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January 6, 2008 

NATO says two civilians killed in Afghanistan
KABUL (AFP) - Two civilians, one a child, were found dead and five others wounded after a clash between insurgents and NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, the alliance said Sunday.

Afghanistan sets up panels for women's rights
By IANS Sunday January 6, 03:04 PM
Kabul, Jan 6 (Xinhua) The Afghanistan Ministry for Women Affairs has constituted two new organisations to protect women's rights, a local newspaper reported Sunday.

Canada examined bigger Afghan deployment with jets and helicopters: documents
By Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - The Canadian military initially planned for a much wider involvement in the Afghan war than what it delivered in Kandahar, newly released documents show.

Putting food on Afghan tables getting harder
Allison Lampert CanWest News Service Sunday, January 06, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Shopping for an extended family of 35 is never an easy task for Faida Mohammad.

U.S. law firms could help shape Afghanistan's future for price
By Philip Dine St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Jan 05 7:32 PM
WASHINGTON Hoping to turn around a tenuous judicial situation in Afghanistan, the State Department is establishing a public-private partnership that gives American law firms a role in the troubled nation's future.

US military not welcome in Pakistan: army
Sun Jan 6, 6:57 AM ET
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - The Pakistani military reacted angrily to reports that US President George W. Bush is considering covert military operations in the country's volatile tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Tribal hot under the collar over Musharraf's statement
By: - 5/01/2008 - 18:47
KABUL/ISLAMABAD, Jan 5 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The assertion of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf that he was not a tribal or feudal to kill former Pakistan Prime Minister Ms Benazir Bhutto has enraged tribal living on both sides of the Durand Line.

German army "horrified" over reckless driving of soldiers in Afghanistan
Berlin, Jan 5, IRNA
The German army is reportedly "horrified" over the reckless driving of its soldiers in Afghanistan, causing numerous bad accidents in the war-stricken country, the weekly Der Spiegel news magazine cited Saturday an internal document of the German Defense Ministry.

Governor of militancy-plagued Pakistan border province quits
January 5, 2008
ISLAMABAD (AFP) A top official in charge of Pakistani tribal areas resigned following a surge in violence linked to Al-Qaeda rebels hiding out in the country's northwest, an official said.

Bin Laden whereabouts are speculation: Pakistan envoy to US
WASHINGTON (AFP) The belief by intelligence organizations that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is in a remote Pakistan border area is just "speculation," Pakistan's envoy to the United States said Sunday.

'Great Game' or just misunderstanding?
By Alastair Leithead BBC News, Kabul Saturday, 5 January 2008
On Christmas Day the Afghan government said it was expelling two high level diplomats, one a British UN political affairs expert, the other, an Irishman and the acting head of the European Union mission.

Three impersonators nabbed in Gardez
By: - 5/01/2008 - 17:44
GARDEZ, Jan (Pajhwok Afghan News): Three people pretending to be police officers by using police uniform for taking money from people have been arrested in the eastern Gardez province, security officials said on Saturday.

Iranian national held with fake documents in Herat
By: - 5/01/2008 - 18:06
HERAT CITY, Jan 5 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Police in the western Herat province Saturday informed arresting a suspected Iranian national who claims to have been serving as Afghan National Army in Afghanistan for over one year.

Bagram PRT opens school, clinic in Kapisa
By: - 5/01/2008 - 12:05
KABUL, Jan 5 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Kapisa government representatives and members from the Bagram Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) recently opened a school and health clinic in Mahmood Raqi District, NATO said.

Official calls for Afghan repatriation
Jan. 4, 2008 at 11:34 PM
Print story Email to a friend Font size:PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- A top Pakistani official is calling for the repatriation of Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan in an effort to prevent terrorist indoctrination.

School building attacked, three held in Khost
KHOST, Jan 4 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Rockets were fired at a school building in the capital of south eastern Khost province bordering Kurram Agency of Pakistan while three people were arrested in connection of an explosion near a military vehicle in the Sabri district on Friday.

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NATO says two civilians killed in Afghanistan
KABUL (AFP) - Two civilians, one a child, were found dead and five others wounded after a clash between insurgents and NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, the alliance said Sunday.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said troops were attacked by the rebels late Friday. They found the civilians when they returned to the scene of the violence in Uruzgan province on Saturday.

Three of the wounded were also children, it said in a statement, adding it was not clear how they sustained their injuries.

"ISAF sincerely regrets the loss of those civilians and is saddened that casualties were caused as a result of a deliberate attack against ISAF forces that was instigated by the insurgents," the statement said.

Spokesman Wing Commander Antony McCord added: "No matter the cause, we deeply regret the loss of innocent life and injuries sustained to the civilians. We will continue to determine what happened."

ISAF said it sustained no casualties during the engagement, but a number of insurgents were killed.

Tribal chiefs and Afghan leaders including the president have urged international troops to be more vigilant in ensuring the safety of civilians.

The Taliban have waged a bloody insurgency since they were ousted from power in 2001.

Southern Afghanistan, from where the Taliban rose in early 1996, sees the worst of the insurgency violence, with regular attacks.
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Afghanistan sets up panels for women's rights 
By IANS Sunday January 6, 03:04 PM
Kabul, Jan 6 (Xinhua) The Afghanistan Ministry for Women Affairs has constituted two new organisations to protect women's rights, a local newspaper reported Sunday.

The two new sets-up 'Healthy Family, Happy Society' and 'Law and Women' are aimed at eliminating violence against women and establish a healthy and prosperous society, Afghanistan Times quoted Minister for Women Affairs Hosn Bano Ghazanfar as saying.

The 'Healthy Family, Happy Society' will involve religious leaders in various provinces to sensitise people on women rights.

The 'Law and Women', to be managed by legal experts, will launch campaigns by publishing posters that will disseminate knowledge about the rights of women envisaged in the country's constitution and guaranteed by Islam.

The Taliban regime did not recognise rights of women and encouraged them to remain confined to their homes. It also closed down schools for girls. The six-year Taliban rule was toppled in 2001.

Women's rights situation has improved in post-Taliban Afghanistan and women have more freedom, and they serve as ministers, parliamentarians and teachers.

Nevertheless, a vast majority of them in the war-ravaged country are still illiterate, poor and uninformed and have still to go a long way to realise their rightful place in the society.
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Canada examined bigger Afghan deployment with jets and helicopters: documents
By Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - The Canadian military initially planned for a much wider involvement in the Afghan war than what it delivered in Kandahar, newly released documents show.

As a battle group of 2,200 soldiers was preparing to face the Taliban two years ago, the air force drew up plans in late 2005 to deploy eight CH-146 Griffon helicopters, specially modified as attack aircraft, and a fleet of CF-18 fighter-bombers.

The proposals were eventually set aside, despite NATO's plea for more aircraft, specifically transport and attack helicopters.

The Griffons and jetfighters were intended to give Canada's troops their own hard-hitting air power, instead of relying on other allied nations, such as the United States and Britain.

Canada eventually chose to send C-130 Hercules transports, which drop supplies to far-flung desert bases.

The country's top military commander said he asked the air force to draw up the contingency plans, but ultimately decided against recommending the deployment of the fighters and helicopters.

"The air force believes in this mission," Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of defence staff, said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

"They're already playing a huge part, as you know. And you have a variety of communities within the air force who are keen as all get out to participate in the mission."

Extensive preparations were made with the air force arranging a service-upport contract for the CF-18s and a demonstration trial where a weapon system was installed on one of the utility helicopters.

At the same time as the army was deciding on a squadron of old Leopard C2 battle tanks to counter the surge in Taliban violence in the fall of 2006, the air force pulled together a timetable that would have seen armed Griffons on station for a year at Kandahar Airfield, beginning in February 2007.

But Hillier rejected the air force plan, saying NATO already has enough fighter-bombers and attack helicopters based in Kandahar and the CH-146 was not the kind of chopper Canada most needed.

"The Griffon community was ready to go," he said. "It's just that when we do our assessment, the real need that we have there right now is troop lift, heavy loads of people. Unfortunately, the Griffon just can't do that in that environment."

At an informal meeting of NATO defence ministers last fall in Noordwick, Holland, the shortage of helicopters was among the biggest issues. With members either unable to reluctant to deploy their aircraft, the alliance approved a scheme to rent civilian choppers for hauling cargo in Afghanistan. It also began exploring the possibility of paying former Warsaw Pact members to take their helicopters out of mothballs.

As the military variant of the civilian Bell 412, the Griffon has the capacity to carry 12 soldiers in full combat gear, or six stretchers. The Conservative government intends to buy 16 CH-47 Chinook helicopters, which carry up to 30 soldiers, but deliveries aren't scheduled until at least 2011.

Critics have been pressuring the Defence Department to send the Griffons, in part to get Canadian soldiers off Kandahar's bomb-strewn highways.

But Hillier flatly rejected the argument, saying the CH-146 wasn't suited to operate at high elevations and in 55C degree heat.

But internal air force documents suggest that to cope with the altitude and climate extremes, the takeoff weight could be lowered by roughly 453 kilograms.

Hillier also indicated he wasn't satisfied the helicopter could function well in an attack role, citing the level of complexity and precision needed to deliver guided missiles on target.

The use of air power in Afghanistan has become a politically sensitive subject as the number of civilian casualties from wayward missile and bomb strikes rose substantially throughout 2007.

Employing the air force to a greater extent would have required a substantial increase in size of Canada's commitment as well as more money. Aside from pilots, each aircraft comes with a small army of maintainers.
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Putting food on Afghan tables getting harder
Allison Lampert CanWest News Service Sunday, January 06, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Shopping for an extended family of 35 is never an easy task for Faida Mohammad.

But with his grocery bill rising by about a third over the last few months, shopping for food at the downtown market has become especially arduous. The same bags of groceries he bought this week for $60 US would have cost about $40 in October.

"It's very hard to buy now because of the higher prices," said Mohammad, 52, while attaching a bag filled with rice, sugar, tea, and oil to the back of his motorcycle. "The situation seems to be getting worse because of the turmoil in Pakistan."

Higher global prices for wheat, the rising price of oil which hit $100 US a barrel this week for the first time, and regional security concerns are all contributing to inflationary pressures on food staples such as flour, oil and sugar. Prices have been growing across the country over the past 12 months, attracting the attention of the World Food Program (WFP).

"The increase in prices are across the board," said Rick Corsino, country director of the United Nations food agency in Afghanistan.

"WFP has been working with the Afghan government over the past month to get a better idea of the incidence and impact of the increases."

Corsino couldn't say whether the recent crises in Pakistan - the largest exporter of goods to Afghanistan - has contributed more recently to the rise in prices. But several merchants and customers at the Kandahar market told CanWest News Service they've seen significant price increases after emergency measures were adopted in Pakistan in early November.

"We are in an emergency situation because people don't have enough money to buy flour," said shopkeeper Mirajan, who like many Afghans only goes by one name. "Since one and a half months, the prices have been rising."

Mirajan says he fears that instability in Pakistan, stemming from the recent assassination of opposition party leader Benazir Bhutto, would make it harder for trucks to deliver goods to Afghanistan.

"People are always coming and complaining about the prices," he said. "We are neighbours, we are Muslims, if they are at peace, we will be at peace.

"If Benazir were alive we would be very happy. It would be good for us."

In Kandahar, the price of wheat flour has grown from roughly 28 cents a kilogram in January 2007 to about 40 cents a kilogram this past December, WFP statistics indicate. The increases are even more egregious elsewhere in Afghanistan: the cost of wheat flour has grown by 80 per cent over the year in the remote northeastern city of Faizabad, while prices in the capital Kabul have jumped by 70 per cent during that same period.

The inflation is linked to a global trend - wheat prices have grown by about 40 per cent over the last year, Corsino said. Add to that higher transportation costs, including fuel and the expense of trucking goods in a region plagued with security concerns.

"The one (expense) we see very directly is the increased cost of moving food," he said.

"The risk of the vehicle being attacked is higher than it was a year ago."

In all of 2006, five attacks were carried out against convoys carrying WFP food, Corsino said. In 2007, there were more than 30. About 870 tonnes of food, with a value of more than $630,000 US was lost.

Crew members and Afghan police escorts were either killed or wounded in at least four of the attacks.

"Many of (the attacks) occurred along the southern ring road between Kandahar and Herat, specifically in the western part of Kandahar province, Helmand province and between Dilaram and Bakwa in Farah province," Corsino said.

"Because of these, we have largely been unable to move food along the ring road for the past several months. While it remains unclear whether many of the attacks were conducted for political reasons, pure criminality, or a combination of the two, we suspect criminality to play the larger part."

Rising inflation is especially serious in Afghanistan where unemployment is estimated at 40 per cent. And many Afghans who do work don't make ends meet; about half of the population lives under the poverty line, a February 2007 report by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada says.

Once a net agricultural exporter, decades of war has made Afghanistan heavily dependent on imports from neighbours like Pakistan and Iran. In 2005, agricultural products accounted for up to one third of Afghanistan's total imports, the Agri-Food Canada report says.

Afghanistan is forced to rely on imports from Pakistan as vast stretches of the country's fertile land in Helmand and Kandahar provinces are being used to grow lucrative opium and marijuana crops, instead of wheat, said Nisar Ahamad, a wholesaler of imported oils, flour and sugars at the Kandahar market.

"If people weren't growing poppies then we would have our own flour," he said. "We wouldn't need to import so much.

"We have fertile land, we have an irrigation system, but the people feel that they must grow the poppies because they are so poor."

Shopkeeper Mirajan urged the Afghan government and coalition forces to intervene by giving out free food in an effort to depress the prices. The insurgency in Afghanistan's volatile southern provinces, he said, is fueled more by poverty than ideology.

"An empty stomach is the real reason for this fighting."

alampert@thegazette.canwest.com
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U.S. law firms could help shape Afghanistan's future for price
By Philip Dine St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Jan 05 7:32 PM
WASHINGTON Hoping to turn around a tenuous judicial situation in Afghanistan, the State Department is establishing a public-private partnership that gives American law firms a role in the troubled nation's future.

Law firms that contribute money to the U.S. effort towards an effective and transparent justice system in Afghanistan will be given a say in the carrying out of those policies. The goals include training more defense attorneys so they will be available to ordinary Afghans and training more women as prosecutors and judges.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the plan is "essential to the country's success" in combating corruption, drug trafficking and other major problems in the nation.

Although the plan to involve U.S. lawyers hasn't gotten off the ground yet, some experts wonder how many law firms will participate. And Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sharply criticized the idea. Advertisement


"Once again this administration wants to outsource important policies to the private sector because resources and trained experts are tied up in a failed policy in Iraq," Dodd said.

The effort is being led by St. Louisan Tom Schweich, a high-ranking State Department official who said he was not aiming for privatization. "All of the programs are publicly administered," he said. "This is simply a source of funding and some expertise."

Schweich said he would personally approach St. Louis law firms.

"Generally what we're looking for is for law firms to make a two-year commitment for $25,000 a year," he said. "Partners" will serve on an advisory committee that will have input into how resources are allocated, attend press conferences and get regular briefings from senior State Department officials. Bigger contributors will have more involvement, including the opportunity to go on official trips to Afghanistan.

Donations by law firms will be tax deductible, but they can't earmark donations for specific uses. The State Department will steer the money through local, non-governmental organizations such as the Afghan Women Judges Association, Legal Aid Organization of Afghanistan and Afghan Prosecutors Association.

Co-chairing the effort with Schweich is Robert O'Brien, managing partner of the Los Angeles office of Arent Fox, a law firm based in Washington.

'LAWYER-TO-LAWYER'
Schweich has been in charge of the State Department's largely unsuccessful effort to curb illicit narcotics production and trafficking in Afghanistan, whose poppies account for about 90 percent of the world's heroin.

He hopes an effective judicial system could help. He said U.S. and Afghan counter-narcotics efforts had been hamstrung by the legal system's inability to arrest, try and incarcerate drug producers.

Rice said the program's aim was to enlist private money and skills to help establish "the rule of law" in Afghanistan and boost the professionalism of Afghan lawyers and judges.

"We are asking American law firms and law schools to help the Afghan judicial system in a number of ways," she said. "By providing lawyer-to-lawyer support, we hope to bring Afghan practitioners into the larger international community of legal professionals."

The State Department hopes to initially raise as much as $2 million over the next two years, adding to the $40 million the State Department is already spending on the country's justice system, Schweich said.

The Justice Department is helping, but federal prosecutors don't want to train defense attorneys, he said.

The program has been crafted to avoid conflicts of interest that would give firms favoritism in their business dealings with the State Department, he said. Along with St. Louis, where Schweich was a partner at Bryan Cave before joining the administration, he'll personally focus on law firms in Washington, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

The University of Utah has already offered to serve as a training ground for some Afghan prosecutors, donating faculty and facilities. Schweich hopes to seek a similar arrangement in St. Louis.

'SYMBOLIC' IMPACT?
Afghan legal officials currently work in rudimentary conditions, both in terms of physical facilities and training. Judges and lawyers often rely on their personal understanding of Islamic law and tribal codes without taking Afghan laws into account. Those laws differ in that they are unwritten and vary from region to region.

One goal of the partnership is to help set up an independent bar association in Afghanistan to regulate entry into the profession, uphold professional standards and ethics, protect the public interest and advocate for the independence of lawyers.

Another goal is to promote women in the legal system. Under the Taliban, Rice noted, women were largely relegated to the home, but since the radical regime's overthrow in 2001, the struggling Afghan justice system has hired a number of women. Still, of 1,500 judges nationwide, only 60 are women.

Analysts say the program seems like a good idea but will probably encounter challenges in practice.

Mauro De Lorenzo, an expert in international development at the American Enterprise Institute, wondered "how eager the law firms will be in participating." The impact will be reduced if the participation is more "symbolic" with firms doing only what they think is expected of them, he said.

Lisa Pinsley is a development expert who recently returned from four years in Afghanistan, where she worked with the United Nations and the Afghan government recruiting outside experts to aid development. She said the task grew increasingly difficult as attention turned from Afghanistan.

Pinsley said the State Department program's success would depend partly on how effectively it was integrated into an overall strategy for the nation by the U.S. government, Europe and others.

"The more money and attention, that's great," Pinsley said.
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US military not welcome in Pakistan: army
Sun Jan 6, 6:57 AM ET
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - The Pakistani military reacted angrily to reports that US President George W. Bush is considering covert military operations in the country's volatile tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

"It is not up to the US administration, it is Pakistan's government who is responsible for this country," chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad told AFP.

"There are no overt or covert US operations inside Pakistan. Such reports are baseless and we reject them."

The New York Times reported on its website late Saturday that under a proposal being discussed in Washington, CIA operatives based in Afghanistan would be able to call on direct military support for counter-terrorism operations in neighbouring Pakistan.

Citing unnamed senior administration officials, the newspaper said the proposal called for giving Central Intelligence Agency agents broader powers to strike targets in Pakistan.

Pakistan's western tribal belt is seen as a safe haven for Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants who carry out attacks in Afghanistan, as well as the most likely hideout for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The United States now has about 50 soldiers in Pakistan, the report said.

The new plan was reportedly discussed by Vice President Richard Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security aides in the wake of the December 27 assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had not been consulted, the New York Times reported.

Arshad also dismissed comments from US White House hopeful Hillary Clinton that she would propose a joint US-British team to oversee the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal if she was elected president.

"We do not require anybody's assistance. We are fully capable of doing it on our own," he said.
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Tribal hot under the collar over Musharraf's statement
By: - 5/01/2008 - 18:47
KABUL/ISLAMABAD, Jan 5 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The assertion of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf that he was not a tribal or feudal to kill former Pakistan Prime Minister Ms Benazir Bhutto has enraged tribal living on both sides of the Durand Line.

Ms Bhutto was assassinated in a suicide attack soon after addressing an election rally at Rawalpindi, a garrison town of Pakistan on Dec 27th.

Though no organization have so far claimed responsibility of her killing but some analysts blame Pakistan intelligence ISI, Musharraf, Pakistani Taliban and Al-Qaeda responsible for the incident.

President Pervez Musharraf while responding a query during a press conference on Thursday remarked he was neither a tribal nor feudal to be blamed for the killing of Ms Bhutto.

This statement has enraged tribal people on both sides of the Durand Line saying that Musharraf was involving tribal people in the killing of Ms Bhutto.

Zahid Afridi, a tribal elder of Khyber Agency who is also candidate of National Assembly seat in the coming general strongly condemned Musharraf's statement.

He said this statement has greatly hurt the feelings of tribal people and added that issuing such controversial and harsh statements about his countrymen did not suit the president of a country.

Similarly another tribal elder Arif Wazir in North Waziristan said this statement has so much hurt the tribal that they were demanding action from tribal elders.

"Tribal people are so peace loving that Pak army is killing civilians in military operations in tribal areas but tribal people neither raise arms against army nor siding with Taliban", Wazir added.

Meanwhile a tribal elder of Shinwari district in Nangarhar province Arsala Khan said tribal on both sides of the Durand Line are peace-loving people having no links with terrorism.

"If tribal are now named as member of Al-Qaeda only Pakistani intelligence is responsible for it", he added.

Arsala said Taliban were the brainchild of Pakistani intelligence.

Abdur Rashid Waziri adviser of the Afghanistan Regional Study Center also says tribal areas enjoyed exemplary peace in the past.

" I myself am a tribal and tribal people had a very strong Jirga system which used to resolve every problem in the area as there were more than forty thousands tribal elders and Maliks in these areas", he asserted.

He alleged the Pakistan government made tribal area a battle field by implanting Taliban and Al-Qaeda which have now extended their tentacles up to Islamabad.

"Pakistan government corrupted the tribal system by shifting powers from tribal Maliks to Taliban, Al-Qaeda and generals", Waziri added.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto and subsequent turmoil in the country also caused delay in the general election in Pakistan till February 18.
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German army "horrified" over reckless driving of soldiers in Afghanistan
Berlin, Jan 5, IRNA
The German army is reportedly "horrified" over the reckless driving of its soldiers in Afghanistan, causing numerous bad accidents in the war-stricken country, the weekly Der Spiegel news magazine cited Saturday an internal document of the German Defense Ministry.

According to the report, the "driving conduct" of German troops is "horrifying."

Trying to evade terrorist attacks, military drivers are often speeding through streets leading to a "massive" accident risk and a worsening of the anti-German mood among Afghans.

Many soldiers have not been trained to drive military vehicles like the 'Dingo' armored personnel carrier before starting the Afghanistan mission since Germany lacks the necessary exercise equipment in Germany.

Meanwhile, 'Dingo' manufacturer, Kraus Maffei, has agreed to allocate a number of its vehicles for training purposes in Germany.

Around 100 'Dingos' were sent to Afghanistan last year, according to Der Spiegel.

Some 3,500 German troops are deployed in mainly northern Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
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Governor of militancy-plagued Pakistan border province quits
January 5, 2008
ISLAMABAD (AFP) A top official in charge of Pakistani tribal areas resigned following a surge in violence linked to Al-Qaeda rebels hiding out in the country's northwest, an official said.

Retired Lieutenant General Ali Muhammad Jan Aurakzai, governor of North West Frontier Province "cited personal reasons behind his decision and President (Pervez) Musharraf has accepted his resignation," the government official said.

Musharraf's close aide Aurakzai was appointed in 2005 with a mandate to improve a deteriorating security situation in tribal areas, a known hub of radical Islamists and Al-Qaeda-inspired militants.

He structured a peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban in September 2006 in the wake of bloody clashes between the army and militants that killed hundreds on both sides.

The deal under which militants agreed to not launch cross-border attacks in Afghanistan and promised to hunt down foreign extremists in return for a slowed down military crackdown, was criticised by Afghanistan and Western allies.

Militants unilaterally scrapped the agreement in July last year after troops occupied a radical mosque in the Pakistan capital Islamabad in a bloody operation which killed more than 100 people, mainly pro-Taliban students.

"The peace agreement was a risk he took," security analyst retired general Talat Masood said.

"It was good conceptually but it was very weak on the implementation side and it ended up in consolidating and expanding the influence of the militants in the sensitive region," Masood told AFP.

Hundreds of Al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents took shelter in the rugged region after US-led forces overthrew the hardline Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
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Bin Laden whereabouts are speculation: Pakistan envoy to US
WASHINGTON (AFP) The belief by intelligence organizations that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is in a remote Pakistan border area is just "speculation," Pakistan's envoy to the United States said Sunday.

Mahmoud Ali Durrani was asked on CNN about an interview Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf gave to CBS television, to be broadcast later Sunday.

CNN quoted Musharraf as saying of bin Laden: "There is no proof whatsoever that he's here.

"We are not particularly looking for him, but we are operating against him and Al-Qaeda and militant Taliban and in the process obviously combined maybe we are looking for him also."

Durrani sought to clarify saying "I think the president is suggesting that neither we, nor the US, has any intelligence where exactly Osama bin Laden is."

"He may be in Afghanistan," the ambassador said. "He may be in the border region. If we knew where he was, we would have taken him out."

The New York Times reported that under a proposal being discussed in Washington, CIA operatives based in Afghanistan would be able to call on direct military support for counter-terrorism operations in neighboring Pakistan.

Durrani noted that US and other foreign intelligence agencies believe bin Laden to be sheltering in the tribal area along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But "that's just speculation," the envoy said.

"Believe me. If they knew or we knew we would have taken him out," he said.

"And when Musharraf says that he's not specifically looking for Osama, what he really means is that we are totally focused on destroying Al-Qaeda and the Taliban network and not just one person."
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'Great Game' or just misunderstanding?
By Alastair Leithead BBC News, Kabul Saturday, 5 January 2008
On Christmas Day the Afghan government said it was expelling two high level diplomats, one a British UN political affairs expert, the other, an Irishman and the acting head of the European Union mission.

It is very unusual for a country to expel those working for friendly nations and the charge was talking to and supporting the Taleban, something both organisations call a "misunderstanding".

But it seems there may have been some echoes of the 19th century 'Great Game' when British and Russian intelligence officers vied for supremacy in Central Asia.

Questions still remain as to what exactly Mervyn Patterson and Michael Semple were doing in Helmand.

The Irish national, Michael Semple, works for the EU. He has the appearance of a man who could have stepped out of 19th century colonial Afghanistan.

He is a bearded, Dari speaker, known for wearing traditional local clothes. His 18 years of living and working in Afghanistan brought him many friends, and no doubt many enemies.

The British national, Mervyn Patterson, is from Northern Ireland and works for the UN. He is an expert in northern Afghan - particularly Uzbek - affairs, who would bring together spies and warlords, westerners and Afghans.

Hugely respected

Both men were expelled on 27 December and with them, as one of their colleagues said, went "half the international community's combined knowledge on Afghanistan".

They are hugely respected, but according to President Karzai's spokesman Hamayun Hamidzada, they were up to no good.

"The government of Afghanistan had received reports that the two individuals were involved in activities that were not consistent with their original jobs and they were engaged in unauthorised activities," he told a news conference.

"As a result the Afghan government expelled the two from Afghanistan and this sends a message that the Afghan government is watching everyone and any unauthorised activity, no matter it comes from wherever, will be stopped."

"Unauthorised activity" hints at what Afghan secret service agents are saying privately.

They point the finger squarely at Michael Semple for running an extensive network of Taleban contacts: "For arrogantly behaving like a Great Game era political officer", they say.

One intelligence officer asked me: "What is the EU deputy head of mission acting like a field commander and who is he working for?"

Francesc Vendrell is the EU's Special Representative in Kabul and I asked him what Michael Semple was doing?

"Quite honestly I am not sure. I had authorised Michael to go to Helmand, I knew he was vaguely going to do some work on reconciliation with the Taleban, but beyond that I had absolutely no idea what he was going to do."

But as his deputy, should he have known what Michael was doing?

'Preposterous'

"I should and I shouldn't. I didn't feel that someone with the background of Michael could be kept on a short leash."

So Michael was, it appears, talking to the Taleban, but was he "paying" them with development projects or cash as the Afghan secret service insists?

"I found the allegations and the charge preposterous," Francesc Vendrell added.

"And I am quite sure Michael would not have been involved in any training or assistance of any kind to Taleban who had not already crossed over."

"This office, unlike perhaps an embassy or the [European Commission], has no money to undertake, participate or contribute to any project."

But was Michael working for someone else?

"I think Michael was a person who had a tremendous amount of initiative and I can't go beyond that," Mr Vendrell says.

The British Ambassador, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, came back early from his holidays and had at least two meetings with President Karzai to try and resolve this issue which has raised questions about talking to the Taleban.

'Persuadable'

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the House of Commons on 12 December: "We are isolating and eliminating the leadership of the Taleban, we are not negotiating with them."

But talks are going on in Helmand to persuade those classed as "persuadable" to switch sides.

That means at the very least talking to Taleban supporters if not mid or high-level commanders.

This was something the United States was not keen on but now seems to have signed up to, according to its ambassador Bill Wood.

"The United States is in favour of a serious reconciliation programme with those elements of the Taleban who are prepared to accept the constitution and the authority of the elected government of President Karzai, who wish to reconcile, to return to a peaceful and legitimate life," he said.

The mantra now is - fighting alone will not bring peace and stability.

The UK Foreign Office is sending more political officers and training them in Pashtun to work in Helmand with some parallels to the Great Game.

"In the 19th century, British political officers in the North West Frontier Province spent 16 years between home leaves on the ground," said the British ambassador Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles in October.

Clashing

"They all spoke Pashtun, and we are a long way from that, and we also need to remember it is for the Afghan government overall to understand the country it is running, to be front and centre.

"But if we are to provide intelligent support then we need political intelligence in the broader sense of the term about the environment in which we are operating."

There was no comment from the British embassy on the issue of Michael Semple.

Afghan intelligence sources say they still don't know what he was doing or who he was working for - at the very least, he was clashing with their own reconciliation efforts.

But in the Afghan world of conspiracy theories, dealing with the Taleban independently could be seen as supporting them against President Karzai.

Diplomatic efforts are continuing, but it seems unlikely that Michael Semple, one of the west's most respected experts on Afghanistan, will be allowed back in any time soon.
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Three impersonators nabbed in Gardez
By: - 5/01/2008 - 17:44
GARDEZ, Jan (Pajhwok Afghan News): Three people pretending to be police officers by using police uniform for taking money from people have been arrested in the eastern Gardez province, security officials said on Saturday.

Paktia Police Chief Brig. Gen. Asmatullah Alizai told Pajhwok Afghan News these people were arrested red-handed early morning in the Garda Serai district.

"They had halted traffic on the Gardiz-Khost highway and were collecting money from drivers for keeping security on the highway", Alizai added.

He said the impersonators would soon be handed over to the attorney office for further investigation.

Rohullah Samoon spokesman of Paktia governor confirming the detention said everyone misusing police or Army uniform would be awarded exemplary punishment.

Col. Gul Muhammad Mangal, spokesman to regional police office in the northeastern zone told this news agency that misuse of police or army uniform was not a new thing in the area.

Security officials' uniform used to be openly sold in markets in Kabul till last week but Kabul police headquarters in an operation on Tuesday collected all such uniform from the market in order to stop its misuse.
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Iranian national held with fake documents in Herat
By: - 5/01/2008 - 18:06
HERAT CITY, Jan 5 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Police in the western Herat province Saturday informed arresting a suspected Iranian national who claims to have been serving as Afghan National Army in Afghanistan for over one year.

A border police official, in condition of anonymity in western zone told Pajhwok Afghan News the Iranian national was arrested last week while crossing Islam Qala border to Iran.

The arrested named Rohullah son of Haji Ramazan, admitted he was a resident of Samnan of Iran, border police source confided, the detainee also confessed to have served in 205 Atal military corps of Kandahar for one year.

Police spotted the outlaw after recovering a fake Afghan passport from him, the source said, Rohullah had taken afghan ID (Tazkira) from Kabul by the name of Mahmud.

The alleged outlaw was handed over to Intelligence officials here, the source added.

Interior Minsitry spokesman Zmary Bashari and Atal military corps commander General Ayubi expressed their ignorance about the issue; however Defence Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi said they were investigating the case.

Iranian embassy in Kabul when asked about the issue refused to comment.
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Bagram PRT opens school, clinic in Kapisa
By: - 5/01/2008 - 12:05
KABUL, Jan 5 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Kapisa government representatives and members from the Bagram Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) recently opened a school and health clinic in Mahmood Raqi District, NATO said.

ISAFs Bagram PRT Civil Affairs team leader Capt. Jordan Berry and Afghan Ministry of Education representative Hatan sliced the ribbon to mark the opening of  the eight-room, $122,000 school, according to a statement from the NATO-led force.

You can send your children to school now, said Hatan, who added: Please send your children here for education. The Zalmay Shahid Secondary School, whose construction took more than 10 months, will house approximately 240 boys.

The ISAF PRT builds clinics and schools where there are existing programs that dont have adequate facilities.

Construction of the clinic began on Feb. 3, 2007, and although the province has officially opened the doors, some finishing work still needs to be done. For his help in rebuilding Kapisa, Hatan presented Captain Berry with a turban, which he says is a great honour in Afghanistan.

This is a new year and we have many new projects planned for Kapisa, said Captain Berry. I would like to thank the people of Kapisa for giving us security and allowing us to put so many projects here.

According to Captain Berry, the PRT is looking to fund $30 million worth of development projects in Kapisa this year.

In the western Herat province, a ceremony was held to unveil the Qarya Jaya bridge, financed by the Italian PRT, in the Injil district. The bridge, which took five months to build, links 42 villages north of the river with ones in the south.

PRT Commander Col. Massimo Bettini, Civilian and Military Cooperation Centre Commander Maj. Luca Di Fazio and several government and local authorities attended the event. The Herat deputy governor and Injil district chief also attended the inauguration and noted the importance of the work.
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Official calls for Afghan repatriation
Jan. 4, 2008 at 11:34 PM
Print story Email to a friend Font size:PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- A top Pakistani official is calling for the repatriation of Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan in an effort to prevent terrorist indoctrination.

Sikandar Aziz Khan, Pakistani special adviser to the North-West Frontier province and chief minister on political affairs, says Afghan refugees in Pakistan are targets for Taliban recruitment and that to eliminate terrorism in the North-West Frontier province and in the surrounding tribal areas the refugees should be moved back to Afghanistan, the Daily Times reported.

"(The) repatriation of Afghan refugees would bring peace and tranquility to the country," Khan said in a statement.

Khan said militant operatives' subversive activities in the region have "destroyed peace and tranquility in an Islamic state and could not be tolerated anymore. Elements shedding their blood of their own brothers in the name of Islam had nothing to do with the Muslims," the Daily Times reported.

Khan is calling for provincial governments to create a policy to repatriate all Afghan refugees in order to discourage terrorism.
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School building attacked, three held in Khost
KHOST, Jan 4 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Rockets were fired at a school building in the capital of south eastern Khost province bordering Kurram Agency of Pakistan while three people were arrested in connection of an explosion near a military vehicle in the Sabri district on Friday.

Khost Education Department Director, Aziz Ahmad Hashmi said rockets were fired at the building of Muhammad Sidiqi Rohi high school situated in Haiderkhelo area in the west of Khost city which damaged a classroom, two generators causing no casualties.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman told this news agency that they were not involved in the attack on school.

Having six thousand students the school also has branches in the surrounding villages and recently a double-storey building constructed for it

Meanwhile in another incident of violence the sound of an explosion was heard in the Yaqubi area the district.

Mujahid soon claimed the responsibility of the explosion and said several Afghan and coalition forces were killed and wounded in the explosion.

However the NATO information center in western provinces has strongly rejected attack on its forces.

Military Corps Spokesman, Mastak Zazi said military vehicles were targeted in the attack but it inflicted no casualties.

He said three people of the area have been arrested in the case.

In the district more than twenty militants having links with Taliban have been arrested in the joined operation by NATO and Afghan forces since last one week.

The residents of the area however believe the detainees were local people having no relations with Taliban.
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