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January 31, 2008 

Suicide bomber kills Afghan official
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber blew himself up Thursday in a mosque in southern Afghanistan, killing a deputy provincial governor and five other people in another blow to President Hamid Karzai's U.S.-backed government.

Suicide bomber kills one, wounds four in Kabul
Thu Jan 31, 3:15 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - A suicide bomber targeted an Afghan army bus in the centre of Kabul on Thursday, causing numerous casualties, officials said.

U.S. writes to NATO states for troops for Afghan: paper
BERLIN (Reuters) - The United States has written a strongly-worded letter to Germany and other NATO members urging them to send combat troops to dangerous areas in southern Afghanistan, a German newspaper reported on Thursday.

Al-Qaida commander in Afghanistan killed
Associated Press
CAIRO, Egypt - Abu Laith al-Libi, a top al-Qaida commander in Afghanistan who was blamed for bombing a base while Vice President Cheney was visiting last year, has been killed, according to a militant Web site.

Bush's Afghan policy raked at hearing
By BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON - Skeptical senators from both parties swept aside the Bush administration's optimistic defense of its strategy in Afghanistan Thursday, suggesting weariness over the campaign against the Taliban.

Oxfam warns of humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan
Thu Jan 31, 6:09 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - Aid agency Oxfam warned Thursday of the risk of a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan unless Western countries make a "major change of direction" in their strategy in the violence-scarred country.

Ready to quit Afghanistan, Canada PM tells Bush
Wed Jan 30, 6:30 PM ET
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, reinforcing an ultimatum over Afghanistan, told U.S. President George W. Bush on Wednesday that Ottawa would withdraw its military mission next year unless NATO sent in more troops, officials said.

Canada Tells U.K.'s Brown More Troops Needed in Afghanistan
By Theophilos Argitis
Jan. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown he'll withdraw Canada's troops from Afghanistan next year if allies don't provide more help, after delivering a similar message to

US ambassador questions Iranian interests in Afghanistan
Wed Jan 30, 10:22 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The US ambassador questioned Wednesday Iranian policy towards Afghanistan, also saying there was no doubt insurgents here had received weapons from Iran.

Iran new envoy submits credentials to Afghan president
Kabul, Jan 31, IRNA
Iran's new Ambassador to Afghanistan Fada-Hossein Maleki submitted his credentials to Afghan President Hamid Karzai here Thursday.

US wants France to send combat troops to Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States said Thursday it would like France to send combat troops to southern Afghanistan without saying it would make an explicit request to French Defense Minister Herve Morin.

NATO's Not Winning in Afghanistan, Report Says
By Ann Scott Tyson Washington Post Staff Writer  Thursday, January 31, 2008; Page A18
NATO forces in Afghanistan are in a "strategic stalemate," as Taliban insurgents expand their control of sparsely populated areas and as the central government fails to carry out vital reforms and reconstruction

Afghanistan's future 'in peril'
Thursday, 31 January 2008 BBC News
Two more Western reports say that international efforts are failing to make Afghanistan a stable state.

Cup half full, half empty in Canada's Afghan development work
By Stephanie Levitz THE CANADIAN PRESS January 31, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day, the proverb goes, or you can teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime.

Pakistan: Government aims to close more Afghan refugee camps in 2008
ISLAMABAD, 31 January 2008 (IRIN) - The government of Pakistan will soon consider provincial plans to close a number of Afghan refugee camps, according to officials.

Afghan senate's blasphemy retreat
By Charles Haviland BBC News, Kabul Thursday, 31 January 2008
The upper house of parliament in Afghanistan has withdrawn its support for a death sentence issued against a journalist convicted of blasphemy.

Protesters condemn Afghan reporter’s death sentence
(AFP) 31 January 2008 via Khaleej Times
KABUL - Around 200 people marched to the United Nations office in Kabul on Thursday to protest against a death sentence handed to an Afghan reporter and journalism student accused of blasphemy.

Afghanistan: Taliban did not kidnap US aid worker, says spokesman
Kandahar, 30 Jan. (AKI - By Syed Saleem Shahzad) - As hundreds of Afghan women called for the release of a US aid worker kidnapped in the southern city of Kandahar, the Taliban was adamant it had nothing to do with her disappearance.

Taliban behead four Afghan roadworkers
Wed Jan 30, 12:10 PM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents beheaded four Afghan road-workers in the northeast of the country after their families failed to pay a ransom for their release, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday.

Bleak prospects for country's estimated 1.5 million widows
KABUL, 30 January 2008 (IRIN) - Knocking on the windows of cars stuck in traffic on Shar-e-Naw Street in Kabul, Zulaikha and her children beg for money to keep warm and feed themselves. Their daily routine starts at about 7am and ends at 6pm every day.

UK forces for Afghanistan to get full training
Thu 31 Jan 2008, 14:33 GMT By Luke Baker
LONDON (Reuters) - The government dismissed suggestions on Thursday that it would send troops into combat in Afghanistan without proper training, but acknowledged that instruction could be 'tightened' for reserve units.

Shootout echoes across Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / January 31, 2008
KARACHI - Tuesday afternoon's fierce gun battle in this port city is stark evidence that al-Qaeda-linked sleeper cells have been activated against the Pakistani state.

Tajik officers seize 500 kg of drugs on Afghan border
14:45 | 31/ 01/ 2008
DUSHANBE, January 31 (RIA Novosti) - Tajik special forces seized over 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of opium-related drugs on the Afghan border and arrested eight suspects, a source in the country's Security Committee said on Thursday.

Mobile police deployed for security on highway
By Ahmad Qurishi - Jan 29, 2008 - 20:35
HERAT CITY (PAN): A unit of 178 equipped and trained mobile police was deployed to restore the security of Kandahar- Herat highway.

Roads blockade aggravate people miseries
By Ahmad Qurishi - Jan 29, 2008 - 18:09
HERAT CITY (PAN): Herat Torghondi and Herat Qala-i-Now highways are closed due to heavy snowfall, creating problems for residents and businessmen.

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Suicide bomber kills Afghan official
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber blew himself up Thursday in a mosque in southern Afghanistan, killing a deputy provincial governor and five other people in another blow to President Hamid Karzai's U.S.-backed government.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which came as U.S. officials were warning that the six-year mission to stabilize Afghanistan faces a crisis due to Taliban resilience and weakening international resolve.

Pir Mohammad, deputy governor of Helmand province, was attending noon prayers at the mosque in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah when the bomber struck, according to police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal.

At least 18 people, including two children, were wounded by the blast, Andiwal said.

Haji Ikramullah, who was walking to the mosque when the explosion occurred, said he saw bodies inside and wounded people shrieking in pain.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for the attack, which he said was carried out by an Afghan named Qudratullah from the eastern province of Paktia, one of the centers of Taliban resistance.

Helmand province is the center of world's opium and heroin production and the scene of intense fighting between militants and U.S., British and Afghan forces, which claim to have killed thousands of Taliban fighters.

Also Thursday, a suicide bomber attacked an Afghan army bus in Kabul, the capital, killing one civilian and wounding a soldier and three other people.

Karzai condemned the attacks as "brutal and terrorist acts" carried out by the "enemies of Afghanistan" against "innocent civilians and Muslim people."

The assaults raise fears that a resurgent Taliban will step up their suicide attacks, which have raised alarm in Washington and other Western capitals over the future of the six-year mission to stabilize Afghanistan.

The Taliban launched more than 140 suicide missions last year — the most since they were ousted from power in late 2001 by the U.S.-led invasion that followed the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

This week, an independent study co-chaired by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones and former U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering warned that Afghanistan risks becoming a failed state because of deteriorating international support and the growing Taliban insurgency.

The study concluded the United States risks losing the "forgotten war" in Afghanistan unless it re-energize anti-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where al-Qaida is regrouping.

But the United States remains heavily committed in Iraq with about 160,000 troops. Plans call for reducing that figure to about 130,000 by July, although U.S. officials have signaled they may suspend the drawdown by midyear to determine whether they can hold on to security gains with fewer American troops.

At the same time, NATO's European members are refusing to send soldiers to Afghanistan's dangerous south, opening a rift between the U.S., Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and others which have borne the brunt of fighting.

The U.S. contributes one-third of NATO's 42,000-member International Security Assistance Force mission, making it the largest participant. That does not include the 12,000 to 13,000 American troops operating independently.

Canada is threatening not to extend its military mission in Afghanistan after next year unless another NATO country sends more soldiers to the south. Canada, which maintains 2,500 troops in Kandahar province, has lost 78 soldiers and one diplomat.

Afghan officials have often been targeted by the Taliban as part of their campaign to weaken Karzai's government, which has been increasingly isolated in Kabul and other major cities.

Rather than attacking heavily armed U.S. and other international troops, the Taliban often have preferred to go after easier targets — such as provincial officials and Afghan security forces — with suicide bombers and roadside bombs.

Last year, suicide bombers in the eastern province of Khost tried three times to kill Gov. Arsallah Jamal. Although the governor survived, a number of his guards were killed.

In September 2006, a suicide bomber killed Paktia's governor, Abdul Hakim Taniwal. Six other people died when a suicide bomber attacked Taniwal's funeral.

More than 6,500 people — mostly insurgents — died in the violence last year, according to an Associated Press count of figures provided by local and international officials.

On Wednesday, militants beheaded four construction workers and dumped their bodies by a roadside in the eastern province of Nuristan, according to deputy provincial police chief Mohammad Daoud Nadim. The four were kidnapped 10 days ago while working on a road project, Nadim said.
____
Associated Press writers Amir Shah and Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this report.
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Suicide bomber kills one, wounds four in Kabul
Thu Jan 31, 3:15 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - A suicide bomber targeted an Afghan army bus in the centre of Kabul on Thursday, causing numerous casualties, officials said.

One civilian was killed and four people were wounded, including an army officer, they said.

A purported Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said one of the militant group's suicide bombers was responsible for the blast.

The Taliban is leading an insurgency against government and foreign forces based in Afghanistan.

The bomber was in a car, a police official said, adding he blew himself up prematurely, before reaching the target.

"The army bus was passing from here when the explosion occurred. It looked like the whole place caught fire. Pieces of metal were flying. I saw one man on bicycle got hurt and policemen put him on a ambulance," said witness Sayed Tahir.

Ambulances were seen leaving the scene with sirens screaming, and several civilian vehicles were also damaged by the blast, witnesses said.

Buses carrying army and police personnel are a favored Taliban target with at least 65 killed in four such previous attacks in the capital since June last year.

Taliban guerrillas launched more than 140 suicide bomb attacks in Afghanistan last year, the highest since the U.S.-led military toppled the Islamic group's government in 2001.

In the latest violence, Taliban fighters beheaded four Afghan civilians who worked for a local road project in the eastern province of Nuristan on Wednesday, the interior ministry said.

The Taliban could not be reached for comment about the reported beheadings.

(Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by David Fogarty)
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U.S. writes to NATO states for troops for Afghan: paper
BERLIN (Reuters) - The United States has written a strongly-worded letter to Germany and other NATO members urging them to send combat troops to dangerous areas in southern Afghanistan, a German newspaper reported on Thursday.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung said Defense Secretary Robert Gates had last week written to his counterparts in NATO countries asking for 3,200 extra troops.

U.S. defense officials have regularly complained about the reluctance of European allies to dedicate more combat troops and equipment to Afghanistan where Taliban attacks have been rising.

In the letter, Gates warned of a looming division of the NATO alliance and of a loss in its credibility, the newspaper said. He also complained about the heavy burden on U.S. troops, added the newspaper which did not quote the letter directly.

The Defence Ministry in Berlin declined to comment on the report which the paper said was written in an unusually sharp tone.

According to its parliamentary mandate, Germany can send only 3,500 soldiers to the less dangerous North as part of the 40,000-strong NATO International Security Assistance Force

(ISAF).
In exceptional circumstances German troops can be sent to other areas.

Earlier this week the Pentagon said it would press NATO's European members to send more troops to Afghanistan's violent South in response to a call from Canada for reinforcements.

Canada had threatened to pull out its 2,500 soldiers from Afghanistan early next year unless NATO sent reinforcements.

The United States has 29,000 troops in Afghanistan and earlier this month said it would add 3,200 Marines to the war zone.

Earlier this month Gates sparked tensions by criticizing some NATO forces in Afghanistan, saying they did not know how to fight a guerrilla insurgency.

(Writing by Madeline Chambers; editing by Sami Aboudi)
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Al-Qaida commander in Afghanistan killed
Associated Press
CAIRO, Egypt - Abu Laith al-Libi, a top al-Qaida commander in Afghanistan who was blamed for bombing a base while Vice President Cheney was visiting last year, has been killed, according to a militant Web site.

Al-Libi was a key link between the Taliban and al-Qaida and was listed among the Americans' 12 most-wanted men with a bounty of $200,000 on his head.

The Web site Al-Ekhlaas, which frequently carries announcements from militant groups, said that al-Libi had been "martyred" but did not say where he was killed.

Earlier, there had been reports of an attack on militants in a Pakistani village. Pakistani intelligence officials and local residents said a missile hit a compound about 2.5 miles outside Mir Ali in North Waziristan late Monday or early Tuesday, destroying the facility.

Residents said they were not allowed to approach the site of the blast and the Pakistan government and military said they did not know who fired the missile. Local officials said foreigners were targeted in the attack.

One intelligence official in the area, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the bodies of those killed were badly mangled by the force of the explosion and it was difficult to identify them. The official estimated 12 people were killed, including Arabs, Turkemen from central Asia and local Taliban members.

Two top officials of Pakistan's Interior Ministry said they could not confirm al-Libi's death and were still trying to gather details on the missile strike. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the attack.

A knowledgeable Western official said that "it appears at this point that Al-Libi has met his demise," but declined to talk about the circumstances. "It was a major success in taking one of the top terrorists in the world off the street," the official said. He added that the death occurred "within the last few days."

U.S.-led coalition and NATO-led force in Afghanistan could not confirm al-Libi's death. An official with the NATO-led force said they were picking up some signals from the Web, but could not confirm whether Abu Laith al-Libi was dead.

"There is no confirmation from our side," said a NATO official in Kabul on condition of anonymity, since he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

The announcement of al-Libi's death appeared as a banner in a section of a Web site reserved for affiliated militant organizations, according to the Washington-based SITE Institute which monitors such sites.

"As the banner was posted ... by a webmaster of the forum, it seems as if the announcement of his death has been confirmed to the forum administrators," SITE said in an e-mail to news organizations.

Maj. Chris Belcher, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, said last year that al-Libi was a guerrilla fighter "knowledgeable about how to conduct suicide bombing missions and how to inflict the most civilian casualties." He had probably directed "one or more terror training camps," Belcher said.

Belcher said al-Libi — whose name means "the Libyan" in Arabic — had been the subject of "especially close focus" by U.S. intelligence since 2005, when U.S. forces destroyed a militant training camp believed set up by al-Libi in the eastern Afghan province of Khost. That was an admission that terror camps continued to operate on Afghan soil since the Taliban regime's ouster more than five years ago.

Belcher described al-Libi as "transient," moving where he thinks he can count on support.

"Terrorists like al-Libi use the rugged terrain of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to conceal themselves while they plan violent insurgent activities. Our sources indicate that Abu Laith al-Libi favors tribal regions, including North Waziristan," Belcher said.

Pakistani counterterrorism officials say al-Libi was an al-Qaida spokesman and commander in eastern Afghanistan.

In spring 2007, al Qaida's media wing, al-Sahab, released a video interview with a bearded man identified as al-Libi in spring 2007. In it, he accuses Shiite Muslims of fighting alongside American forces in Iraq, and claimed that mujahideen would crush foreign troops in Afghanistan.

The U.S. says al-Libi was likely behind the February 2007 bombing at the U.S. base at Bagram in Afghanistan during a visit by Cheney. The attack killed 23 people but Cheney was deep inside the sprawling base and was not hurt.

The bombing added to the impression that Western forces and the shaky government of President Hamid Karzai are vulnerable to assault by Taliban and al-Qaida militants.

Al-Libi also led an al-Qaida training camp and appeared in a number of al-Qaida Internet videos.

North Waziristan is a lawless enclave in neighboring Pakistan where last year the Pakistani government reached a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants. U.S. officials have since expressed concern that al-Qaida could be regrouping in Pakistan's border zone.

Mir Ali is the second biggest town in North Waziristan and has a strong presence of foreign militants, mostly Uzbeks with links to al-Qaida who fled to Pakistan's tribal regions after the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001.

A Pakistani intelligence official said that al-Libi had stayed until late 2003 in the North Waziristan village of Norak, about three miles outside Mir Ali, where he had several compounds. He shifted inside Afghanistan after he took charge of al-Qaida operations on both sides of the border area, but retained links with Norak, the official said.

_____

Associated Press Writer Robert H. Reid contributed to this report from Islamabad.
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Bush's Afghan policy raked at hearing
By BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON - Skeptical senators from both parties swept aside the Bush administration's optimistic defense of its strategy in Afghanistan Thursday, suggesting weariness over the campaign against the Taliban.

Testifying for the administration before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Richard A. Boucher said "no one can tell me that Afghanistan is not going in the right direction." In a country that was one of the poorest in the world, he said there now is electricity, an army, a police force, cellular telephones and children going to school.

"We see a profound change," Boucher said.

Success is possible, but not assured, he added, saying the international community needs to expand its efforts in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been trying to persuade NATO allies to contribute more troops and equipment to the fight, without much success.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden, Jr., D-Del., the committee chairman, and the most senior Republican, Sen. Richard G. Lugar R-Ind., expressed disbelief at Boucher's optimism.

"The administration firmly believes that we are about to turn a corner and that we just need to give our policy a chance to work," Biden said. "I am curious what that policy is because it's not clear to me."

"That's exactly what we've been hearing for the past five years; the tide is always about to turn," Biden said.

Lugar, reflecting unrest in President Bush's own Republican Party, began mildly: "I am not really certain we have a plan for Afghanistan."

The central government in Kabul does not control the country, he said. But the health services and school attendance are expanding.

Still, Lugar concluded, "At some point, the patience of America's allies and our own people will run out and they are going to say we've had enough."

Two weeks ago, the Pentagon said about 3,200 Marines were being informed they would be sent to Afghanistan. The plan is to boost combat levels in time for an expected Taliban offensive in the spring.

Once deployment is completed, up to 30,000 U.S. forces would be in Afghanistan, the highest level since the U.S. invasion in response to the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The 7-year war has cost an estimated $25 billion, Boucher said.

"The strategy now is to win the war," he said, disputing Biden's assertion the Taliban now controls "a lot more of the territory." Boucher added, "We are better off" now although he acknowledged that "we have been fighting a lot more."

But Boucher, and Assistant Secretary of State David T. Johnson, who described only slightly successful efforts to discourage cultivation of poppies, were put on the defensive throughout the nearly two-hour hearing.

"The facts don't bear out" claims of winning the war, said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.

Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., noted there were five suicide bombings between 2001 and 2005 and 77 last year alone.

Boucher depicted the rise as evidence the Taliban are losing the battlefield. As they lose, he said, they resort more to such tactics as kidnappings and bombings.

In southern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber blew himself up Thursday in a mosque, killing a deputy provincial governor and five other worshippers in the latest assassination of a senior official in President Hamid Karzai's government.

Joining the criticism, Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said, "We have not made the progress we should have made."

Another Republican, Bob Corker of Tennessee, said, "I am becoming concerned we are beginning to lose the Afghan people. I am stunned by us not having an organized plan."
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Oxfam warns of humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan
Thu Jan 31, 6:09 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - Aid agency Oxfam warned Thursday of the risk of a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan unless Western countries make a "major change of direction" in their strategy in the violence-scarred country.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the group said progress in improving ordinary Afghans' lives was being held back by increasing insecurity.

The flourishing drug trade and related criminality was among major factors threatening progress in the country, where NATO-led forces are struggling against a still-fierce insurgency some six years after the Taliban was ousted.

"As an NGO which has had operations and supported partners in the country for nearly 20 years, we urge you to support a major change of direction in order to reduce suffering and avert a humanitarian disaster," it said.

"There has been undoubted social and economic progress in Afghanistan, but it has been slow and is being undermined by increasing insecurity," wrote Oxfam International's director Barbara Stocking.

Setting out five key recommendations, she underlined the importance of reducing Afghan poverty, which she said was a major element fueling the insurgency.

"Afghans turn to narcotics, criminality, or even militancy, if they cannot feed their families. Military action addresses symptoms, not the underlying causes or conditions," she wrote.

Targetting aid more on rural areas was also important, she said, lamenting that "only a fraction" of international assistance supports agriculture and rural development.

She also singled out lack of coordination as a problem -- an issue highlighted by the withdrawal of diplomat Paddy Ashdown's bid for a new job as the UN's special envoy in the country, after Kabul blocked the move.

"Too much aid is slow, wasteful, ineffective or uncoordinated.

"In light of the spreading insurgency and increasing Afghan dissatisfaction with the rate of progress, urgent action is required to achieve greater donor coherence and aid effectiveness," said the Oxfam chief.

The Oxfam warning came after two US reports said that insurgency-wracked Afghanistan will become a failed state if urgent steps are not taken to tackle worsening security and lacklustre reconstruction and governance efforts.

The Atlantic Council of the United States warned that civil sector reform "is in serious trouble," while the Afghanistan Study Group called for a new special envoy to coordinate all aspects of US policy there.

Southern Afghanistan has seen the worst violence since the Taliban were ousted from power in the US-led invasion in 2001 after the September 11 attacks masterminded by Al-Qaeda, whose leaders were given sanctuary by the Taliban.
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Ready to quit Afghanistan, Canada PM tells Bush
Wed Jan 30, 6:30 PM ET
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, reinforcing an ultimatum over Afghanistan, told U.S. President George W. Bush on Wednesday that Ottawa would withdraw its military mission next year unless NATO sent in more troops, officials said.

Canada, which has 2,500 soldiers in the southern city of Kandahar, is fed up with the refusal of other NATO nations to send more forces to the violent region of Afghanistan. The Canadian combat mission there is due to end in February 2009.

Harper said on Monday he accepted the recommendations of an independent panel that urged Canada to end the mission unless NATO provided 1,000 extra soldiers and Ottawa obtained helicopters and aerial reconnaissance vehicles.

A spokeswoman said Harper had talked to Bush on Wednesday about the report.

"He underscored that, unless Canada was able to meet the conditions specified by the panel of additional combat troops and equipment from NATO allies, Canada's mission in Afghanistan will not be extended," she said.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Bush pointed out that the United States had already agreed to sent more soldiers to Afghanistan.

"The president noted the deployment of 3,200 additional U.S. Marines to Afghanistan, as well as his continued commitment to work with NATO to enhance its commitment to the Afghanistan mission," Fratto said.

It was not clear whether the additional U.S. troops would meet Canada's condition for more soldiers in Kandahar.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the addition of 2,200 U.S. Marines to southern Afghanistan would provide a lot of the combat power needed in that area.

"The addition of the MEU (marine expeditionary unit) will greatly enhance the coalition's combat capabilities in RC-South and without placing an additional burden in an area already strapped for airlift because they come with their own transportation," Morrell said.

NATO says it agrees with Canada about the need to bolster its peace operation, but the alliance dismisses the idea that members are dragging their feet.

"Canada has played and continues to play a very important role in a strategically important part of Afghanistan and we would like to see that role continue," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said in Brussels.

"Certainly NATO will, to the extent that we can, support any efforts to garner more forces, including for the south. We have a long-standing request to nations to provide additional resources."

So far, 78 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan since Ottawa deployed troops there in 2002. An Ipsos-Reid poll released on Saturday said 50 percent of Canadians backed he mission and 46 percent opposed it.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Randall Palmer in Ottawa, Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington and Ingrid Melander in Brussels; editing by Rob Wilson)
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Canada Tells U.K.'s Brown More Troops Needed in Afghanistan
By Theophilos Argitis
Jan. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown he'll withdraw Canada's troops from Afghanistan next year if allies don't provide more help, after delivering a similar message to U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday.

Harper told Brown by telephone that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization must supply additional combat troops to help Canada in Afghanistan's Kandahar province, according to an e-mailed statement from Harper spokeswoman Sandra Buckler.

A government-commissioned panel recommended on Jan. 22 that Canada pull out of Afghanistan if NATO doesn't provide about 1,000 more troops in the dangerous Kandahar region and arrange for additional military equipment. Harper said he agrees with the report's conclusions.
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US ambassador questions Iranian interests in Afghanistan
Wed Jan 30, 10:22 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The US ambassador questioned Wednesday Iranian policy towards Afghanistan, also saying there was no doubt insurgents here had received weapons from Iran.

William Wood, addressing Afghan MPs and diplomats, described the relationship between Afghanistan and its western neighbour as complicated.

"It is not clear to me what Iran's policy towards Afghanistan is.

"There are from time to time difficulties and certainly there is no question that elements of insurgency have received weapons from Iran," he said.

US and British officials have made similar allegations although some have said it is not clear if Tehran is directly involved in arming insurgents.

Kabul has said there is no proof.

Wood also cast doubt over Iran's financial assistance to post-Taliban Afghanistan.

"Iran is providing assistance to Afghanistan: whether that is meant to assist Afghanistan or influence Afghanistan, I leave that to you," he said.

And he criticised Iran's forced repatriation over winter of thousands of Afghan nationals in the neighbouring country illegally. The issue is a sore point in relations between Tehran and Kabul.

Wood, perhaps the most influential foreign diplomat in Kabul, said Afghanistan's relationship with Pakistan was also complicated but better cooperation between them was "crucial."

Pakistan saw last year an explosion in extremist violence, much of it linked to the Taliban.

The extremist movement came to power in Afghanistan in 1996 with the help of Pakistan and was driven out five years later in a US-led invasion. They are now leading a deadly insurgency.

Turning to his own country, Wood said the United States was "absolutely committed" to a relationship with Afghanistan that was respectful and "supportive of a stronger government."

Afghan officials said this week the government rejected the appointment of Paddy Ashdown as the next UN special representative because it appeared he would have had too much authority at the expense of the Kabul administration.

The United States had been one of the key backers of Ashdown, a senior British politician.
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Iran new envoy submits credentials to Afghan president
Kabul, Jan 31, IRNA
Iran's new Ambassador to Afghanistan Fada-Hossein Maleki submitted his credentials to Afghan President Hamid Karzai here Thursday.

In the meeting, Karzai expressed pleasure with Maleki's appointment to the post, hoping that he will help expand ties between Iran and Afghanistan.

Karzai further underlined the need for expansion of mutual ties in various arenas.

Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta was also present in the meeting.

Maleki, for his part, emphasized that senior Iranian officials particularly Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are determined to pursue constructive interaction with Afghan officials.

Maleki also underscored the necessity of constant trend of reconstruction in Afghanistan and all-out development of the Muslim neighboring country, calling for more cooperation between officials of the two friendly countries on regional and
international issues.

The new ambassador arrived in Kabul on Monday in order to take responsibility of Iranian embassy and consulates in the cities of Herat, Kandahar and Mazar Sharif.
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US wants France to send combat troops to Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States said Thursday it would like France to send combat troops to southern Afghanistan without saying it would make an explicit request to French Defense Minister Herve Morin.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack did not say exactly what kind of help Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expected from her meeting in Washington with Morin later Thursday.

But he recalled that Canada had offered to keep its troops in volatile southern Afghanistan beyond 2009 if it received reinforcements, helicopters and drones.

"There is still a need for about a thousand (troops) down there in the south and we are going to encourage everybody to take a look at what they might do," McCormack said.

"I know that that request is out there from the Canadians and any requests for more combat troops down in the south are not limited to France. That is a request that goes to all our NATO allies," he said.

Morin began his visit to Washington late Wednesday.

He is building on the visit made here last November by France's new President Nicolas Sarkozy, who received a warm US welcome and eased tensions over French opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Sources close to Morin list several possibilities for Afghanistan: a redeployment of French troops who are currently in Kabul; the dispatch of more instructors for Afghan security forces; the return of French special forces to Afghanistan: or even a substantial increase in the total French deployment.
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NATO's Not Winning in Afghanistan, Report Says
By Ann Scott Tyson Washington Post Staff Writer  Thursday, January 31, 2008; Page A18
NATO forces in Afghanistan are in a "strategic stalemate," as Taliban insurgents expand their control of sparsely populated areas and as the central government fails to carry out vital reforms and reconstruction, according to an independent assessment released yesterday by NATO's former commander.

"Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan," said the report by the Atlantic Council of the United States, chaired by retired Gen. James L. Jones, who until the summer of 2006 served as the supreme allied commander of NATO.

"Afghanistan remains a failing state. It could become a failed state," warned the report, which called for "urgent action" to overhaul NATO strategy in coming weeks before an anticipated new offensive by Taliban insurgents in the spring.

The Atlantic Council report was one of two strongly worded assessments of the war in Afghanistan -- both led by Jones -- released at a Capitol Hill news conference yesterday. The second was by the Afghanistan Study Group, co-chaired by Jones and Thomas R. Pickering, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia and other nations.

Jones said several steps are needed to "regain the momentum that appears to have been lost" in Afghanistan: a comprehensive campaign plan that integrates security and reconstruction work; the appointment of a United Nations High Commissioner to coordinate international efforts; and a new regional approach to stabilizing Afghanistan that would include conferences with neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Iran.

Progress in Afghanistan "is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people about the future direction of their country," said the report by the Afghanistan Study Group, created by the Center for the Study of the Presidency, which was also involved with the Iraq Study Group.

"The United States and the international community have tried to win the struggle in Afghanistan with too few military forces and insufficient economic aid," the report said. It highlighted the lack of a clear strategy needed to "fill the power vacuum outside Kabul and to counter the combined challenges of reconstituted Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a runaway opium economy, and the stark poverty faced by most Afghans."

The study group said the United States should "decouple" Iraq and Afghanistan to establish a clear distinction between the funding and programs underway in the countries, which, it said, face different problems. It also called on Washington to appoint a special envoy for Afghanistan.

Violence has risen 27 percent in Afghanistan in the past year, with a 39 percent increase in attacks in the nation's eastern portion -- where most U.S. troops operate -- and a 60 percent surge in the province of Helmand, where the Taliban resurgence has been strongest.

Suicide bombings rose to 140 in 2007, compared with five between 2001 and 2005, according to official figures. U.S. and other foreign troop losses -- as well as Afghan civilian casualties -- reached the highest level since the U.S.-led invasion overthrew the Taliban government in 2001.

Amid the rising violence, the Pentagon announced this month that it would deploy 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan to help counter the expected Taliban offensive.
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Afghanistan's future 'in peril'
Thursday, 31 January 2008 BBC News
Two more Western reports say that international efforts are failing to make Afghanistan a stable state.

The Atlantic Council says that Nato is not winning in Afghanistan and Oxfam warns that the country faces a humanitarian disaster.

On Wednesday, the Afghan Study Group said more Nato troops were needed to take on the Taleban.

Canada says that its soldiers will not stay in Afghanistan unless Nato deploys more troops in the south.

In the latest violence, the deputy governor of Afghanistan's Helmand province has been killed in a bomb attack on a mosque, officials say.

'Failing state'

The three reports have appeared two years after a road map for international assistance was agreed in London.

Oxfam said a "major change of direction... to avert a humanitarian disaster" in Afghanistan was needed.

In an open letter, Oxfam predicts a "humanitarian disaster" in the country, pointing out that millions of dollars of development aid is being wasted.

The charity says that the international approach towards Afghanistan is lacking in direction and is "incoherent and uncoordinated".

"There are very many factors to explain the increasing insurgency, and of course criminality and the role of warlords and drugs traffickers is very important," said Matt Waldman, policy advisor on Afghanistan for Oxfam International.

"But we also have to understand that recruitment is much easier when people are living in desperate circumstances," he said.

'Resurgent violence'

The two American-based reports also warned that a new approach was needed to prevent Afghanistan becoming a "failed or failing state".

The US Atlantic Council began its report with the words: "Nato is not winning in Afghanistan" and talks of a stalemate.

"Without urgent changes Afghanistan could become a failed or failing state," it said.

"If Afghanistan fails, the possible strategic consequences will worsen regional instability, do great harm to the fight against Jihadist and religious extremism, and put in grave jeopardy Nato's future as a credible, cohesive and relevant military alliance."

The American Afghanistan Study Group reached a similarly grim conclusion in a report released on Wednesday.

It said that "resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, too few military forces and insufficient economic aid" were all contributing to the country's woes.

In a separate development, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told President Bush that his country's troops will not stay in Afghanistan unless Nato deploys a further 1,000 soldiers in the restive province of Kandahar, where there is currently a Canadian contingent of 2,500 troops.

Seventy-eight Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan since Canadian troops were deployed in 2002.

The Taleban have mounted a comeback in Afghanistan over the past two years.

The south of the country has seen the worst violence since the Taleban were thrown out of power in the US-led invasion of 2001.

The Nato-led force has almost 37,000 troops in Afghanistan.
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Cup half full, half empty in Canada's Afghan development work
By Stephanie Levitz THE CANADIAN PRESS January 31, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day, the proverb goes, or you can teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime.

If that's the mantra of development work in Afghanistan, Canada's approach is failing.

Millions of dollars are eaten up by corruption and mismanagement, and even successful programs do not seem to have a long-term impact, according government documents, non-governmental organizations and a former aid official.

Nipa Banerjee said 50 per cent of the $300 million allocated during her three years as head of aid in Afghanistan for the Canadian International Development Agency brought little or no results.

"Fifty per cent had impact and the other 50 didn't," said Banerjee, who ran CIDA's office in Kabul from 2003 to 2006 and now lectures at the University of Ottawa.

"The 50 per cent that didn't were not in the social and economic sectors, but they were in the security sector, justice sector, the police - which have been failures."

Banerjee's estimates are mirrored in a recent review of CIDA programs, released in the fall of 2007.

Twelve of 27 projects CIDA had underway between 2004 and 2007 were reviewed in detail by independent professionals.

Half of them were described as having "significantly improved people's lives," but the remainder judged as mixed successes, mostly as a result of corruption and a dearth of skilled, knowledgeable people to carry out programs and keep track of spending.

The social and economic sectors Banerjee highlighted are where Canada has bought Afghanistan the proverbial fish - polio vaccinations for 350,000 children, 200 kilometres plus of paved roads, 1,200 wells, thousands of schools.

"Your baseline is so punishingly low that you are going to have areas of real forward motion," said Gerry Barr, head of the Canadian Council on International Cooperation, or CCIC.

"If you go from hundreds of schools to thousands of schools, it is intuitively powerful. You can say, yes that's good, plainly there is some change. But it still doesn't ... describe the broad challenge of development in Afghanistan."

The challenge is sustainable development - the fishing lessons. It is quite different from the aid to merely help people survive.

Most aid professionals note that some of the challenges in Afghanistan's development aren't CIDA's fault. They point to the many obstacles to rebuilding in a conflict environment.

"It's very difficult to do long-term development in a war zone," said Allan Sauder, the Canadian-based president of the Mennonite Economic Development Associates, a non-governmental organization that has spent years in Afghanistan.

"When people are facing that kind of insecurity in their lives, it is very tough to talk about developing business."

The Afghanistan Compact, signed in 2006 by 51 countries, lays out benchmarks of where the country should be by 2011 in areas such as security, governance and social development.

Progress is slow but Afghanistan's economy is growing, school enrolment has tripled since 2001, and healthcare outreach has cut in half the number of people dying from treatable diseases like tuberculosis.

The Canadian government tries to meet the benchmarks through funding and assistance from three areas:

-CIDA, which funds Afghanistan to the tune of $100 million a year through 2011;

-Department of Foreign Affairs, which has committed over $158 million through 2010;

-the military, which is spending $5.1 million on development projects this year.

More than 300 people work out of Canada's Provincial Reconstruction Team Base in Kandahar to implement that aid.

The bulk of Canada's assistance is delivered under an Afghan flag to shore up support for President Hamid Karzai's government. From the military perspective, that means using Afghan contractors to build things like wells or police substations.

"We are there as implementers, aids, facilitators as required, very often behind the scenes," said Lt.-Col. Bob Chamberlain, head of the PRT.

"Our real desire is that we don't take credit for what we're doing. We want Afghans at the end of the day to feel pride and sense of accomplishment."

Money from CIDA and Foreign Affairs is poured mostly into trust funds overseen by multilateral agencies, and then disbursed to Afghan government ministries.

Using multilateral agencies is how CIDA insists it can keep track of how the money is spent, as these agencies have strict reporting protocols.

It doesn't mean, however, the money is always being spent as it should.

Twelve million dollars for a confidence-in-government project called the Afghanistan Stabilization Program was redirected by CIDA when the World Bank reported problems with figuring out where the money was going.

The first two years of a $15-million payout to the National Area Based Development Program remains unaccounted for.

Banerjee said CIDA pulled out of a trust fund to pay the salaries of police officers when it became clear they weren't getting their cheques.

And no one has yet explained where the $900,000 promised to each of 17 districts in Kandahar province has gone since the military's massive Operation Medusa in 2006 that finally opened up parts of the province for development.

CIDA officials were not available for an interview in response to these questions. They did not respond to a list of questions submitted at their request via e-mail, saying they did not have enough time.

Human capacity, the term given to the presence of a skilled and able workforce, is one of the biggest challenges facing development - there simply isn't enough of it in Afghanistan. CIDA and others have worked to try and restore the brain trust.

In a recent technical briefing, CIDA officials trumpeted legal training for 200 jurists through a program run by the International Development Law Organization.

But in CIDA's own evaluation report, the program was rapped on the knuckles for having shoddy accounting procedures and little long-term impact.

"Local commitment is weak," the report said.

"In general, outside this project, reforms in the justice sector will be profoundly difficult. There are non-functioning courts, alleged extensive corruption, and a widespread belief that the courts do not produce fair results."

CIDA also decided to grant $1.7 million to Women's Rights in Afghanistan Fund, a four-year project implemented by the Montreal-based group Rights and Democracy.

The money was provided to 16 projects designed to encourage the participation of women in Afghan civil society.

"While there were some successes, there were no significant organizational development results and the reporting was very weak," the evaluation report found.

The importance of working with local partners sometimes butts heads with CIDA's reporting requirements, said Razmik Panossian, director of programs for Rights and Democracy.

"CIDA has certain standards and when you are working in a war-torn country, with all of the challenges that (it) has with the current security situation, some of the things you really cannot meet all that easily," he said.

"If, for example, you have put together a literacy class in Kandahar for a group of underprivileged women, and that group is unable to report to headquarters what they have done in the logical framework analysis system that CIDA expects us to do, then as far as CIDA is concerned your reporting is weak."

Rights and Democracy said it has improved local capacity and CIDA has rewarded that with another round of funding.

Security remains a prime challenge.

The PRT was completely hamstrung until the military sent a force-protection unit in 2006. And though development is meeting with success in more peaceful parts of the country, Kandahar lags behind.

There are no systematic programs to address corruption at the national, provincial and local levels.

"Nevertheless, CIDA has kept at it," said Drew Gilmore of Development Works, a private company funded by CIDA to oversee projects in Kandahar. "Mistakes have been made, lessons learned and the slow, slow process of rebuilding the place is picking up steam."

"The CIDA people are focused and creative and really pushing the development to jump start projects."

Creative thinking is in part attributable to Stephen Wallace, the new vice-president of CIDA's Afghanistan Task Force, said Gerry Barr of the CCIC.

Barr said the formation of the task force and Wallace's appointment show a shift in approach. "More outreach to Canadian NGOs, more transparency, quicker, more responsive approach and that's all to the good," he said.

The report of the federal government's independent panel on Afghanistan, chaired by John Manley, suggested too much Canadian money was in international joint programs and not enough on quick-action projects defined by the Afghan leadership.

In part, that's what CIDA, through the UN, does with community development councils - locally-elected bodies who draw up lists of development priorities which are then approved and funded.

Over 19,000 such councils have sprung up throughout Afghanistan and more than 7,000 community projects have been completed.

The principle behind them is that if communities decide what they want, they'll make sure the projects work.

The councils are celebrated for giving women a voice in community development, bringing together leaders and helping people take ownership of development. All are important factors in long-term development, but there are still challenges.

Banerjee said the money isn't there to maintain the projects, only to get them off the ground.

And the evaluation report highlighted the high cost of overseeing them: 28 per cent of the funding for community development councils goes to consultants to oversee the projects.

"While it was too early to conclude that the relatively few livelihood projects are not sustainable, it would appear that their sustainability has not been the subject of much analysis," said the CIDA report.

One bright spot has emerged in international efforts to rebuild Afghanistan.

Small loans provided to Afghans to start their own businesses have been a runaway success, surpassing all expectations.

More than 300,000 people have benefited from the money, and 98 per cent of loans have been repaid.

Canada is the largest donor to the Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan, based on the Nobel-prize winning program in Bangladesh that has supported millions of small loans there.

Mennonite Economic Development Associates has contributed technical assistance to the program.

Sauder said the experience shows a need to combine both elements of the aid parable but with a twist: Canada should give the fish and allow Afghans to devise their own fishing lessons.
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Pakistan: Government aims to close more Afghan refugee camps in 2008
ISLAMABAD, 31 January 2008 (IRIN) - The government of Pakistan will soon consider provincial plans to close a number of Afghan refugee camps, according to officials.

"We had requested the provincial governments to come up with certain realistic plans for the closure of camps and for voluntary repatriation during 2008," Imran Zeb, the government's commissioner for Afghan refugees, told IRIN in Islamabad.

"They have prepared their own plans, but as yet we have not received them formally," he said. Once they are received at the federal level, discussions would be held with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Afghan government to determine their feasibility, he said.

According to the UNHCR, there are over 80 Afghan refugee camps in the country, including 71 in the country's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and 12 in Balochistan - both bordering Afghanistan - as well as one in the Punjab Province.

The camp closure issue remains a contentious one in Pakistan, which still hosts over two 2 million Afghan refugees - one million of whom live in camps - more than seven years after the collapse of the Taliban regime in December 2001.

In 2006, the planned closure of four camps - Girdi Jungle, Jungle Pir Alizai, Katchagari and Jalozai - did not materialise, although Katchagari in NWFP was closed in 2007.

Jalozai, in NWFP, was rescheduled to close in 2007, but did not do so. "We only managed to repatriate around 25 percent of the camp['s inmates], but due to Ramadan and winter, we delayed the rest to 2008," Zeb said. "Now we plan to close it by 30 April."

That too, however, may prove difficult, with many still believing that conditions inside their home country are still not right to make their return sustainable. Most Afghans continue to cite insecurity in Afghanistan as the main barrier to their return.

"Based on the reality on the ground, we will begin," Zeb said, referring to the closures, stressing, however: "There would be no forceful eviction, there will be no forceful closure, and there would be no repatriation unless it is voluntary".

How many camps might be closed?

As for how many camps might be closed, that remains to be seen.

Pressed on reports that NWFP alone planned to close 11 camps this year, he replied: "I know what these camps are, but since the plans are still informal, I cannot comment on them."

Since March 2002, over 3.4 million Afghans have returned to their homeland, most with the assistance of the UNHCR which gave out a small monetary grant and covered transport costs to their place of origin.

In the first year of the programme, more than 1.5 million Afghans made the journey back, but the rate of return has since decreased, though according to the UNHCR, more returned in 2007 (350,000) than in 2006 (133,000).
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Afghan senate's blasphemy retreat
By Charles Haviland BBC News, Kabul Thursday, 31 January 2008
The upper house of parliament in Afghanistan has withdrawn its support for a death sentence issued against a journalist convicted of blasphemy.

Pervez Kambakhsh, 23, was found guilty last week of downloading and distributing an article insulting Islam. He denies the charge.

Legal experts said that the senate's support for the sentence on Wednesday was unconstitutional.

The UN said that Mr Kambaksh was not legally represented during his case.

Critics say that the senate's intervention interfered with the judicial process.

'Technical mistake'

The senate has now backtracked, one day later.

Its secretary, Aminuddin Muzafari, told journalists its statement had been a "technical mistake".

He asked the media to make it clear that the senate did respect the legal rights of Mr Kambakhsh, including the right to a defence lawyer.

But it also said it approved the judiciary's prosecution of cases involving what it called the distribution of anti-Islamic articles.

As the statement of support was withdrawn, about 200 Afghans demonstrated in Kabul against the sentencing of Mr Kambakhsh.

A court in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif convicted him of downloading and distributing a blog article which questioned the Koran's attitude to women.

Mr Kambaksh is appealing to higher courts against the death sentence.

His family say his trial was unfair because, among other things, he was not given a defence counsel.

But the governor in Mazar-e-Sharif says the case is being handled with due process.

The earlier senate statement supporting the death sentence was signed by its leader, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, an ally of President Hamid Karzai.

The president would have to approve the death sentence for it to be carried out.
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Protesters condemn Afghan reporter’s death sentence
(AFP) 31 January 2008 via Khaleej Times
KABUL - Around 200 people marched to the United Nations office in Kabul on Thursday to protest against a death sentence handed to an Afghan reporter and journalism student accused of blasphemy.


The crowd of demonstrators, which included a few dozen children, held up placards showing the face of 23-year-old Perwiz Kambakhsh and chanted slogans including ‘Perwiz, people are with you.’

Kambakhsh, arrested late October, was sentenced to death by a primary provincial court in the northern province of Balkh last week in a case that has sparked an outcry from international and Afghan media rights groups.

He had downloaded from the Internet and distributed among his fellow students articles that were said to question some of the tenets of Islam, including those related to the role of women.

Demonstrators demanded the immediate release of the reporter and accused ‘extremists’ of engineering the proceedings against Kambakhsh, who did not have legal representation at his trial in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

One of their banners read, ‘Unite against the threats and fascism of the warlords.’

The protest, the first in support of the young reporter, was organised by an unknown group called National Solidarity.

The world’s top media rights groups have called on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to intervene in the case.

Afghanistan’s senate on Monday issued a statement endorsing the death sentence.

On Wednesday, it issued a new statement that appeared to backtrack, saying it respected the independence of the judicial process and also the right of the accused to have a defence lawyer and to appeal.

The death sentence must pass through various higher courts and be approved by Karzai.

Another journalist is in detention on similar charges. Ghaws Zalmai, a government media spokesman, was arrested about three months ago for publishing a translation of the Koran to which clerics objected.
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Afghanistan: Taliban did not kidnap US aid worker, says spokesman
Kandahar, 30 Jan. (AKI - By Syed Saleem Shahzad) - As hundreds of Afghan women called for the release of a US aid worker kidnapped in the southern city of Kandahar, the Taliban was adamant it had nothing to do with her disappearance.

The 49-year-old aid worker, Cyd Mizell, and her Afghan driver Muhammad Hadi were abducted from a residential neighborhood on Saturday by unidentified gunmen.

Several hundred women held a rare protest in Kandahar on Tuesday calling for her release.

"All I can say that she is missing. I was not informed from any Taliban quarter that she was abducted by the Taliban," a a Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmedi, told Adnkronos International (AKI) by telephone.

The Taliban has previously abducted several foreigners but always claimed responsibility and stated the demands for their release.

Southwestern Afghanistan is at the centre of renewed Taliban activity as well as general lawlessness and vandalism.

Until late on Wednesday no-one had claimed responsibility for Mizell's abduction but sources in Kandahar speculated she had been captured by criminals gangs.

Media reports said up to 600 women, many wearing the burqa, met in a local hall on Tuesday calling on government officials to work for the release of Mizell and her driver.

Director of the Kandahar Women's Association, Rona Tareen, urged Mizell's captors to release her, saying she had helped many local women find jobs and market their embroidery work.
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Taliban behead four Afghan roadworkers
Wed Jan 30, 12:10 PM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents beheaded four Afghan road-workers in the northeast of the country after their families failed to pay a ransom for their release, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday.

Afghanistan has seen a sharp rise in violence over the past two years as Taliban insurgents have stepped up their fight to overthrow the pro-Western Afghan government and eject foreign troops. Taliban insurgents have often targeted workers on government and foreign-backed infrastructure projects.

The four Afghans were kidnapped last week while working on a road project in the northeastern province of Nuristan a week ago, the ministry said. The insurgents demanded money for their release and beheaded them after the families failed to pay up.

The Afghan government, backed by U.S. and allied forces, is working on extending its poor network of roads to try to bring development to the country, one of the poorest in the world.

More than 6,000 people were killed last year in Afghanistan, many of them civilians, the worst year of violence since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 for failing to give up al Qaeda leaders in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
(Writing by Jon Hemming; editing by Philippa Fletcher)
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Bleak prospects for country's estimated 1.5 million widows
KABUL, 30 January 2008 (IRIN) - Knocking on the windows of cars stuck in traffic on Shar-e-Naw Street in Kabul, Zulaikha and her children beg for money to keep warm and feed themselves. Their daily routine starts at about 7am and ends at 6pm every day.

"Often we collect 100-150 Afghanis [US$ 2-3] a day," she said, adding that it was barely enough for bread and tea.

Zulaikha lost her husband, Jamaluddin, in factional fighting between former Taliban and Northern Alliance forces in the northern outskirts of Kabul in 1999. She has three children - an 11-year-old son and two daughters aged eight and nine.

Over the past three years she has been living in a shack outside Kabul, for which she pays a monthly rent of $15.

"We have nobody to help us," the widow said.

Afghanistan has one of the highest numbers of widows (proportionate to the total population) in the world, owing to the armed conflicts that have bedevilled the country for over two decades.

There are over 1.5 million widows out of an estimated 26.6 million people in Afghanistan, according to Beyond 9/11, a US-based nonprofit group that provides direct financial support to Afghan widows and their children. Some 50,000-70,000 widows live in Kabul alone, it says.

The government of Afghanistan does not have an accurate figure for the number of widows in the country, but some officials say there are more than 1.5 million.

Most widows illiterate

"The average age of an Afghan widow is just 35 years, and 94 percent of them are unable to read and write," Deborah Zalesne, a board member of the Beyond 9/11 and a law professor at the City University of New York, told IRIN.

"About 90 percent of Afghan widows have children, and the average widow has more than four," Zalesne added.

To survive many Afghan widows weave carpets, do tailoring, beg or even engage in prostitution.

In urban areas where women have better access to employment and other services than in conservative rural areas, an average working widow earns about $16 a month, experts estimate.

Shelter, food, earning a living and social protection are among the most pressing issues for widows, the Ministry of Women's Affairs (MoWA) said.

During winter, when fuel and food costs increase, female-headed households become highly vulnerable.

Psychosocial difficulties

"Widowed women are also at greater risk of emotional problems and impaired psychosocial functioning than either married women or men, typically because of social exclusion, forced marriages, gender-based violence and lack of economic and educational opportunities," said Zalesne.

"In Afghanistan's patriarchal society, the death of a husband not only diminishes a woman's economic independence but also damages her sense of social protection," said Hussain Ali Moin, an official at MoWA.

Government, donors not doing enough

Women's rights activists such as Soraya Subhrang, a member of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, have criticised the government and international donors for not doing enough to alleviate the plight of widows.

"Afghan women in general and widows in particular do not have a voice to express their problems and are also deprived of meaningful representation in public institutions," Subhrang said.

Officials at the Ministry of Women's Affairs also concede that Afghan widows often live in wretched conditions, and say more needs to be done to deal with their problems.

The interim-Afghanistan National Development Strategy (i-ANDS) has a noble aim: to reduce poverty among women by at least 20 percent and ensure that women make up at least 20 percent of all public bodies by 2010. However, there is a long way to go before the lives of widows like Zulaikha can be changed for the better, analysts say.
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UK forces for Afghanistan to get full training
Thu 31 Jan 2008, 14:33 GMT By Luke Baker
LONDON (Reuters) - The government dismissed suggestions on Thursday that it would send troops into combat in Afghanistan without proper training, but acknowledged that instruction could be 'tightened' for reserve units.

The Times said 1,000 recruits faced the prospect of receiving just 14 weeks of training, rather than the usual 26-28 weeks, before being sent to the front in Afghanistan, where British forces are severely stretched.

 A spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown dismissed the report, saying: "There's absolutely no question of compromising on our training standards or sending troops into operational theatres unprepared."

The Ministry of Defence said in a statement that training for combat infantry would not be cut, but added:

"The option for more focused, concentrated training is being looked at for reserve forces, not regular forces, and it would potentially increase the amount of training for certain individuals in the Territorial Army."

Britain has around 7,800 troops in Afghanistan, the majority of them in Helmand province, where there is daily fighting with militants from the Taliban and al Qaeda loyalists. The conflict has claimed the lives of 87 British troops since 2001.

As Britain winds down its operations in Iraq, it is widely expected that it will boost troop numbers in Afghanistan.

But with overall army numbers tight and recruiting suffering as a result of both conflicts, military commanders acknowledge that personnel and resources are stretched.

In order to stick to a schedule in which most troops spend between four and six months in combat zones -- compared to the 12- or 18-month deployments of U.S. troops -- Britain needs to train more personnel faster.

The United States has in recent weeks openly criticised its NATO allies in Afghanistan, including Britain, suggesting that their capacity to conduct counter-insurgency is lacking.
(Additional reporting by Katherine Baldwin; editing by Kevin Liffey)
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Shootout echoes across Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / January 31, 2008
KARACHI - Tuesday afternoon's fierce gun battle in this port city is stark evidence that al-Qaeda-linked sleeper cells have been activated against the Pakistani state.

At least three members of Jundullah (Army of God) were killed in the clash with police and paramilitary forces. Two policemen also died. One of the dead militants was the suspected leader of the cell, Qasim Toori, who was wanted in connection with previous deadly attacks in Pakistan.

Jundullah was founded in the South Waziristan tribal area in 2004 and is now led by Pakistani Taliban Baitullah Mehsud and Tahir

Yuldashev, head of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. In recent weeks, Jundullah has become estranged from the main Taliban movement led by Mullah Omar, who insists that militant activities should be confined to Afghanistan, and not directed against Pakistan.

A senior police officer told Asia Times Online soon after the militants' hideout in a residential area had been seized, "I was stunned watching so much weaponry [being used], ranging from RPGs [rocket propelled grenades] to light machine guns. It appeared they were preparing for a war."

Another top official of a major intelligence agency told Asia Times Online the discovery of the Jundullah cell confirmed Pakistan's suspicions that South Waziristan-linked groups had regrouped in all major cities.

Soon after its inception, Jundullah carried out a foiled attack on a military chief in Karachi in which several soldiers were killed. Within hours, several members involved in the attack were arrested and the network was largely shattered, although Qasim Toori remained at large.

Tuesday's incident underlines fears that the militant violence that has spread from the tribal areas to cities in Northwest Frontier Province is now targeting bigger cities across the country. Most of the violence is blamed on Mehsud, who is now isolated with his allies Yuldashev, Abdul Khaliq Haqqani and assorted Pakistani militants.

The Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan have already agreed on a ceasefire with Pakistan, and are expected to make an announcement to this effect within a few days.

In an interview with this correspondent on satellite phone from an unknown location, Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that when the Pakistani Taliban began fighting against the United States and other allied forces who had occupied Afghanistan, they were united. But subsequently, he said, Baitullah and other Pakistani militants had started fighting the Pakistani military and "we have cut all ties with them and openly disown them".

He said the Taliban have a clear-cut policy of not fighting with any other Muslim country, especially with Pakistan, in any manner, and that they are strictly against fighting the Pakistani military.

"We have been fighting for Afghanistan's independence against foreign aggression since 2001 [when the Taliban were ousted] and the Afghan nation has a lot of hopes resting on us. That's why they have stood with us against the foreign military might. They are not supporting us to fight with Pakistan, but to fight against the US-led NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] forces and liberate Afghanistan," Zabihullah Mujahid said. He said the Taliban had already issued a statement disowning Baitullah on their website (http://www.alemarah.i67.org).

Shootout in the city

A police official present at Tuesday's shootout described the circumstances leading up to it.

The police were tipped off about the presence of a group in the eastern part of the city called Landhi which had been involved in a large bank robbery. The police launched a raid against what they thought was a bunch of criminals, and to their horror were fired on by light machine guns.

Clearly, these were no ordinary robbers, as their weapons and fighting skills quickly demonstrated. After three hours, the paramilitary Rangers were called in, but by then two policemen had been killed.

While the police regrouped, several people in the besieged house jumped from the second floor onto the sandy ground below, where cars were waiting for them and they escaped.

But Qasim Toori was in one of the cars when a hand grenade accidentally exploded and the police were able to capture him. However, soon after he died of injuries sustained in the grenade blast.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Tajik officers seize 500 kg of drugs on Afghan border
14:45 | 31/ 01/ 2008
DUSHANBE, January 31 (RIA Novosti) - Tajik special forces seized over 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of opium-related drugs on the Afghan border and arrested eight suspects, a source in the country's Security Committee said on Thursday.

An estimated 73 kg of heroin was seized in the special operation. The source said the suspects are believed to be part of a major international drug-smuggling ring.

Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, is a major transit country for drugs from the world's largest heroin producer, Afghanistan.
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Mobile police deployed for security on highway
By Ahmad Qurishi - Jan 29, 2008 - 20:35
HERAT CITY (PAN): A unit of 178 equipped and trained mobile police was deployed to restore the security of Kandahar- Herat highway.

Colonel Abdul Raof Ahmadi, media officer of police in western zone told Pajhwok Afghan News the unit is based in Del- Aram district of Farah province and will patrol 24 hours on the road.

He said the unit is equipped with all modern military equipments and will be working as mobile unit.

He said they have deployed the mobile unit after they received complains from passengers and drivers about the insecurity of the road.

Mirwais Paiman, head of transport in Herat said drivers and passengers were afraid to travel on Herat Kandahar highway as the arm grouped rubbed passengers.

Brig. General Ikramudding Yawar, police commander in westner zone told Pajhwok Afghan News more mobile police units will be deployed in western zones.

Yawar said they disarmed a unit of 70 police on Herat Kandahar highway amid public complains.
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Roads blockade aggravate people miseries
By Ahmad Qurishi - Jan 29, 2008 - 18:09
HERAT CITY (PAN): Herat Torghondi and Herat Qala-i-Now highways are closed due to heavy snowfall, creating problems for residents and businessmen.

The two highways have been blocked for last two days.

Eid Muhammad Yaqubi, deputy of custom office told Pajhwok Afghan News on Tuesday the road blockade halted the transportations of the trucks.

He added the transportation of goods from Turkmenistan takes more than two days which had negative effect on the prices in the market.

He said the trucks could transport goods in one day before the snowfall.

The blockade of the road caused people in Herat city to wait for liquid gas for hours, while the price jumped to 80 afghanis/kg.

Yaqubi said every day over 100 trucks of fuel and goods were imported to Afghanistan.

Torghondi is one of the key port of Afghanistan bordering with Turkmenistan.

The road of Herat Qala-i-Now is also blocked which created great problems for public.

Abdul Ghani Saber, governor of Badghis told this news agency fifty trucks were trapped in Sabzak pass under snow and were rescued on Tuesday.

Saber said rescue teams have been deployed to clear the roads.

Herat Qala-i-Now is one of the main roads which links Badghis to Herat province and with the blockade of the road prices increased in Badghis province.
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