan has risen steadily for more than two years.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last month that total violence was up 27 percent from a year ago and up more than 60 percent in the southern province of Helmand, scene of the heaviest fighting.

Retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told Congress on Wednesday the security situation has deteriorated significantly since 2004 and the Taliban has clearly gained strength.

"The enemy in Afghanistan -- a collection of al Qaeda, Taliban, Hezb-e Islami and foreign fighters -- is unquestionably a much stronger force than the enemy we faced in 2004," Barno told the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.

"I'm afraid it is an undeniable fact," he said.

Barno said the number of roadside bombs in Afghanistan climbed from 325 in 2004 to 1,469 last year. The number of suicide bombings soared from three in 2004 to more than 130 in 2007, according to Barno.

While Rodriguez painted an optimistic picture, Barno and other experts testifying on Capitol Hill said U.S. and NATO success against the Taliban will depend directly on Pakistan's willingness and ability to clamp down on al Qaeda and Taliban fighters based in its remote, largely ungoverned border area.

The U.S. military says al Qaeda and the Taliban have regrouped in Pakistan, largely along that mountainous border region where security forces have been battling al Qaeda-linked militants for years.

A recent wave of violence, including suicide bombs and the assassination of two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto, has heightened U.S. concerns about security there and its impact on Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan and Pakistan are joined at the hip," said Karl Inderfurth, former assistant secretary of state for south Asian affairs during the Clinton administration.

"There can be no successful outcome for Afghanistan if Pakistan is not a part of the solution," said Inderfurth, now a professor at The George Washington University.

The United States said last week it would send about 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan to help NATO troops fight the Taliban in the south and to train Afghan security forces.
(Editing by David Wiessler)
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Afghanistan sets up prison for women
Thu Jan 24, 2008 6:46am EST 
KABUL, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Afghanistan launched its first prison for women in the capital Kabul on Thursday as part of a plan to build 15 such facilities, officials said.

Built with the assistance from Italy's government, the jail can accommodate 330 prisoners who currently languish in various prisons on numerous criminal charges.

Located near a residential area in a Kabul suburb, it is equipped and furnished with furniture, sewing machines and kitchen.

Abdul Salaam Esmat, the head of prisons and detention centres, said there were 275 female prisoners lodged in Afghan jails, along with their 175 children.

"Currently we are shifting 96 female prisoners and detainees from Pul-i-Charkhi prison to the new building", he said of the main prison which also holds suspected militants to the east of Kabul.

"We are planning to build 15 more separate detention centres for women prisoners and detainees in other provinces in the near future," he said.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi, editing by Sayed Salahuddin and Sanjeev Miglani)
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Redirect Afghan aid
Jan 24, 2008 04:30 AM Toronto Star EDITORIAL
Canada may be pumping $1.2 billion into Afghanistan's redevelopment, and doing much good there, but people in Kandahar region where our troops are stationed see scant improvement in their lives.

That's the bleak conclusion from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's advisory panel on Afghanistan, led by John Manley. It should shame the government and the Canadian International Development Agency into an urgent rethink of the way we do business there.

Most Canadian aid, 85 per cent or so, is being channelled through the central Kabul government or through multilateral agencies like the Red Cross. That leaves just 15 per cent for "signature" Canadian projects across Afghanistan, such as hospitals and health stations, wells and irrigation, hydro, schools and roads. And even less for Kandahar, where CIDA too often fears to tread. What aid we do provide is slow in coming, the Manley panel found, in part due to CIDA's cumbersome procedures.

People in Kandahar, where Canadian troops are fighting Taliban insurgents, should not have to wait months or years for a health station or a well. The message that sends is that things are no better than before. That plays into the insurgents' hands.

Harper should heed Manley's advice that he make the Afghan file a personal priority and demand faster action from CIDA in Kandahar, less red tape, more staff in the field and greater transparency.

Whatever Canadians may think of our Afghan military role, there is strong public support for feeding refugees, educating children and giving families health care. The Prime Minister has the power to light a fire under the bureaucrats. Manley has held out the match.
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Manley panel avoids real reason for Afghan role
Jan 24, 2008 04:30 AM Haroon Siddiqui Toronto Star,  Canada
Asked when the United States might withdraw from Iraq, George W. Bush has, for the last four years, been telling Americans, "we will stand down when the Iraqis stand up."

John Manley is telling Canadians the same thing about Afghanistan. Our troops should stay there until the Afghan army and police are trained to take over. That would be whenever that would be:

"There's no consensus among experts as to when Afghan forces will achieve sufficient size and competence ... (It) will take time ... No end date makes sense at this point."

This is just one of the many frustrating parts of the Manley panel's report. While it is honest in enumerating the failures of our Afghan mission, it is not about much else.

It is silent on what most Canadians suspect is the main reason for our presence in Afghanistan: to pacify Washington, after having refused to join the Iraq war.

Instead, the panel cites a loftier rationale: our commitment to Afghans, NATO and world security. This is disingenuous, especially given that Manley and every other panel member (Derek Burney, Jake Epp, Paul Tellier and Pamela Wallin) is known to favour keeping the Americans happy to keep our trade.

The group also sidesteps other difficult issues. Something ought to be done, it says, about the Afghan warlords, corruption and the Taliban/Al Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan. But it offers no clue as to what.

The panel rejects any parallel between Afghanistan and Iraq – one being a UN-approved multilateral effort and the other an American unilateral war and occupation.

But there are parallels galore: gross incompetence in managing postwar societies; scant regard by foreign forces for local customs, living conditions and civilian lives; and widespread local insurgencies.

The biggest flaw in the Manley report concerns its main recommendation: that we extend our stay.

A Canadian pullout would "condemn Afghans to a new and bloody cycle of civil wars and misrule, and raise new threats to global peace and security," "squander our investment and dishonour our sacrifice," and "undermine our influence in the UN and in NATO capitals, including Washington."

But, we must quit if NATO doesn't ante up another 1,000 troops.

One moment, it's a matter of principle, honour and world stability. The next, it's a bargaining ploy.

Even the U.S. plan to deploy 3,000 more Marines is "not, by itself, sufficient." We need those extra 1,000 troops to join the Canadians. Otherwise, our "mission is in jeopardy."

But why would NATO respond now if it hasn't so far? And even if does, how would just another 1,000 troops prop up a teetering mission?

The panel concedes what this column has long argued:

Our Afghan mission has veered off into American-style warfare, at the expense of reconstruction and development. Yet, it has failed to control the insurgency and may, in fact, have fed it.

There is no military solution. The panel says there will "have to be a negotiated political and social reconciliation" with the more acceptable elements of the Taliban.

There is a need for a coherent strategy between the international "military and civilian programs."

But given the way the Manley panel has framed the debate, Stephen Harper may see it as a licence to continue the war in Afghanistan.

It is up to the opposition to ensure that he doesn't.

Haroon Siddiqui, the Star's editorial page editor emeritus, appears Thursday and Sunday. Email: hsiddiq@thestar.ca
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Canada quietly halts prisoner transfers
Decision taken more than two months ago after diplomats found instruments of torture under chair in secret Kandahar prison
PAUL KORING From Thursday's Globe and Mail January 24, 2008 at 5:08 AM EST
Canada stopped transferring prisoners into Afghan custody months ago after discovering compelling evidence of torture, Ottawa admitted yesterday.

The government kept its decision under wraps, even as it prepared to fight rights groups seeking a halt to transfers in court today.

Justice Department lawyers acknowledged yesterday that Canadian Forces had stopped handing over detainees in November after a prisoner told diplomats visiting a secret jail in Kandahar that he had been beaten. He also told them where they could find the electrical cable and rubber hose used by his torturers, which the diplomats later discovered beneath a chair.

"Canadian authorities were informed on November 5, 2007, by Canada's monitoring team, of a credible allegation of mistreatment pertaining to one Canadian-transferred detainee held in an Afghan detention facility," the lawyers said in a letter to Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

"As a consequence there have been no transfers of detainees to Afghan authorities since that date," the letter confirmed.

"It's staggering," Jason Gratl, president of the BCCLA said of the government's belated admission. "In matters as important as complicity in torture and its conduct of war, the government owes Canadians some explanations in an open and frank manner."

The government, which is trying to drum up support for extending the Afghan mission, only revealed it had ceased transfers as it tried to make a deal with Amnesty and the BCCLA to drop their application for an injunction.

But Ottawa refused a counteroffer in which it would have agreed to give seven days notice before resuming transfers.

The hearing on the injunction is expected to proceed this morning.

It's not clear whether troops are still taking prisoners only to release them, holding them in temporary cells run by Canadian Military Police on Kandahar Air Base or once again turning prisoners over to U.S. forces, which operate a prison at Bagram in Afghanistan.

"Concerning the matter of detainees, the number of detainees, if they are being transferred or not, these are all operational matters and are the responsibility of the Canadian Forces. The Government will not provide any comment on operational matters," said Sandra Buckler, spokeswoman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The letter to Amnesty and the BCCLA continued: "Canada will resume transferring detainees when it believes it can do so in accordance with its international legal obligations."

Among those obligations is a Geneva Conventions prohibition against handing prisoners over to those who would abuse or torture them.

Given the widely documented and widespread abuse and ill-treatment that is rife in Afghan prisons, Mr. Gratl said he "could not foresee detainee transfers resuming in the foreseeable future.

"The government's decision amounts to a concession that the May, 2007, monitoring agreement has failed to prevent torture by Afghan authorities," he said.

That agreement, which allows for follow-up inspections, was negotiated only after former defence minister Gordon O'Connor's assurances that the International Committee of the Red Cross would report abuse of transferred prisoners back to the Harper government were shown to be wrong.

More than a month after it stopped handing prisoners over to Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, the Harper government sent a senior general to give a sworn affidavit in the case brought by Amnesty and BCCLA.

The rights groups wanted transfers banned, claiming the government is bound by both international law and the Canadian Constitution from delivering detainees to those likely to torture or abuse them.

Brigadier-General André Deschamps, chief of staff to Canada's Expeditionary Forces Command, which runs the counterinsurgency operation in Afghanistan, asserted that Canada would have to quit fighting if it was barred from transferring detainees.

He also said, in his Dec. 14 affidavit, that more Canadian troops might be killed if detainee transfers were halted.

Listing a long series of possible embarrassments and defeats, Gen. Deschamps, outlined what he said would be the dire, war-losing consequences should Canada be barred from turning prisoners it captured on the battlefield over to Afghan security forces.

Taliban fighters might surrender in droves, warned the general, if they knew Canada would release them because it could not either hold them or transfer them.

"The insurgents could attack us with impunity knowing that if they fail to win an engagement they would simply have to surrender and wait for release to resume operations," he said.

"The Canadian Forces has no capacity or ability to hold detainees other than for transfer purposes," said Gen. Deschamps, an air force officer.

Building a NATO detention facility, perhaps on the Kandahar base, which currently houses more than 10,000 troops, has been repeatedly suggested by international human-rights groups. Canada and most NATO nations are opposed.

"The long-term, indefinite detention of detainees in such circumstances would be inconsistent with the sovereignty of Afghanistan," Gen. Deschamps said.

Madam Justice Anne Mactavish has ordered Gen. Deschamps to appear in Federal Court today where he is expected to face tough questioning from lawyers for Amnesty and the BCCLA.

***
Detainee timeline

2001

Dec. 19 Then-defence-minister Art Eggleton reveals that Canadian forces, specifically commandos from Joint Task Force 2, have joined the war, sparking concerns about whether troops would turn captured Afghans over to U.S. authorities.

2002

Jan. 21 Canadian commandos turn three captured al-Qaeda fighters over to the U.S. military.

Jan. 28 Then-prime-minister Jean Chrétien says the government is reviewing its policy on prisoners and that opposition concerns are "hypothetical" because none have been taken.

Jan. 29 Mr. Eggleton admits he learned eight days earlier that Canadian commandos had turned over prisoners without any assurances about whether they would be treated as prisoners of war.

Feb. 6 U.S. President George W. Bush says that Taliban prisoners would be considered POWs under the Geneva Conventions, but al-Qaeda prisoners would not.

Feb. 7 Both Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Eggleton say they are satisfied with this guarantee.

2005

Dec. 18 General Rick Hillier, Chief of the Defence Staff, signs an agreement with Afghanistan's Defence Minister stipulating that detainees handed from Canadian to Afghan custody will be treated in accordance with the third Geneva convention, which forbids torture and other inhumane treatment.

2006

May 31 Defence Minister Dennis O'Connor says the International Committee of the Red Cross is monitoring detainees, and will report prisoner abuse to Canada.

2007

February Investigations are launched into the treatment of Afghan detainees after The Globe and Mail publishes allegations of abuse.

Feb. 21 Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association file an application in Federal Court seeking a judicial review of the military's detainee-handover policy, questioning whether Canadian soldiers abroad are legally bound by the Geneva Conventions.

March 21 Mr. O'Connor apologizes for providing inaccurate information. "I would like to be clear: The International Committee of the Red Cross is under no obligation to share information with Canada on the treatment of detainees transferred by Canada to Afghan authorities," he tells the House of Commons. "The International Committee of the Red Cross provides this information to the country that has the detainees in its custody, in this case, Afghanistan."

April 23 During 30 face-to-face interviews with The Globe and Mail, Afghans detained by Canadian soldiers and sent to Kandahar's notorious jails say they were beaten, whipped, starved, frozen, choked and subjected to electric shocks during interrogation.

April 24 Stephen Harper brushes off calls for his Defence Minister's head and dismisses the furor over the torture of Afghans captured by Canadian soldiers as "allegations of the Taliban. ... We do not have evidence that [the torture] is true."

April 26 The Harper government buckles and announces a new deal providing Canadian officials with full access to Afghan jails.

July 9 It is learned that Gen. Hillier's office has halted the release of documents relating to detainees captured in Afghanistan under the federal Access to Information Act, claiming that disclosure of any such information could endanger Canadian troops.

Sept. 22 Canada is unable to account for at least 50 prisoners it captured and turned over to Afghan authorities, frustrating efforts to put to rest concerns the detainees were subject to torture. Canadian sources blame the Afghans' shoddy record-keeping and suggest the detainees have likely returned safely to their homes. But officials familiar with Kandahar's justice system say the possibility of foul play cannot be dismissed.

Nov. 13 Turning Afghan detainees over to known torturers breaks international law, and Canada, along with other NATO countries should impose an immediate halt to transfers, Amnesty International says.

Nov. 15 Canadian officials confirm they have evidence a Taliban detainee showed signs of physical abuse, the seventh such allegation made by detainees since Canada began systematically visiting Afghan prisoners in May.

2008

Jan. 22 Compelling evidence that Canadian-transferred detainees are still being tortured in Afghan prisons emerges from the government's own follow-up inspection reports.
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AFGHANISTAN: UN, government appeal for $80 million to avert food-insecurity
24 Jan 2008 13:31:30 GMT
KABUL, 24 January 2008 (IRIN) - The government of Afghanistan and the UN have jointly appealed for over US$80 million to assist 2.55 million Afghans who have been pushed into "high risk" food-insecurity due to a steep rise in staple food prices.

The Joint Appeal for the Humanitarian Consequences of the Rise in Food Prices was launched on 24 January by the second vice-president of Afghanistan, Karim Khalili, and the acting special representative of the UN Secretary-General in the country, Bo Asplund.

"This joint appeal is on behalf of 425,000 extremely poor Afghan families, who otherwise will be unable to meet their most basic need - that of food - especially during the current harsh winter months… I urge all donors to respond generously to the appeal, to ensure that these families can feed themselves, and so that the most vulnerable, who are predominantly children and women, do not succumb to malnutrition," Asplund told donor representatives and reporters in Kabul.

Food prices, particularly wheat and wheat flour, have increased by 60-80 percent across Afghanistan in the past few months, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). This has pushed at least 1.41 million people in rural and 1.14 million in urban areas into high-risk food-insecurity.

"Afghanistan is requesting assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) and other international partners to provide a temporary safety net for 425,000 vulnerable rural and urban households (2.55 million beneficiaries) with low purchasing power," the appeal said.

The government of Afghanistan alone does not have the capacity to tackle the current food crisis, the appeal said. The country does not have any grain reserves to manage food shortages.

Food aid

Three UN agencies - WFP, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) - will lead the humanitarian intervention, albeit in collaboration with various government and non-government actors.

The joint humanitarian assistance operation will be conducted from February to June 2008.

Over 90 percent of the requested funds will by used by WFP to purchase about 89,000 metric tonnes of foodstuffs (wheat, pulses, cooking oil and iodized salt) for a targeted population of 2.55 million.

The food aid will be distributed through food-for-work and similar programmes and WFP will use "best distribution modalities to ensure the food assistance reaches the most vulnerable".

WFP's goal will be to prevent the targeted people from resorting to coping strategies that may destroy their household assets and damage their ability to cope with future shocks.

Health and nutrition

UNICEF and WHO will spend over $2 million on a number of health and nutrition activities, which will specifically target children under-five, pregnant and breastfeeding women.

At least 459,000 under-fives and 229,500 pregnant and breastfeeding women are among the affected population, UN agencies and the government estimate.

UNICEF will use about $1 million to conduct a rapid nutrition needs assessment and, based on this, the organisation will procure and distribute micronutrient supplements and therapeutic feeding supplies.

Meanwhile, WHO will provide essential drugs and nutrition supplies to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and will train provincial health workers to do emergency life-saving interventions.

The overall objective of UNICEF and WHO's intervention is to avert avoidable morbidity, mortality and disability due to malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies.

Early warning

At least 28 percent of Aghans are "severely food-insecure", 33 percent are borderline, and up to 38 percent are considered to be food-secure, according to the UN agencies operating in Afghanistan. This means that people in "266 out of 398 districts" in Afghanistan are living with "either very high or high risk" of food-insecurity. Afghanistan's population was a little over 26 million people in 2006, according to the UN Population Division [http://www.un.org/esa/population/unpop.htm].

Wheat flour, used to make bread, is the major staple food on which more than half the Afghan people spend over 56 percent of their family earnings, said Bo Asplund, who is also the UN resident humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan.

If there is no immediate intervention "there is a high probability that the majority of the under-five children, pregnant women and lactating women will suffer from severe forms of malnutrition leading to increased mortality," warns the joint appeal.

"Our people will face a humanitarian tragedy, if we fail to reach and assist the vulnerable groups," Khalili said.
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Snow brings wonder, misery for homeless Afghans
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, Jan 24 (Reuters) - The "strange white stuff" falling from the sky was a revelation for Abdullah's children but it only meant more misery.

The 50 year-old Abdullah lost three members of his family during fighting four months ago between Taliban insurgents and foreign forces in the Sangin district of the southern Afghan province of Helmand.

That was it for him. He packed up and brought his surviving family members up to the capital, Kabul, in search of security and a better life.

Now he's camped out with scores of other people living in tents and makeshift shelters on a wind-swept field on the western outskirts of Kabul where temperatures at one stage this week plunged to minus 26 Celsius (-15 Fahrenheit).

Abdullah's children, brought up in the warmer south, were amazed the first time they saw snow falling from the sky.

"That was a new experience for them indeed," Abdullah told Reuters as he huddled in a blanket outside his tent.

But the "white stuff" heralded freezing temperatures.

"I have never seen cold weather like this in my life. It's pretty bad here," said the gaunt, bearded man with piercing eyes.

Abdullah gets regular updates about the security situation back home in Sangin and while it is not good, he says he would never advise any of his old neighbours to follow him to Kabul.

"I tell them there is nothing for them here: no food, no firewood and not much aid".

"We can't go back home because of the war but it is very difficult to stay here too," he says.

The severe winter across mountainous Afghanistan this year has killed several hundred people and about 40,000 cattle, according to government estimates.

"NOTHING TO EAT"
Conflict has driven millions of Afghans from their homeland beginning when Soviet troops first invaded in the late 1970s.

Most of them ended up in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

With the help of the U.N. refugee agency, many have come back since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban government in late 2001, but some have gone back.

And a surge in violence over the past couple of years, especially in the south, has forced a new wave of tens of thousands of people from their homes.

Most of them have moved to what they hope will be safer parts of Afghanistan and are thus classified as "internally displaced" people, not refugees.

As Abdullah spoke, several dozen people, most of them men, approached his tent thinking a reporter was from an aid agency and could bring them food or other supplies.

"Please put my name on your list too. We have nothing to eat or to warm ourselves," said one them, 23 year-old Azizullah.

Azizullah said his father had recently died because of the cold and said many people had been falling sick.

Nearby the Helmand villagers' camp is another, set up by Afghans who were deported from Iran last year.

They rely largely on handouts from generous citizens and say help from the government and aid groups has been sporadic and scanty.

With jobs practically non-existent and prices higher every day, some of the displaced have been resorted to begging on the streets for money, food or firewood, which is essential for cooking and heating the tents.

A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said the organisation was aware of the plight of the displaced people from troubled Sangin.

"We know that 40 to 50 families have come there and our office plans to deliver them some winter assistance if there is a need," said the spokesman, Mohammad Nader Farhad.
(Editing by Robert Birsel and Sanjeev Miglani)
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Attacks on Afghan students up sharply
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Wed Jan 23, 4:21 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The number of students and teachers killed in Taliban attacks has tripled in the past year in a campaign to close schools and force teenage boys to join the Islamic militia, Afghanistan's education minister says.

While the overall state of Afghan education shows improvement, Education Ministry numbers point to a sharp decline in security for students, teachers and schools in the south, where the Taliban thrives: The number of students out of classes because of security concerns has hit 300,000 since March 2007, compared with 200,000 in the previous 12 months, while the number of schools closing has risen from 350 to 590.

The Taliban strategy is deliberate: "to close these schools down so that the children and primarily the teenagers that are going to the schools — the boys — have no other option but to join the Taliban," Education Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday.

The Taliban know that educated Afghans won't join the militants, so a closed school leaves students with two options — to join the Taliban or "to cross the border and go into those hate madrassas," Atmar said, referring to Islamic seminaries in Pakistan where "they will be professionally trained as terrorists."

Wakil Ahmad Khan, a top official at Pakistan's religious affairs ministry, said Pakistani "madrassas are doing a wonderful job by providing education to millions of students" and "if the Afghan officials have any such information, they should share it with Pakistan's Foreign Ministry."

Attacks on schools still in operation have actually fallen in the last 10 months — to 98 from 187 in the same period of 2006, Atmar said, attributing the drop to a community defense initiative. But the Taliban have switched to targeting students on their way to and from school or in other places where they congregate.

The U.N. said it couldn't confirm that Taliban fighters were upping efforts to recruit schoolboys, and no educational aid organizations that could confirm Atmar's claims are working in provinces such as Helmand in the dangerous south.

Adam Rutland, a spokesman at the British reconstruction team in Helmand province, said the perception in Helmand province was that more schools were open than in the past, although he added that it's well known that disaffected and poor young men are a recruiting base for the Taliban.

Atmar said 147 students and teachers have been killed in Taliban attacks since mid-March, compared with 46 in the previous year. The 147 include 58 students and teachers killed in a single bombing and gunfire attack in Baghlan province in November.

The number of students and teachers wounded has gone from 46 to 200, he said.

Most of the schools closed for security reasons are in the south. In Helmand, the world's largest opium poppy growing region, 177 schools are closed, along with 150 in nearby Kandahar province, Atmar said.

He said dozens of students he talked with in Helmand province recently told him the Taliban are pushing them to enlist. Some 1,100 students from outlying areas are traveling to the relative safety of the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah to attend class. Atmar said he hopes soon to provide housing and food for these students.

Of the 13 districts in Helmand, seven have no schools in operation, said Sayed Abrar Agha, the director of education in Helmand. District leaders like Agha provide the figures that Atmar cites.

Agha said he recently visited the town of Musa Qala — which was controlled by the Taliban until last month — and the head education official refused to talk to him.

"He's still afraid of the Taliban and doesn't want to meet with government officials," Agha said.

Atmar predicted attacks on students and teachers would continue to increase unless the international community and the Afghan government delivered protection.

Still, overall there is good news in Afghanistan's educational comeback since the days of the Taliban, when girls couldn't attend schools and fewer than 1 million boys did. Some 5.8 million students now attend class, up from 5.4 million a year ago, 35 percent of them female, Atmar said.

The Education Ministry's goal is that within four years 75 percent of all boys will be in classes — up from roughly 50 percent currently — and 60 percent of all girls — up from less than 30 percent today.

Schools also suffer from a shortage of qualified teachers, particularly female ones, and of infrastructure.

U.S. forces in the eastern province of Kunar are linking Afghan children with schools in the U.S., Italy and Germany that can supply pens, notebooks and chalk, the military said Wednesday.

"Being in the U.S., it is hard to visualize the lack of resources they have here," Army Capt. Jay S. VanDenbos, 30, from Tahlequah, Okla., was quoted as saying in a military news release.

Teachers are underpaid, and of Afghanistan's 9,400 schools, only 40 percent have proper facilities, he said. "Ninety percent of the schools are open-air schools, which are sometimes a tarp and a dirt floor. They'll have a rock that they use as a chalk board, and kids sit underneath the tarp and learn."

"Most of the kids want to learn. They yearn for knowledge," said VanDenbos. "Anytime anyone goes on patrols, the kids are screaming to 'give me pen, give me pen.'"
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Associated Press reporter Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.
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Being in Afghanistan is dangerous, not being in Afghanistan is more dangerous
BAN KI-MOON Special to Globe and Mail Update January 24, 2008 at 1:28 AM EST
Afghanistan is a potent symbol of the costs inherent in abandoning nations to the lawless forces of anarchy. That alone justifies international efforts to help rebuild the country. Lest there be any doubt, remember Sept. 11, 2001, and its worldwide reverberations. We learned then how a country, shorn of its civic institutions, becomes a vacuum to be filled by criminals and opportunists. In its chaos and poverty, Afghanistan became a home base for terrorism.

Must we learn that lesson all over again? The past six years have seen a massive international partnership to rebuild Afghanistan's state institutions. A modern constitution was adopted after widespread popular consultations. Presidential and parliamentary elections were held. Three million refugees returned from decades of exile. Clearly, a large majority of the population supports the international community's efforts on Afghans' behalf.

Yet, this progress is in jeopardy. Once again, the opportunists are on the rise, seeking anew to make Afghanistan a lawless place — a locus of instability, terrorism and drug trafficking. Their means are desperate: suicide bombs, kidnappings, the killing of government officials and hijacking of aid convoys. Almost more dismaying is the response of some outside Afghanistan, who react by calling for a disengagement or the full withdrawal of international forces. This would be a misjudgment of historic proportions, the repetition of a mistake that has already had terrible consequences.

The United Nations has been in Afghanistan for many decades. Our institutional memory stretches back to the traumas of the Taliban, and beyond to the era when rival militias battled one another for the meagre spoils of a country broken by civil war. Our hopes for the future look to a day when Afghan state institutions stand on their own, able to tackle with dignity the difficult tasks of reconstruction and development while providing security and justice within secure borders.

I believe that day is within reach. We cannot let it be lost to the inhuman violence of today's insurgents.

For all the frustrations and periodic setbacks, I am heartened by the strong and sustained international support given to Afghanistan. Security concerns notwithstanding, there has been obvious progress. Girls' school enrolment has increased dramatically in the past five years. Six million children are in schools today, compared to less than a million under the Taliban. More than five million children have been immunized against polio, crucial not only for them, but also for our fight to eradicate polio worldwide. Half a million Afghans have gained access to safe water.

New roads are helping farmers get produce to markets. Afghan farmers are meeting 95 per cent of the country's grain needs; in 2001, the figure was less than 50 per cent. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, created following the 2001 Bonn Agreement, now has nine provincial offices, actively promoting human rights. Under the Taliban, women's participation in public and political life was non-existent. Today, 28 per cent of the seats in parliament are held by w