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June 18, 2008 

Afghan, NATO troops kill 36 Taliban near Kandahar
By NOOR KHAN and JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan - Backed by helicopters firing missiles, hundreds of NATO and Afghan forces hunted Taliban militants in villages outside Kandahar on Wednesday, killing dozens of insurgents.

Old-Line Taliban Commander Is Face of Rising Afghan Threat
The New York Times By CARLOTTA GALL June 17, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan — The attack was little reported at the time. A suicide bombing on March 3 killed two NATO soldiers and two Afghan civilians and wounded 19 others in an American military base.

Afghanistan: Taliban keeps up pressure with assaults
By Noor Khan  The Christian Science Monitor via Yahoo! News - Jun 18 1:00 AM
ArghandaB, Afghanistan - Taliban militants destroyed bridges and planted mines in several villages they control outside southern Afghanistan's largest city in apparent preparation for battle, residents and officials said Tuesday.

Audit cites lack of planning for Afghan security
By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer Wed Jun 18, 1:54 PM ET
WASHINGTON - Six years and $16.5 billion later, the U.S. still lacks a solid plan to create a self-sustaining security force in Afghanistan, a new independent audit finds.

First British woman and three soldiers killed in Afghanistan bomb blast
By Nick Allen, Caroline Gammell and Tom Coghlan in Kabul Telegraph (UK) 18/06/2008
The first British woman killed in action in Afghanistan died along with three SAS reservists in the deadliest enemy attack on UK forces since hostilities began nearly seven years ago.

Is the Taliban Making a Comeback?
By ARYN BAKER / KABUL Time.com via Yahoo! News - Tue, Jun 17, 2008
Hundreds of Taliban insurgents swarmed through a key district just outside the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Monday, sending residents fleeing in anticipation of retaliation by NATO troops. This latest Taliban assault in the Argandab

US: 4 helicopter engines worth $13M missing
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Wed Jun 18, 11:30 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Four U.S. military helicopter engines worth a combined $13.2 million are missing in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, the American military said Wednesday.

Taliban capture US helicopter parts
Parts filmed and CDs released to media
By Hamid Mir The News International (Pakistan) Wednesday, June 18, 2008
ISLAMABAD: In a startling operation that shook the Pentagon, the White House and the US administration some weeks back, the Taliban in the tribal areas captured parts of three US helicopters - Chinook, Black Hawk and Cobra

US runs out of patience with Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / June 17, 2008
KARACHI - The words came from Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the weekend, threatening to send troops into Pakistani territory in hot pursuit of the Taliban, but Islamabad has no doubts Karzai was reading from a script prepared by the United States.

Afghanistan seeks return of 'stolen treasures'
Aftenposten (Norway) / June 18, 2008
Some cultural treasures allegedly carried out of Afghanistan by a Norwegian soldier are 4,000 years old, and the country wants them back.

Team teaches farming techniques in Zabul
Source: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) June 18, 2008 PR# 2008-264
KABUL, Afghanistan - Agricultural experts with an ISAF team in Zabul are teaching farmers how to improve the health of the country's crops.

Report: Exams prove abuse, torture in Iraq, Gitmo
By PAMELA HESS Associated Press / June 18, 2008
WASHINGTON (AP) — Medical examinations of former terrorism suspects held by the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, found evidence of torture and other abuse that resulted in serious injuries

Vital transport link re-opens
Written by www.quqnoos.com  Tuesday, 17 June 2008
Kabul-Jalalabad Highway opens after months of repair work
AFGHANISTAN’S main road into Pakistan has re-opened after months of repair work on the vital transport link's bridges.

Pakistan’s Pashtun MPs rally to Karzai’s side
Written by www.quqnoos.com Tuesday, 17 June 2008
Afghan president’s threat to send in troops receives Pashtun support
PAKISTAN’S Pashtun politicians have rallied behind President Hamid Karzai after he threatened to send Afghan troops into Pakistan to wipe out Taliban rebels based in the country’s tribal areas.

Ethnic dispute breaks out in violence
Written by www.quqnoos.com Tuesday, 17 June 2008
Hazaras and Kuchis accuses each other of killing their kin in central province
CLASHES between Kuchi nomads and ethnic Hazaras in Maydan Wardak have killed 13 people and wounded a further 30, according to a local Member of Parliament.

Defence officials warned of weak walls at Afghan prison 2 years ago
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - Canada Tuesday, June 17, 2008 The Canadian Press
Canadian military officials warned more than two years ago that the stone-and-mortar walls of Kandahar's largest prison were on the verge of collapse, newly released documents show.

Detainees recruited for jihad
Seattle Times, United States By Tom Lasseter McClatchy Newspapers
GARDEZ, Afghanistan-Mohammed Naim Farouq was a thug in the lawless Zormat district of eastern Afghanistan. He ran a kidnapping and extortion racket, and he controlled his turf with a band of gunmen who rode around in trucks with AK-47 rifles.

After Battle in Afghanistan Villages, Marines Open Complaint Shop
To Win Over Civilians, Soldiers Take Claims for Damages; a Free Wind-Up Radio
Wall Street Journal By MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS June 18, 2008
GARMSIR, Afghanistan-During a month of house-to-house combat, First Lt. Steven Bechtel's men fired about 500 mortar rounds at Taliban insurgents.

Army arrests 10 'Talib policemen'
www.quqnoos.com Written by M Reza Sher Mohammadi Tuesday, 17 June 2008
Police deny the men, dressed up as officers, were working for the Taliban
AFGHAN soldiers have arrested 10 people disguised in police uniform who they suspect of working for the Taliban – but police claim the men work for them.

Rebel threats force 35,000 pupils from class
Written by www.quqnoos.com Tuesday, 17 June 2008
Warnings deprive district's young of an education, officials say
ABOUT 35,000 students have skipped school for the past ten days in the Qarabaqh district of Ghazni province following threats from the Taliban, officials say.

Afghan blind are 90% curable - minister
Written by www.quqnoos.com Tuesday, 17 June 2008
About 400,000 people living in Afghanistan suffer from blindness
ABOUT 400,000 people in Afghanistan are blind, but 90% of all blindness in the country is curable, the deputy minister of health has said.

Saving Parwez Kambakhsh
International pressure is all that stands between a young journalism student and the death penalty, say his supporters.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Jean MacKenzie in Kabul 16-Jun-08
A subdued, anxious crowd filled the courtroom of the Kabul Appeal Court on June 15 for the latest installment in the case of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, the Afghan journalism student facing a death sentence for blasphemy.

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Afghan, NATO troops kill 36 Taliban near Kandahar
By NOOR KHAN and JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan - Backed by helicopters firing missiles, hundreds of NATO and Afghan forces hunted Taliban militants in villages outside Kandahar on Wednesday, killing dozens of insurgents.

NATO reported only light resistance in Arghandab district, a lush river valley filled with fruit groves that offer militants bountiful defensive positions. The Afghan army says up to 400 militants poured into the area on Monday, just 10 miles northwest of Kandahar city, the Taliban's former power base.

U.S. and NATO officials have repeatedly played down the scope of the Taliban push. But the swift military response — 700 Afghan soldiers flew to Kandahar on a moment's notice — and the fighter aircraft dedicated by NATO suggest that keeping Arghandab free from militants is an urgent priority.

Arghandab is considered a gateway to Kandahar. If militants can gain a foothold there, attacks become easier on the city once commanded by fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, militants killed six NATO soldiers and wounded 10. Just last week Defense Secretary Robert Gates called attention to the worsening situation in Afghanistan, noting that American and allied combat deaths here in May surpassed the monthly toll in Iraq for the first time.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said more than 20 Taliban fighters were killed Wednesday in NATO airstrikes in the Arghandab village of Tabin and 16 more were killed in the village of Khohak. Two Afghan soldiers were also killed, the ministry said in a statement.

Twelve other militants were killed in fighting in Maiwand, a separate district also in Kandahar province.

The governor of Kandahar, Asadullah Khalid, said the Taliban had controlled 10 towns in the Arghandab district, but government and NATO forces took back four of them.

Khalid said that "a large number" of Afghans have been displaced by the fighting — other officials estimated thousands had fled. He said officials have requested help from the U.N.

Helicopters and jets patrolled the skies and smoke rose from fields after exchanges of fire, an Associated Press reporter in Arghandab said. A helicopter landed in a field near the fighting and appeared to evacuate a casualty, he said. Large Canadian military vehicles and Afghan police trucks moved through the region.

NATO and Afghan forces were moving carefully through Arghandab to minimize civilian casualties and to avoid any bombs planted by insurgents, said Maj. Gen. Carlos Branco, a spokesman for the NATO-led force.

"We are not in a hurry," he said. "The resistance that we face so far has not been significant."

Gen. John Craddock, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, wrapping up a visit to Afghanistan, pointed to the Afghan army's response to Arghandab as "an excellent example of its increasing capability," a NATO statement said.

"The fact of the matter is that in less than 24 hours notice the Afghan National Army moved a battalion of soldiers to Kandahar, by using both their own airplanes and ISAF aircraft, from a cold start," Craddock said. "There are not too many nations in the world capable of such a response."

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the director of the Kandahar provincial council, said more than 1,500 families had sought refuge in Kandahar out of fear, many staying with relatives.

Meanwhile, the British Ministry of Defense said four British soldiers were killed when an explosive was detonated against their vehicle during a patrol in neighboring Helmand province on Tuesday. At least one soldier was wounded.

It was one of the deadliest attacks of the year on international troops in Afghanistan. Four U.S. Marines were killed in a roadside bomb in earlier this month, but prior to that, no more than three international troops had been killed in any one attack in the country this year.

Two NATO soldiers died and 10 were wounded Wednesday in Paktika province, NATO said. No other details were released, including the soldiers' nationalities. Most soldiers in Paktika are American.

The Taliban assault on the outskirts of Kandahar was the latest display of strength by the militants despite a record number of U.S. and NATO troops in the country. The push into Arghandab came three days after a Taliban attack on Kandahar's prison that freed 400 insurgent fighters.

The Taliban regime ousted from power in a 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan regarded Kandahar as its main stronghold, and its insurgent supporters are most active in the volatile south of the country.
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Associated Press writers Jason Straziuso and Amir Shah contributed to this report from Kabul.
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Old-Line Taliban Commander Is Face of Rising Afghan Threat
The New York Times By CARLOTTA GALL June 17, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan — The attack was little reported at the time. A suicide bombing on March 3 killed two NATO soldiers and two Afghan civilians and wounded 19 others in an American military base.

It was only weeks later, when Taliban militants put out a propaganda DVD, that the implications of the attack became clear. The DVD shows an enormous explosion, with shock waves rippling out far beyond the base. As a thick cloud of dust rises, the face of Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, a Taliban commander who presents one of the biggest threats to NATO and United States forces, appears. He taunts his opponents and derides rumors of his demise.

“Now as you see I am still alive,” he says.

The deadly attack demonstrates the persistence of the Afghan insurgency and the way former mujahedeen leaders, like Maulavi Haqqani, combine tactics and forces with Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist groups.

As a renewed sense of crisis grips the war here, fueled by reports on Monday that Taliban had overrun districts in southern Afghanistan after a huge jailbreak last week, these new networks have given the insurgents a broader pool of recruits and added power and sophistication to their attacks, American military officials say.

The bomber in the March attack, for instance, turned out to be a German citizen of Turkish origin who was trained in Pakistan, according to European officials in Kabul.

The combined terrorist-insurgent networks have flourished from sanctuaries in Pakistan. In a sign of the increasing frustration of the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, with the challenges to his government, he threatened on Sunday to send Afghan troops into Pakistan to hit militant leaders who have vowed to continue a jihad in Afghanistan.

The combination of sanctuary in Pakistan, deep links on both sides of the border and steady support from Arab and other jihadist networks has made Maulavi Haqqani a formidable threat to the stability of Afghanistan.

The Haqqani network is suspected of being behind three large vehicle suicide bombings in eastern Afghanistan this year, the latest on June 4.

In addition, Afghan security officials say one of his senior lieutenants masterminded a multipronged attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul that killed seven people in January, as well as the assassination attempt on Mr. Karzai in April.

A quarter-century ago, Maulavi Haqqani was a favorite of American and Pakistani intelligence agencies and of wealthy Arab benefactors because of his effectiveness in organizing mujahedeen fighters from Afghanistan, Arab nations and other Muslim regions to attack the Soviet forces that had occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Today he has turned his expertise against American and NATO forces. From his base in northwestern Pakistan, the aging Maulavi Haqqani has maintained a decades-old association with Osama bin Laden and other Arabs. Together with his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, 34, he and these allies now share a common mission to again drive foreign forces from Afghanistan.

In Pakistan’s tribal areas of North and South Waziristan, Maulavi Haqqani and his son run a network of madrasas and training bases and provide protection for foreign fighters and terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda.

They also provide logistics and intelligence for attacks in Afghanistan, according to a United States military public affairs officer, Sgt. Timothy Dinneen, who is based at Bagram air base in Afghanistan and wrote a paper on the Haqqanis last year.

Another United States military spokesman, Maj. Chris Belcher, accused the Haqqanis of bringing foreign fighters from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, Turkey and Middle Eastern countries into Afghanistan.

Maulavi Haqqani’s old ties keep his insurgent ranks flush with men and money, the American officials said, as do arms and smuggling rackets they control within their fief.

Meanwhile, Pakistani forces have been reluctant to move against the Haqqanis. According to European officials and one senior Pakistani official, Maulavi Haqqani has maintained his old links with Pakistani intelligence and still enjoys their protection.

Asked in 2006 why the Pakistani military did not move against Maulavi Haqqani, a senior Pakistani intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that it was because he was a Pakistani asset.

Maulavi Haqqani has by now become so powerful in his redoubt that a Western military official who has worked in both Pakistan and Afghanistan said the problem of going after him was that the Pakistani military was not capable of taking him on and feared failure if it tried.

Pakistani forces accompanied by Americans raided a mosque owned by Maulavi Haqqani while searching for him in North Waziristan in 2002, but since then he has been largely left alone.

One Western military official said there was an unspoken agreement between Pakistani and American officials that United States Predator drones would generally be used in the tribal areas against foreign Qaeda members, rather than Pakistani or Afghan targets, like the Haqqanis.

As Maulavi Haqqani has aged, his son has increasingly taken over military operations from his father and, according to the United States military, has expanded his father’s connections with foreign financing and fighters.

One example may be the bomber in the March 3 attack. The spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahed, in a telephone interview, identified the bomber as Muhammad Beg and said he had volunteered, traveling from Turkey to join Maulavi Haqqani.

“As men from Muslim countries usually do, he came willingly to join Afghan Muslims and carry out attacks against the non-Muslim invaders,” Mr. Mujahed said.

German investigators have taken the German-Turkish link seriously, according to the German news media. Suicide bombings have been widely used in the conflicts in Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent years, but Mr. Beg is the first known German suicide bomber.

The group claiming responsibility for his attack, the Islamic Jihad Union, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda, seems to have acquired some Turkish German recruits whom they trained in Waziristan for terrorist attacks, according to Guido Steinberg, an expert in Islamic studies at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

The Haqqanis have given shelter to such groups. Last October, Sergeant Dinneen, the public affairs officer, warned in a lengthy press release that the younger Haqqani had expanded his father’s original operating areas from the border provinces to other areas in northern, central and southern Afghanistan, including Kandahar.

“His close connections with Al Qaeda have enabled him to accumulate more financial support from Middle Eastern countries and have created a larger recruiting pool of fighters from other countries,” the sergeant wrote.

Queried in May, a United States military spokeswoman said the Haqqani network had formed a syndicate with other, unspecified groups. Their goal was to “destabilize Afghanistan,” the spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, public affairs officer for American forces in Afghanistan, wrote in an e-mail statement from Bagram air base.

The DVD on the March attack appears to be a rare attempt by Maulavi Haqqani, who looks to be well into his 60s, to answer his opponents and dispel months of reports that he was dead or sick and that he had ceded control of his network to his son. He pointedly rebuts those rumors and claims to have been at the scene of the March 3 suicide attack, which was at the site of the government’s office in the Sabari district of the eastern Afghan province of Khost.

“I was present two or three days ago when we started operations on Sabari district,” he says. “And now I am present by the grace of God.”

His voice quavers, and at one point his arm shakes as if from Parkinson’s disease. But he places blame for rumors of his death on propaganda put out by the United States military and its NATO allies.

He specifically mentions attacks on a hotel — possibly the January attack on the Serena in Kabul — and on the Sabari district base, making it clear that he has espoused Al Qaeda’s most ruthless of tactics, suicide bombing.

Suicide bombing was unheard of in Afghanistan before 2001 and remains controversial, even among Taliban commanders. Many Afghans consider it to be contrary to Islam and to the tribal Pashtuns’ code of honor. Maulavi Haqqani’s embrace of it demonstrates the increasingly powerful sway Al Qaeda holds over him and other Taliban.

“We will fight them with patience,” Maulavi Haqqani says on the DVD. “This is not a battle of haste; this is a battle of patience. If a strong animal fights with a small and weak animal, the big animal uses all its power, not against the enemy, but against itself.”
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Afghanistan: Taliban keeps up pressure with assaults
By Noor Khan  The Christian Science Monitor via Yahoo! News - Jun 18 1:00 AM
ArghandaB, Afghanistan - Taliban militants destroyed bridges and planted mines in several villages they control outside southern Afghanistan's largest city in apparent preparation for battle, residents and officials said Tuesday.

More than 700 families – meaning perhaps 4,000 people or more – had fled the Arghandab district 10 miles northwest of Kandahar city, said Sardar Mohammad, a police officer manning a checkpoint on the east side of the Arghandab River. Police on Tuesday stopped and searched every person passing on the road.

On the west side of the river, hundreds of Taliban controlled around nine or 10 villages, Mr. Mohammad said.

"Last night the people were afraid, and families on tractors, trucks and taxis fled the area," said Mohammad. "Small bridges inside the villages have been destroyed."

The Taliban have long sought to control Arghandab and the good fighting positions its pomegranate and grape groves offer. From there, militants can cross the countryside's flat plains on a decent road network for probing attacks into Kandahar itself, in possible preparation for an assault on their former spiritual home.

The Afghan Army, which flew four planeloads of soldiers to Kandahar on Tuesday from the capital, Kabul, said 300 to 400 militants had gathered in Arghandab, many of them foreign fighters. The US-led coalition, however, said it conducted a patrol through the region "and found no evidence that militants control the area."

"Recent reports of militant control in the area appear to be unfounded," the coalition said in a statement.

Nevertheless, NATO aircraft dropped leaflets in Arghandab telling residents to stay indoors, NATO spokesman Mark Laity said.

Laity said 700 Afghan Army troops have moved from Kabul to Kandahar to deal with the Arghandab threat.

The Taliban assault Monday was the latest display of strength by the militants. The push into Arghandab district – a region the Soviet Army was never able to conquer – came three days after a coordinated Taliban attack on Kandahar's prison that freed 400 insurgent fighters.

Police and army soldiers increased security throughout Kandahar and enforced a 10 p.m. curfew.

A Taliban commander named Mullah Ahmedullah called an Associated Press reporter on Tuesday and said that about 400 Taliban moved into Arghandab from Khakrez, one district to the north. He said some of the militants released in Friday's prison break had joined the assault. "They told us, 'We want to fight until the death,' " Ahmedullah said. "We've occupied most of the area and it's a good place for fighting. Now we are waiting for the NATO and Afghan forces."

The hardline Taliban regime ousted from power in a 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan regarded Kandahar as its main stronghold, and its insurgent supporters are most active in the volatile south of the country.

The US and NATO have pleaded for additional troops over the last year and now have some 65,000 in the country. But the militants are still finding successes that the international alliance can't counter.

Arghandab lies just northwest of Kandahar city, and a tribal leader from the region warned that the militants could use the cover from Arghandab's orchards to mount an attack on Kandahar itself. NATO officials dismiss the idea that the Taliban can mount an attack on Kandahar.

One of the thousands of Afghans fleeing Arghandab said Tuesday that families were being forced out just as grape groves needed harvesting, meaning financial ruin for thousands. Haji Ibrahim Khan said Taliban fighters were moving through several Arghandab villages with weapons on their shoulders, planting mines, and destroying small bridges.

Two anti-Taliban leaders from Arghandab have died in the last year, weakening the region's defenses.

The assault Monday came one day after President Hamid Karzai angrily said he would send Afghan troops into Pakistan to hunt down Taliban leaders in response to the militants who cross into Afghanistan from Pakistan.
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Audit cites lack of planning for Afghan security
By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer Wed Jun 18, 1:54 PM ET
WASHINGTON - Six years and $16.5 billion later, the U.S. still lacks a solid plan to create a self-sustaining security force in Afghanistan, a new independent audit finds.

The Government Accountability Office found in a report released Wednesday that "some progress" has been made in training and equipping Afghanistan's army and police forces, but the Defense and State departments "lacked detailed plans and cost estimates for completing and sustaining" the forces.

The audit comes as violence in Afghanistan is on the rise and the U.S. is pleading with NATO allies to send more troops and trainers. Last month, American and allied combat deaths in Afghanistan passed the monthly toll in Iraq for the first time.

GAO said the U.S. government must more clearly define its objectives, set milestones and lay out a concrete spending plan for future requirements.

"We concluded that, without capable and self-sustaining Afghan army and police forces, terrorists could again create a safe haven in Afghanistan and jeopardize efforts by the United States and the international community to develop the country," GAO wrote.

The Pentagon defended progress made in the effort and said it planned to release its own assessment soon.

"We believe it's well reasoned, that it is a successful program that is building on the Afghan government's capacity to respond to the insurgency, provide stability and implement the rule of law throughout Afghanistan," said Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman.

But lawmakers said they remained concerned that the war effort there was being shortchanged because of the U.S. focus on Iraq.

"I'm just struck with the fact that we are so far behind in Afghanistan that it's more than alarming," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. "I don't see anything that makes me feel encouraged. And I think the thing that concerns me the most is that some of this appears to be extraordinarily bad planning."

As an example of slow progress, GAO found that only two out of 105 Afghan army units were deemed "fully capable" while 65 were still in training or deemed mostly unable to conduct their missions. The remaining units were considered capable but only with international assistance.

No Afghan police unit is considered fully capable, GAO says.

The U.S. has spent more than $10 billion to develop the Afghan army and $6 billion on its police forces since 2002.
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First British woman and three soldiers killed in Afghanistan bomb blast
By Nick Allen, Caroline Gammell and Tom Coghlan in Kabul Telegraph (UK) 18/06/2008
The first British woman killed in action in Afghanistan died along with three SAS reservists in the deadliest enemy attack on UK forces since hostilities began nearly seven years ago.

In one of the bloodiest periods of the conflict so far, nine British soldiers have died in the last 10 days, bringing the total number of deaths to 106 since the start of military operations in November 2001.

The latest tragedy came just days after the Government announced that around 200 more troops are being sent to the country, taking the UK force to a record high of 8,030 by next spring.

The sharp upturn in violence against British troops in recent weeks followed a period of relative stability and has raised fears of a Taliban summer offensive.

Commanders say the Taliban have changed tactics, increasingly using suicide bombers and sophisticated weaponry possibly supplied by Iran, instead of fighting openly against British forces.

The deaths of four soldiers was the single biggest loss of life to hostile action in Afghanistan. An RAF Nimrod crashed in September 2006 killing 14 people but enemy action was found not to be a factor.

It led to further questions over the state of equipment after the Snatch Landrover the soldiers were in was hit by an explosion near Lashkar Gah, the capital of Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, on Tuesday afternoon.

The vehicles have been repeatedly criticised for not providing enough protection against roadside bombs and experts called for them to be fitted with electronic countermeasures, and for the deployment of more helicopters.

Conservative MP and former Army officer Patrick Mercer said: "Helicopters are still vulnerable, but they're not vulnerable to this sort of weapon."

The female soldier who died was a member of the Intelligence Corps which does one of the most delicate jobs in Afghanistan, collecting information and winning over local contacts to counter-insurgency efforts.

She was the first British woman soldier to die in Afghanistan but five have died during operations in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

The three men who died were from 23rd Special Air Service Regiment, which is one of two Territorial Army SAS units.

All four soldiers are expected to be named on Thursday after the Ministry of Defence changed its policy about keeping the names of special forces fatalities secret.

The soldiers were involved in an operation to train Afghan security forces when the explosion happened.

A military source said: "It was part of the training they are giving the Afghans. There was a large explosion, they were in a convoy but they were the one vehicle that was pretty badly hit."

Military explosives experts will visit the scene to establish the exact nature of the bomb but it was believed to be an improvised explosive device or a mine.

A fifth soldier was wounded in the attack and was in a stable condition after being evacuated to the sprawling British desert military base at Camp Bastion in Helmand.

Last week more than 1,000 prisoners, including hundreds of Taliban insurgents, broke out of the main prison in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan's biggest city, in the province neighbouring Helmand.

NATO and Afghan forces began a huge, three-day offensive after many of those from the jail took over villages on the outskirts of the city. At least 20 Taliban insurgents were reportedly killed.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the British mission in Afghanistan was the "noblest of causes" and refuted accusations that soldiers were being failed by poor equipment.

He told MPs that the Taliban had changed tactics and new equipment would be provided to cope with that.

Mr Brown said: "They are no longer fighting as an army, they are fighting as an insurgency. That's why we are seeing mines and roadside bombs, that is why we are re-ordering the way our forces work and that is why we are taking new equipment to Afghanistan.

"We are well equipped and will be better equipped in the months to come to deal with this new problem."

But Charles Heyman, defence analyst and former Army major, said the only real defence against roadside bombs was to return to using helicopters to move troops around as in South Armagh 25 years ago.

He said: "The roads in Afghanistan are too dangerous for normal troop movement. Theoretically, we have quite a lot of troop carrying helicopters, we have got 40 Chinooks of one sort or another and Merlins.
"A lot of them are not serviceable and it costs an absolute fortune to maintain these helicopters in dusty places like Afghanistan - it costs a lot but they have got to do it."

Colonel Bob Stewart, former commander of British forces in Bosnia, said: "This has become an insurgency. By failing against us in pitch battle the Taliban have learnt they don't stand a chance and they have changed their tactics to be much more like Iraq.

"It is extremely difficult. Firstly, we haven't got the armoured vehicles we should have, but much more importantly, in order to win over the people, soldiers have to actually get out and meet people.

"If troops disappear into helicopters, you never win the hearts and minds."

When asked if he thought British efforts in Afghanistan were worth the bloodshed David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said it was the "only way this can be done".

He said: "It's a very poor country but it doesn't need to be a country overrun by al-Qa'eda."

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth suggested there were members of the Taliban that could be talked to.

He said: "There are both sets of people within Taliban. There are those people who we can talk to, who we can potentially win over, but there are also people hell-bent on taking that country back to where it was a couple of years ago."
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Is the Taliban Making a Comeback?
By ARYN BAKER / KABUL Time.com via Yahoo! News - Tue, Jun 17, 2008
Hundreds of Taliban insurgents swarmed through a key district just outside the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Monday, sending residents fleeing in anticipation of retaliation by NATO troops. This latest Taliban assault in the Argandab district caps several weeks of increased fighting in the country's southern districts along the border with Pakistan, followed by a spectacular raid on a Kandahar prison, in which some 400 Taliban fighters were freed, according to officials. "My men have seen a few of the escaped Taliban prisoners among the fighters in Argandab," says district chief Ghulam Farouq.

Argandab, just 10 miles southeast of Kandahar, is famous for its lush vineyards and pomegranate orchards. It is also a key symbol for the insurgency. Soviet troops that took the rest of Afghanistan when they invaded in 1979 were never able to conquer the district. Its shady groves, raisin-drying barns and deep irrigation canals provide excellent cover for fighters. Kandahar residents worry that the militants could use it as a base for an attack on the city itself, in an attempt to regain their former power base. "Argandab is a strategic district, which the Taliban can use to threaten Kandahar," says former police chief Khan Mohammad. The Taliban have taken every village in the area except for the main town of Argandab, Mohammad says, and there are 40 to 50 Taliban fighters in each village. He worries the prison raid was a precursor to an attack on Argandab itself. "The Taliban have gained a lot of power with those who have been freed from the prison," he says.

Officials of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), NATO's military arm in Afghanistan, are skeptical about reports of such high numbers of Taliban forces fighting together, but they say they are ready to respond to any threat. "In the wake of the jailbreak, we obviously have a different and more difficult security situation in Kandahar," says ISAF spokesman Mark Laity. "We are aware of the potential threat, and to that end we have already moved several hundred Afghan national army forces to Kandahar. We have also repositioned our international forces in the area."

A massing of Taliban fighters in Argandab is a departure from the militant tactics that have evolved over the past two years. In 2006 NATO forces soundly defeated a Taliban force in nearby Panjwai and declared the movement all but dead. An increase in suicide bombings and the utilization of improvised explosive devices to attack coalition forces since then has been interpreted as signs of weakness and desperation. Now it is starting to look like a recuperation strategy. Monday's raid, combined with Friday's well-planned jailbreak - the operation lasted just under 30 min. and involved two suicide bombers, plus militants mounted on motorcycles who systematically broke down every cell door in the facility - is evidence of the growing strength of the Taliban, whose fundamentalist Islamic regime was pushed from power when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

Both U.S. and NATO leaders have asked for more troops to counter the mounting threat of the Afghan insurgency, but to little avail. The war in Iraq has taken the lion's share of American resources, and other western nations are reluctant to invest more troops. "Afghanistan is half again bigger than Iraq, and it has a population estimated to be 3 to 5 million more than Iraq," says General Dan McNeil, the former commander of ISAF. McNeil points out that there are only 65,000 international forces in Afghanistan, compared with nearly double that in Iraq. The effort "needs more flying machines, more maneuver units and more intelligence," he says.

But more troops will be of little use if Afghan insurgents are getting support and sanctuary across the border in Pakistan. McNeil, who spent 16 months in Afghanistan and left on June 3, blamed April's 50% increase in attacks on coalition troops in Afghanistan's east and south on insurgents crossing the border from Pakistan. Despite "tactical success on the battlefield last year, we still have a lot of work to do," he told journalists just before departing the country. "As long as there are these sanctuaries that remain out of the reach of security forces here, long-term security and stability will be difficult to fully achieve."

Pakistan, which once supported the Taliban government in Afghanistan, is now suffering an insurgency of its own. Militants aligned with al-Qaeda have attacked security forces in the ungoverned tribal areas - and have sent suicide bombers to major urban areas such as Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. The Pakistani army has been unable to contain the militants. It has already lost around 1,000 soldiers trying. In an attempt to gain stability, the military embarked on peace negotiations with militant groups last December, which the newly elected government in Islamabad is backing. In exchange for pulling military forces out of the tribal areas, militants have agreed to stop attacking government institutions. But just a few weeks after news of the negotiations broke, Baitullah Mehsud, head of an umbrella group of insurgents called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, declared at a press conference that he would continue his jihad against foreign forces fighting in Afghanistan.

A new study released by the Rand Corp. and funded by the U.S. Defense Department claims that Pakistani intelligence agents and paramilitary forces have helped train Taliban insurgents and have given them information about American troop movements in Afghanistan. "Every successful insurgency in Afghanistan since 1979 enjoyed safe havens in neighboring countries, and the current insurgency is no different," said the report's author, Seth Jones. "Right now, the Taliban and other groups are getting help from individuals within Pakistan's government, and until that ends, the region's long-term security is in jeopardy." The Pakistani military has called the findings "rubbish."

During the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, Pakistan backed the Taliban by offering training, funding and weapons. In 2001 then President General Pervez Musharraf severed the ties, but many observers believe that some elements within the military have kept links, either for ideological reasons or in order to retain control over their neighbor. "I do not believe it is centrally directed or accepted," says a Western military official in Pakistan, "but I do believe there are individuals at the lower field levels who are maintaining ties with extremists, Taliban and maybe even al-Qaeda."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he is fed up with Taliban militants using Pakistan as a sanctuary, and he announced at a Sunday press conference that he would send Afghan troops into Pakistan to hunt down Taliban leaders. "Afghanistan has a right to self-defense," Karzai said. Pakistani official reacted angrily, swearing to defend their territorial sovereignty. Relations between the two countries have always been fragile; Karzai's statement brought them to a new low. But instead of being chastised for his lack of diplomacy, Karzai received the blessing of U.S. President George W. Bush: "Our strategy is to deny safe haven to extremists who would do harm to innocent people. That's the strategy of Afghanistan; it needs to be the strategy of Pakistan."

- With reporting by Ali Safi Time.com
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US: 4 helicopter engines worth $13M missing
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Wed Jun 18, 11:30 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Four U.S. military helicopter engines worth a combined $13.2 million are missing in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, the American military said Wednesday.

The engines were being shipped over land from the main U.S. base at Bagram and were destined for Fort Bragg, N.C., where the 82nd Airborne is based, said U.S. spokeswoman Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green.

"The components went missing en route to port — the exact location is undetermined," Nielson-Green said.

The parts went missing sometime before the 101st Airborne arrived to replace the 82nd in early April, she said. They were being shipped by a Pakistani trucking company.

Militants in both countries frequently target convoys of goods destined for NATO bases.

In March, nearly 40 trucks carrying fuel to U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan were destroyed in two bomb attacks on the Pakistani border. The bombings wounded about 100 people.

Pakistan's top military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, said the reports of the missing helicopter parts were under investigation, but he said that U.S. forces had not contacted Pakistan officials about the matter.

The U.S. is not disclosing what kind of engines they were to prevent any criminals or insurgents from getting additional information.
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Taliban capture US helicopter parts
Parts filmed and CDs released to media
By Hamid Mir The News International (Pakistan) Wednesday, June 18, 2008 
ISLAMABAD: In a startling operation that shook the Pentagon, the White House and the US administration some weeks back, the Taliban in the tribal areas captured parts of three US helicopters - Chinook, Black Hawk and Cobra - while they were being shipped in huge containers from Peshawar to Jalalabad in Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials have confirmed the capture while the US diplomats stationed in Islamabad are trying to fudge the issue without denying it outright. US embassy spokesperson Elizabeth Colton commented: "The embassy has no comment on this as the information appears to be only hearsay."

When this correspondent informed the embassy spokesperson that he had seen pictures of the stolen parts of helicopters, she again said "no comment". Some diplomats in Islamabad are very much aware of this recent Taliban operation but they were not ready to speak on record.

Diplomatic sources say the recent US air strike in the tribal areas was actually an attack on the location where the unassembled parts of the two helicopters, owned by the US armed forces, were stored by the Taliban.

Sources told The News US Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher was to visit Pakistan and Afghanistan soon in view of the situation in the region. What is shocking is the revelation that the US forces were transporting helicopters in unassembled form in containers, which landed at the Karachi Port and travelled all the way by road to Peshawar and then entered the tribal areas for onward journey to Afghanistan.

When these containers entered the Khyber Agency at Jamrud, the Taliban stopped the convoys and took away the helicopter parts. Pakistani paramilitary forces in the area tried to confront the Taliban but they suffered heavy losses due to darkness. This happened in the same area where Pakistan's Ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin was kidnapped in February this year.

Chinook and Black Hawk were captured recently while the Cobra was hijacked some weeks back. When the Taliban first captured the Cobra helicopter, they filmed all the stolen parts and supplied the CD to their allies in Afghanistan.

Some people in the Farah province of western Afghanistan showed interest in purchasing the Cobra helicopter and subsequently its parts were smuggled to Farah. Taliban sold this Cobra to an unidentified customer for several hundred thousand dollars.

Following the latest ground hijacking, the Taliban have again filmed all the stolen parts of CH-47 Chinook and Black Hawk choppers. Chinook is a versatile twin-engine helicopter that was also used to help the earthquake victims in Kashmir in October 2005 by the US Army.

The Taliban have again sent the CD to people for attracting customers from neighbouring countries of Afghanistan. They do not seem to have hit any customer as the stolen parts with extra engines are still in their custody.

The Taliban captured some unexploded Tomahawk missiles in the Khost area of eastern Afghanistan in 1998. These missiles were fired on al-Qaeda hideouts after attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Taliban handed over some of the unexploded US missiles to the Chinese in 1998.

Top US military officials have demanded recently from Pakistan to start an operation in the tribal areas for the recovery of their stolen helicopters. They have expressed concern that instead of initiating an operation against the Taliban, the new government is negotiating peace with the Taliban.

Concerned officials in the Foreign Office were of the opinion that the Taliban had increased their attacks in Afghanistan recently due to the incompetence of the Afghan National Army and the Nato forces.

The Taliban used a fuel tanker packed with 1800 kg of explosives a few days ago to break a jail in Kandahar. They got released their 400 comrades along with 1,100 other prisoners in that operation.

On Tuesday, the Taliban captured Arghundab district of Kandahar province. It was also a big blow to the credibility of Nato and the Karzai government but now both of them are trying to divert the international attention by threatening to attack the Pakistani border areas.

The Taliban have recently conducted bloody operations against the Nato forces in Shenwro district of Parwaon province in the north, Taren Kot city of Uruzgan province in the south and Poli Alm city of Logar province close to Kabul.

All these are not close to the Pakistani borders and the Taliban were attacking the Nato with the help of the local population.

It was learnt that the high command of Pakistani security forces has requested the government for permission to respond in a hard-hitting manner to any attack from Afghanistan in future.

Meanwhile, US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher would visit Pakistan and Afghanistan shortly. It is expected that he would try to narrow down the differences between Islamabad and Kabul.
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US runs out of patience with Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / June 17, 2008
KARACHI - The words came from Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the weekend, threatening to send troops into Pakistani territory in hot pursuit of the Taliban, but Islamabad has no doubts Karzai was reading from a script prepared by the United States.

The message is crystal clear: Pakistan's failure to cooperate at the sub-strategic level leaves the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with no alternative but to mobilize the newly trained Afghan National Army into Pakistan whenever it sees fit.

Karzai said his country had the right to "self defense", adding, "When they [militants] cross the territory from Pakistan to come and kill Afghans and to kill coalition troops it gives us the right to go back and do the same.

"[Pakistani Taliban leader] Baitullah Mehsud should know that we will go after him now and hit him in his house. And the other fellow, [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar of Pakistan, should know the same," said Karzai.

Karzai was reacting to a bad week for the Afghan government and NATO, which lost at least 15 troops in various incidents. Kabul was embarrassed by a carefully planned operation in the southern city of Kandahar in which suicide bombers and about 100 Taliban attacked a jail, resulting in the death of nearly 20 security forces and the escape of over 1,000 prisoners, including 380 Taliban. And in another attack on Saturday, the governor of Helmand province was injured and the police chief killed.

NATO headquarters see the spate of violence as the result of the Taliban's training in Pakistani territory and their ability to easily cross the border into Afghanistan.

The Taliban completed their launch of men last month, promising specific, target-oriented attacks such as the jail operation.

In response, NATO wanted to catch the Taliban in a pincer movement, with Pakistani forces operating from the Mohmand and Bajaur tribal agencies and NATO across the border in Kunar and Nooristan provinces. (See Pakistan's grand bargain falls apart Asia Times Online, March 6.)

Asia Times Online was the first publication to write about US strikes using Predator drones and later a detailed story was published in the New York Times citing US officials who confirmed plans to target Taliban and al-Qaeda sanctuaries in the Pakistani tribal areas, with Pakistani help.

Following US pressure, Pakistan prepared its plan, which Asia Times Online outlined on March 6:

"According to Asia Times Online contacts, a military operation is imminent, starting from a base camp in Peshawar in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). The main focus will be Mohmand and Bajaur agencies, and some other tribal areas, to pre-empt the Taliban's spring offensive in Afghanistan.

Under the initial plan, the operation would have been largely symbolic and the militants had been convinced that if they remained at the forefront and fought against Pakistani troops, their positions would be exposed to the foreign supervisors and they would sustain huge losses.

Instead, if they struck ceasefire deals and retreated from forward positions to the border regions, they would be helped with advance information about possible raids and they could take alternative measures for their survival. They were categorically told that the operation was inevitable, so it would be best for them to take rear positions and flit on both sides of the border for their survival.

The military rationale for adopting this approach was based on pragmatic grounds - that it would cause the militants to evacuate the main tribal areas for Afghanistan or the tribal fringes. This would allow secular Pashtun sub-nationalist forces to regain a hold in the area and develop an atmosphere of peace and reconciliation."

The scheme was a blueprint to get rid of the Taliban-led insurgency from Pakistan and force it back into Afghanistan, but NATO considered it a betrayal on the part of Pakistan, especially it turning a blind eye to the Taliban crossing the border with impunity.

Faced now with the very real threat of coalition raids into its territory, Pakistan might be forced to restart military operations in the tribal areas. Meanwhile, President Pervez Musharraf will have to play a significant role in reassuring Washington that Pakistan is still on board in the "war on terror" and that the Americans need to be patient. Time is not on his side, though.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Afghanistan seeks return of 'stolen treasures'
Aftenposten (Norway) / June 18, 2008
Some cultural treasures allegedly carried out of Afghanistan by a Norwegian soldier are 4,000 years old, and the country wants them back.

News magazine Ny Tid reports in its current edition that Afghan authorities are seeking return of ancient coins and a bottle that a soldier recently offered to an Oslo museum.

"They are from the bronze age, and very valuable for Afghanistan," the director of the National Museum in Kabul, Omara Khan Masoudi, told Ny Tid. The museum itself was ransacked and fell into ruin during the war in Afghanistan in the early 1990s.

Masoudi said he was "shocked" to hear that a Norwegian soldier "who came here to serve the country and our people, had smuggled out historical treasures that belong to the Afghan people."

Masoudi said he plans to write to the Norwegian government through Afghanistan's own foreign ministry, in the hopes of securing return of the items.

He noted that he's not sure the soldier stole the items. "Maybe he found them by mistake, but we will take this up with the Norwegian government, so they can help us find the items and get them returned," Masoudi told Ny Tid. "The soldier must be encouraged to give them back."

Afghanistan's embassy in Oslo has also told Ny Tid that they had contacted the Norwegian Defense Ministry, in an effort to find out what happened.

Masoudi praised the Norwegian government for returning 65 manuscripts that also were smuggled out of Afghanistan last year.

"Norway is one of the countries that has given us a lot of support to rebuild our museums, they have helped us rebuild the country," Masoudi said. "I'm certain they will do all they can to find and return these stolen treasures."
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Team teaches farming techniques in Zabul
Source: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) June 18, 2008 PR# 2008-264
KABUL, Afghanistan - Agricultural experts with an ISAF team in Zabul are teaching farmers how to improve the health of the country's crops.

The Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) is introducing the propagation technique called budding. Budding involves placing the bud of a healthy plant into a small incision in a separate, healthy plant stalk. The result promotes the creation of larger, more disease-resistant produce for the people of Zabul.

'If we can spread this process to all farmers, they would make more money and improve their own lives,' said Haji Abdul Hadi, local agricultural line ministry trainer. 'We don't need to grow poppies; we need to grow more, improved food for our people.'

June through August is the time for propagating orchard trees in Zabul Province, prime time for the ISAF team to teach the technique.

'I hope to see budding … improve the varieties of apricots and almonds here,' said Christoph Greco, U.S. Department of Agriculture representative with the Zabul PRT. 'When budding is seen as successful here, other farmers will have access to the scions or budding material for their farms. The end result would be larger, more flavorful and thus more marketable fruit for the farmers.'

The process is simple but time consuming.

'We are using plants without any diseases, without any problems,' Hadi said. 'When we install it into the other plant, the incision is very important as well. We have to cut it very carefully; this is important to promote growth. After the bud is placed in the incision in the stem, we wrap it in plastic to protect it from wind and to keep it moist.'

'The success of this budding will be up to the farmers,' Greco said. 'The people [of Afghanistan] are the skilled labor who can get this off the ground. If one farmer can teach this method to two, two can teach it to four and so on, they're going to increase produce marketability and make more money. Everyone wins.'

Contact Information

ISAF Public Affairs Office
Tel: +93 (0)79 51 1155
Mobile: 0093 (0) 799 55 8291
pressoffice@hq.isaf.nato.int - www.nato.int/isaf/
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Report: Exams prove abuse, torture in Iraq, Gitmo
By PAMELA HESS Associated Press / June 18, 2008
WASHINGTON (AP) — Medical examinations of former terrorism suspects held by the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, found evidence of torture and other abuse that resulted in serious injuries and mental disorders, according to a human rights group.

For the most extensive medical study of former U.S. detainees published so far, Physicians for Human Rights had doctors and mental health professionals examine 11 former prisoners. The group alleges finding evidence of U.S. torture and war crimes and accuses U.S. military health professionals of allowing the abuse of detainees, denying them medical care and providing confidential medical information to interrogators that they then exploited.

"Some of these men really are, several years later, very severely scarred," said Barry Rosenfeld, a psychology professor at Fordham University who conducted psychological tests on six of the 11 detainees covered by the study. "It's a testimony to how bad those conditions were and how personal the abuse was."

One Iraqi prisoner, identified only as Yasser, reported being subjected to electric shocks three times and being sodomized with a stick. His thumbs bore round scars consistent with shocking, according to the report obtained by The Associated Press. He would not allow a full rectal exam.

Another Iraqi, identified only as Rahman, reported he was humiliated by being forced to wear women's underwear, stripped naked and paraded in front of female guards, and was shown pictures of other naked detainees. The psychological exam found that Rahman suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had sexual problems related to his humiliation, the report said.

The report came as the Senate Armed Services Committee revealed documents showing military lawyers warned the Pentagon that methods it was using post-9/11 violated military, U.S. and international law. Those objections were overruled by the top Pentagon lawyer.

President Bush said in 2004, when the prison abuse was revealed, that it was the work of "a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values." Bush and other U.S. officials have consistently denied that the U.S. tortures its detainees.

Physicians for Human Rights, an advocacy group based in Cambridge, Mass., that investigates abuse around the world and advocates for global health and human rights, did not identify the 11 former prisoners to protect their privacy. Seven were held in Abu Ghraib between late 2003 and summer of 2004, a period that coincides with the known abuse of prisoners at the hands of some of their American jailers. Four of the prisoners were held at Guantanamo beginning in 2002 for one to almost five years. All 11 were released without criminal charges.

Those examined alleged that they were tortured or abused, including sexually, and described being shocked with electrodes, beaten, shackled, stripped of their clothes, deprived of food and sleep, and spit and urinated on.

The abuse of some prisoners by their American captors is well documented by the government's own reports. Once-secret documents show that the Pentagon and Justice Department allowed, at least for a time, forced nakedness, isolation, sleep deprivation and humiliation at both Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and at Abu Ghraib.

Because the medical examiners did not have access to the 11 patients' medical histories prior to their imprisonment, it was not possible to know whether any of the prisoners' ailments, disabilities and scars pre-dated their confinement. The U.S. military says an al-Qaida training manual instructs members, if captured, to assert they were tortured during interrogation.

However, doctors and mental health professionals stated they could link the prisoners' claims of abuse while in U.S. detention to injuries documented by X-rays, medical exams and psychological tests.

"The level of the time, thoroughness and rigor of the exams left me personally without question about the credibility of the individuals," said Dr. Allen Keller, one of the doctors who conducted the exams, in an interview with the AP. "The findings on the physical and psychological exams were consistent with what they reported."

All 11 former detainees reported being subjected to:

_Stress positions, including being suspended for hours by the arms or tightly shackled for days.

_Prolonged isolation and hooding or blindfolding, a form of sensory deprivation.

_Extreme heat or cold. _Threats against themselves, their families or friends from interrogators or guards.

Ten said they were forced to be naked, some for days or weeks. Nine said they were subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation. At least six said they were threatened with military working dogs, often while naked. Four reported being sodomized, subjected to anal probing, or threatened with rape.

The patients underwent intensive, two-day long exams following standards and methods used worldwide to document torture.

"We found clear physical and psychological evidence of torture and abuse, often causing lasting suffering," he said.

Keller, who directs the Bellevue/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture, said the treatment the detainees reported were "eerily familiar" to stories from other torture survivors around the world. He said the sexual humiliation of the prisoners was often the most traumatic experience.

Most former detainees are out of reach of Western doctors because they are either in Iraq or have been returned to their home countries from Guantanamo.
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Vital transport link re-opens
Written by www.quqnoos.com  Tuesday, 17 June 2008
Kabul-Jalalabad Highway opens after months of repair work
AFGHANISTAN’S main road into Pakistan has re-opened after months of repair work on the vital transport link's bridges.

About 3km of road was asphalted, road barriers were constructed and a 70m-long bridge was built, the ministry of public works said.

The highway was closed to traffic in April 2008, forcing people travelling to and from Pakistan to use the Lata Band road, which can triple the amount of time spent travelling to Pakistan.

The European Union spent $7.65 million rebuilding the road.       
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Pakistan’s Pashtun MPs rally to Karzai’s side
Written by www.quqnoos.com Tuesday, 17 June 2008 
Afghan president’s threat to send in troops receives Pashtun support
PAKISTAN’S Pashtun politicians have rallied behind President Hamid Karzai after he threatened to send Afghan troops into Pakistan to wipe out Taliban rebels based in the country’s tribal areas.

Politicians from Pakistan’s Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) and Awami National Party (ANP) said Karzai had every right to protect his own people from rebels who launch cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, killing Afghan civilians, police and soldiers.

A member of PMAP, Afzal Khan La La, said: "Pakistanis have no right to cross into Afghanistan and kill innocent people."

Another PMAP member in Baluchistan and former Member of Parliament, Abdul Rahim Mandukhil, said: "We want to know if the tribal regions belong to Pakistan or not.

"If they do belong to Pakistan, then Pakistan must control these areas otherwise Afghanistan will always remain unstable."

On Sunday, Karzai said Afghanistan had the right to launch cross-border raids on militant hideouts in Pakistan as long as the rebels continued to attack Afghan and coalition soldiers in his country.

The next day, the Pakistani government warned other countries against meddling in Pakistan's internal affairs.

The country’s prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, promised Karzai that Pakistan was doing everything in its power to defeat the Pakistani Taliban.

The government has called in Afghanistan’s ambassador in Pakistan to explain Karzai’s belligerent comments.

But Pakistani ANP member Reza Mohammad Reza said Pakistan had adopted "bad policies" towards the Pakistani Taliban.

After its election in February, the government started to negotiate with the Taliban, including the notorious rebel leader Baitullah Mehsud.

Mehsud, who the UN accuses of carrying out eight out of every 10 "terror" attack in Afghanistan, has vowed to continue his Jihad in Afghanistan despite the peace-talks.

Recent deals between Pakistani rebels and the government have seen the withdrawal of Pakistani troops from tribal regions close to the Afghan border.

NATO-led forces in Afghanistan say the talks have increased insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, especially in provinces that border Pakistan.

Diplomatic relations between Pakistan and American took a nose dive last week when Pakistan accused US-led troops in Afghanistan of killing 11 of its border police in an air-strike on the Pakistani side of the border.
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Ethnic dispute breaks out in violence
Written by www.quqnoos.com Tuesday, 17 June 2008 
Hazaras and Kuchis accuses each other of killing their kin in central province
CLASHES between Kuchi nomads and ethnic Hazaras in Maydan Wardak have killed 13 people and wounded a further 30, according to a local Member of Parliament.

Both sides have blamed each other for the fighting, which started on Sunday in the province’s Behsud district.

Kuchi MP Hidar Jan Naimzoi said Hazaras launched attacks on 130 Kuchi homes with light and heavy weapons, forcing residents to flee their houses after four of their kin were killed.

But Maydan Wadak’s MP, Ismaile Sadfari, said the Kuchis started the clashes, killed 13 Hazaras and wounded 30 more.

About 7,000 people have been forced to flee villages in the district, according to Sadari.

“The Kuchis attacked about 175 villages in the district in groups with weapons and people resisted with whatever they had,” he said.

The Ministry of Interior has sent a delegation to investigate the alleged killings.

Kuchi MP Haji Pari said only a handful of people were creating problems in the province.

Tensions between the two ethnic groups have flared in recent months with both sides claiming ownership over land in the central Hazarajat region.

In April, Human rights workers expressed fears that Hazaras were planning to take up arms against Kuchis who settled on their land.

The Shia Hazaras, who make up 9% of the country’s population, accuse Kuchis of “land-grabbing”.

"Given that both parties lack confidence in the government's ability to solve their disputes they may try to defeat each other by violent means," Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission said in April.

Kuchis, who are predominantly Pashtuns, traditionally move all over the country in search of green pastures for their livestock and, at the start of each spring, many travel to the central provinces, where most of Afghanistan’s Hazaras live.

Kuchi elders complain that Hazaras have enjoyed strong international support since the Taliban’s fall, while Kuchis have been perceived as collaborators of the mainly Pashtun Taliban.

In July 2007, after several people were reportedly killed in clashes between Kuchi herders and Hazara settlers in Behsud district, President Karzai set up a commission to come up with a solution.

President Karzai’s deputy spokesman, Seyamk Hirawi, said: “From last year the government started some efforts to solve these problems and so far both sides have had several meetings.”
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Defence officials warned of weak walls at Afghan prison 2 years ago
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - Canada Tuesday, June 17, 2008 The Canadian Press
Canadian military officials warned more than two years ago that the stone-and-mortar walls of Kandahar's largest prison were on the verge of collapse, newly released documents show.

Defence experts now say the walls' dilapidated state likely made them more susceptible to an insurgent attack of the kind that occurred last Friday.

The brazen prison break, in which militants used explosives and rockets to blow open the walls of Sarposa prison, about 30 kilometres from the main NATO base at Kandahar Airfield, released hundreds of common criminals and Taliban militants onto the streets.

Defence Department briefing notes released under the Access to Information Act show the military red-flagged Sarposa's crumbling walls as far back as January 2006.

Military officials found the 35-year-old structure — a mix of bricks made from compressed earth and local stone, held together by concrete or mud parging — in dire need of repair.

"Due to the lack of maintenance, both the ceilings and the walls have deteriorated to a point where there is a possibility that they may collapse," says a Jan. 12, 2006, briefing note.

Opposition MPs have held up a 2007 Correctional Service of Canada report on Sarposa prison as proof the Conservative government knew about deficiencies at the jail but turned a blind eye.

The Defence Department briefing notes show the government knew of structural problems more than a year before the corrections officers' report, but deemed repairs unnecessary at the time.

"The structural issues are not of an urgent nature and can be delayed for a period of up to two years."

The Defence Department and the Correctional Service of Canada both declined comment.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay bristled Tuesday in the House of Commons at an opposition MP's suggestion that thicker walls could have better withstood the blast.

"Mr. Speaker, with respect, I do not think the honourable member is somehow suggesting that a suicide bomb attack, where explosives were placed on a fuel truck, could have been prevented in any way by having a thicker wall at the prison," he said.

Last week's attack began when a tanker truck full of explosives detonated at the prison's main gate, killing the police officers stationed at the outpost. Shortly afterward, a suicide bomber on foot blasted a hole in the wall at the back of the prison, and several hundred inmates escaped.

MacKay added that Canada has helped Afghan authorities build a wall of watch towers as part of the $1.5 million announced last fall for projects at Sarposa prison and another detention facility in Kandahar.
Brian MacDonald, senior analyst with the Conference of Defence Associations, said it's likely the state of the prison walls made it easier for insurgents to blast through them.

"If they had not been fixed and if they continued [with] another two years of deterioration, it's entirely possible that the condition of the walls facilitated being able to blow a hole in it," he said.

Security expert Wesley Wark agreed.

"It probably makes things easier to blow the wall down, and, certainly, the Taliban was very successful in doing that," he said.
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Detainees recruited for jihad
Seattle Times, United States By Tom Lasseter McClatchy Newspapers
GARDEZ, Afghanistan-Mohammed Naim Farouq was a thug in the lawless Zormat district of eastern Afghanistan. He ran a kidnapping and extortion racket, and he controlled his turf with a band of gunmen who rode around in trucks with AK-47 rifles.

U.S. troops detained him in 2002, although he had no clear ties to the Taliban or al-Qaida. By the time Farouq was released from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the next year, however — after more than 12 months of what he described as abuse and humiliation at the hands of U.S. soldiers — he'd made connections to high-level militants.

In fact, he'd become a Taliban leader. When the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency released a stack of 20 "most wanted" playing cards in 2006 identifying extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan — with Osama bin Laden at the top — Farouq was 16 cards into the deck.

A McClatchy Newspapers investigation found that instead of confining terrorists, Guantánamo often produced more of them by rounding up common criminals, conscripts, low-level foot soldiers and men with no allegiance to radical Islam — thus inspiring a deep hatred of the United States in them — and then housing them in cells next to radical Islamists.

The radicals were quick to exploit the flaws in the U.S. detention system.

Soldiers, guards or interrogators at the U.S. bases at Bagram or Kandahar in Afghanistan had abused many of the detainees, and they arrived at Guantánamo enraged at America.

The Taliban and al-Qaida leaders in the cells around them were ready to preach their firebrand interpretation of Islam and the need to wage jihad, Islamic holy war, against the West. Guantánamo became a school for jihad, complete with a council of elders who issued fatwas — binding religious instructions — to the other detainees.

Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, until recently the commanding officer at Guantánamo, acknowledged senior militant leaders gained influence and control in his prison.

"We have that full range of [Taliban and al-Qaida] leadership here, why would they not continue to be functional as an organization?" he said. "I must make the assumption that there's a fully functional al-Qaida cell here at Guantánamo."

Afghan and Pakistani officials also said they were aware that Guantánamo was churning out new militant leaders.

In a classified 2005 review of 35 detainees released from the camp, Pakistani police intelligence concluded the men — the majority of whom had been subjected to "severe mental and physical torture," according to the report — had "extreme feelings of resentment and hatred against USA."

"A lot of our friends are working against the Americans now, because if you torture someone without any reason, what do you expect?" Issa Khan, a Pakistani former detainee, said in Islamabad. "Many people who were in Guantánamo are now working with the Taliban."

In interviews, former U.S. Defense Department officials acknowledged the problem, but none would speak about it openly because of its implications: U.S. officials mistakenly sent a lot of men who weren't hardened terrorists to Guantánamo, but some of them had become just that by the time they were released.

Requests for comment from senior Defense Department officials went unanswered. The Pentagon official in charge of detainee affairs, Sandra Hodgkinson, declined interview requests.

However, dozens of former detainees, many reluctant to talk for fear of being branded as spies by the extremists, described a network — at times fragmented, and at times startling in its sophistication — that allowed Islamist radicals to gain power inside Guantánamo:

• Extremists recruited new detainees by offering to help them memorize the Quran and study Arabic.

• Taliban and al-Qaida leaders appointed cellblock leaders. When there was a problem with guards, such as allegations of Quran abuse or rough searches of detainees, these "local" leaders reported up their chains of command whether the men in their block had fought back with hunger strikes or by throwing cups of urine and feces at guards. Senior leaders then decided whether to call for large-scale hunger strikes or other protests.

• Al-Qaida and Taliban leaders at Guantánamo issued rulings that governed detainees' behavior. Shaking hands with female guards was haram — forbidden — men should pray five times a day and talking with U.S. soldiers should be kept to a minimum.

The recruiting and organizing don't end at Guantánamo. After detainees are released, they're visited by extremists who try to cement the relationships formed in prison.

"When I was released, they [Taliban officials] told me to come join them, to fight," said Alif Khan, an Afghan former detainee whom McClatchy interviewed in Kabul. "They told me I should move to Waziristan," a Taliban hotbed in Pakistan.

U.S. officials tried to stop detainees from turning Guantánamo into what some former U.S. officials have since called an "American madrassa" — an Islamic religious school — but some of their efforts backfired.

The original Guantánamo camp, Camp X-Ray, was little more than a collection of wire-mesh cells in which detainees were grouped together without much concern for their backgrounds.

In April 2002, U.S. officials shifted detainees to Camp Delta, which grew to include a series of camps organized by security level.

The idea was that detainees who presented graver threats and were uncooperative would be separated from those with looser ties to international terrorism.

What the plan overlooked — according to several detainees and a former U.S. defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject — is that even midlevel al-Qaida members had been trained in resistance techniques, and one was to avoid calling attention to yourself. An angry cabdriver from Kabul, in other words, may have been more likely to attack a guard and end up in Camp Three than an al-Qaida extremist was.

Abdul Zuhoor, an Afghan detainee who spent time in Camp Four, said radical detainees used the system to their full advantage.

Zuhoor said he remembered watching groups of senior Taliban and Arab detainees meet in the exercise yard.

"They considered themselves the elders of Guantánamo," Zuhoor said in the Afghan town of Charikar. "They met as a shura [religious] council."

In June 2006, Zuhoor said, a Taliban member at Guantánamo bragged to him that there soon would be three "martyrs."

"The Arabs and some Taliban sat together and issued a verdict," Zuhoor said. "Three of the men volunteered to kill themselves to get more freedom for the other detainees."

The next morning, Zuhoor said, the news spread across Guantánamo: Three Arabs had committed suicide.

The commander at the time, Rear Adm. Harry Harris, called the suicides acts of "asymmetric warfare."
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After Battle in Afghanistan Villages, Marines Open Complaint Shop
To Win Over Civilians, Soldiers Take Claims for Damages; a Free Wind-Up Radio
Wall Street Journal By MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS June 18, 2008
GARMSIR, Afghanistan-During a month of house-to-house combat, First Lt. Steven Bechtel's men fired about 500 mortar rounds at Taliban insurgents.

Now, he's paying the price.

Just two days after the main Taliban force was routed, Lt. Bechtel put aside his weapons and opened what amounts to a wartime complaints desk in a mud-brick hut. The lieutenant and his men spend their time cataloging the destruction and issuing vouchers to compensate villagers for their losses, whether caused by U.S. missiles or Taliban grenades.

"We're very sorry for the damage to your doors, but we had to make sure the Taliban didn't leave any bombs or weapons inside," Lt. Bechtel last week told Abdul Majid, a 70-year-old with a weathered face, a dense white beard and a cane made from a tree limb.

"It's no problem," Mr. Majid responded. "You're paying for it."

The First Battalion of the Sixth Marine Regiment was recently deployed to Afghanistan as part of a force, 3,000-strong, helping to turn the tide against a resurgent Taliban. What resulted was a conventional battle that raged through the villages and poppy fields of Garmsir District, a major waypoint for insurgents leaving safe havens in Pakistan, a sign of how far Western gains have slipped recently.

The fighting sent civilians fleeing into the surrounding desert. After the violence ebbed, the villagers returned, in many cases to homes cracked open by artillery, bombs, missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. Soon they were lined up at Lt. Bechtel's door, testing the Marines' ability to shift gears on the fly, from combat to the struggle for popular allegiance. Winning over the locals has always been a goal; now, it's happening in double-quick time.

"It just switched suddenly one day," says Lt. Bechtel, a soft-spoken 24-year-old from Naples, Fla., who decided in the eighth grade that he wanted to be a Marine. "All of the sudden there were civilians in the area."

More than 200 villagers have applied for compensation already, and a vendor has set up shop outside the coiled razor-wire barrier selling cigarettes and soda to the petitioners. At the first coils, the villagers, all men or boys, must lift their shirts or robes to show that they aren't wearing suicide vests. At the guard post, a Marine sentry pats them down before they're allowed to approach the office.

The walls inside are adorned with posters of sumptuous feasts and the holy city of Medina. They're property of the compound's owner. The Marines commandeered the man's residence during the fighting, and now scores of men from the battalion's Alpha Company camp in his buildings and sandy yard, for which they pay the equivalent of $60 a month in rent. The troops promise to leave as soon as they have built a base of their own. But the owner comes by almost daily to demand his house back, or at least more rent.

Verifying the Damage
The first time a villager comes to the complaint office, the lieutenant or his No. 2, Sgt. James Blake, a 25-year-old from Merrimack, N.H., jots down the claim on a piece of yellow legal paper. The petitioner takes the note to a Marine patrol in his neighborhood. The Marines verify the damage and send the man back to Lt. Bechtel.

At the second meeting, the Marines tally up the cost, using data on an Excel spreadsheet that the lieutenant, who majored in mechanical-engineering at Virginia Military Institute, compiled using prices gathered from the local market:

-- One foot of mud wall knocked down: 300 afghanis ($6)

-- One wooden door smashed in: 1,000 afghanis ($20)

-- One acre of wheat burned: 15,000 afghanis ($300)

The Marines won't pay for damage to opium poppy fields.

A typical damage-assessment interview goes like this:

Sgt. Blake: "Were your windows glass, sir?"

Bismullah Jan, a 25-year-old wheat, corn and poppy farmer: "Yes."

Sgt. Blake: "How many cows, sir?"

Mr. Jan: "Three cows and three goats."

Sgt. Blake to his Pashto interpreter: "Hey, James, what's a good price for goats? Just a ballpark figure."

Interpreter: "5,000 or 6,000 afghanis." ($100 to $120)

Sgt. Blake adds up the damage and offers 251,000 afghanis ($5,020). Mr. Jan hoped for something more. He emptied his pockets and held up two 100 afghani bills, worth $2 each -- a plea of poverty.
"Unfortunately, all I can do is pay for damage caused when we were fighting the Taliban," Sgt. Blake told him apologetically.

On a single day last week , the Marines pledged $12,100 in reparations. "I'd rather be shooting mortars," says Sgt. Blake. "But I understand why we're doing this, paying for the damage we caused. And I like helping people out as much as we can."

The Marines take retinal and fingerprint scans of all petitioners -- when the scanner works. When it doesn't, as is often the case amid the dust clouds and the 125-degree heat, they use a regular digital camera to snap mug shots taken against handwritten height marks on the wall.

Taliban Threats
Taliban infiltrators have threatened to kill villagers who accept American money, according to U.S. intelligence reports. Still, petitioners keep coming.

"Congratulations -- you're No. 200," Sgt. Blake said when a man in a gold-embroidered skullcap entered the office the other day. "You've won a free radio."

The man greeted the news with a blank stare. But he willingly accepted the wind-up radio and a damage-assessment note to take to the Marine patrols.

Afghanistan is a wretchedly poor country and, often, villagers hope the Marines will do more than compensate them for battle damage. One man showed up with his son; their house was undamaged, but the boy had tuberculosis. Another man shows up almost every day just to say hello.

Mr. Majid, the elderly petitioner, patted Lt. Bechtel on the shoulder and removed his own blue turban -- gestures of gratitude -- when offered 36,000 afghanis, or about $720, to repair his house and restore his fields. Afterward, he requested medicine for his headaches and help feeding his family. By the time he left, Mr. Majid had a new radio, a few packaged military meals, Tylenol for his head and antidiarrhea medicine for his grandson.

There's one flaw in the Marines' campaign. While they freely issue compensation vouchers, they don't have any actual money to give out yet. The cash, the Marines tell the villagers, will be here on July 1. The date has already slipped once, from mid-June, and some people doubt they'll ever see the money. "If we don't pay them on the first," Sgt. Blake said, "it's going to be bad."

Write to Michael M. Phillips at michael.phillips@wsj.com 
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Army arrests 10 'Talib policemen'
www.quqnoos.com Written by M Reza Sher Mohammadi Tuesday, 17 June 2008 
Police deny the men, dressed up as officers, were working for the Taliban
AFGHAN soldiers have arrested 10 people disguised in police uniform who they suspect of working for the Taliban – but police claim the men work for them.

The army said the men failed to produce proper police documents, but police in the Shindand district of Herat province, where the 10 were arrested on Monday, said the men worked for the police in the neighbouring province of Farah.

An army officer in Herat said the men belonged to the Taliban and were involved in armed thefts on the local highways.

The spokesman for the regional police force, Abdul Rawoof Ahmadi, said the arrested men worked for the ministry of defense and were tasked with providing security for the Bakhshabad dam in Farah province.

This is the second time in the last week the Afghan army has arrested men disguised as police officers for colluding with the Taliban in the province.

Five days ago, eight people were arrested in the district allegedly dressed in police uniform without proper police documents.

Last month, a suicide bomber attacked a police checkpoint in Farah using a police car packed with explosives.

Police say the Taliban often steal police cars and then use them against their officers.
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Rebel threats force 35,000 pupils from class
Written by www.quqnoos.com Tuesday, 17 June 2008 
Warnings deprive district's young of an education, officials say
ABOUT 35,000 students have skipped school for the past ten days in the Qarabaqh district of Ghazni province following threats from the Taliban, officials say.

The governor of Qarabagh said most of the district’s schools have been closed ever since militants threatened to kill students and teachers if the school stayed open.

The head of the districts schools has urged local elders to talk with the Taliban about re-opening the schools.

So far this year, militants have set fire to 53 schools in the country, according to the Education Ministry.
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Afghan blind are 90% curable - minister
Written by www.quqnoos.com Tuesday, 17 June 2008 
About 400,000 people living in Afghanistan suffer from blindness
ABOUT 400,000 people in Afghanistan are blind, but 90% of all blindness in the country is curable, the deputy minister of health has said.

Deputy Minister Nadira Hayat said eye-problems such as eye shadow, cataracts and short-sightedness are among the main causes of blindness in the country and are easily cured providing treatment is available.

A lack of social awareness and a lack of professional doctors in rural areas of the country have triggered an increase in the number of blind people, the ministry says.

The ministry plans to inject money into opticians around the country up until 2020 in an attempt to eradicate curable forms of blindness with the help of the World Health Organisation.

Training opticians and building public awareness about eye disease will be part of the programme.
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Saving Parwez Kambakhsh
International pressure is all that stands between a young journalism student and the death penalty, say his supporters.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Jean MacKenzie in Kabul 16-Jun-08
A subdued, anxious crowd filled the courtroom of the Kabul Appeal Court on June 15 for the latest installment in the case of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, the Afghan journalism student facing a death sentence for blasphemy.

There was little evidence of the international media in the courtroom, and the few foreign diplomats present sat quietly, some conferring with the defence from time to time.

The lack of a strong international presence could be bad news for Kambakhsh. Several sources close to the case have said international attention is the only thing sustaining his appeal.

“If the eyes of the world were not on him, this judge would just hang Kambakhsh,” said one insider, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Presiding judge Abdul Salam Qazizada has weathered several Afghan administrations. He is a holdover from the Taleban regime, and his antagonism to the defendant was visible.

By the end of the June 15 session, it was clear there was to be no swift end to proceedings against Kambakhsh, 23, who is accused of “insulting Islam and abusing the Holy Prophet Mohammad”.

For the fourth time in the past 30 days, the case was adjourned without a decision.

During the session, Qazizada appeared to take on the role of prosecutor rather than impartial judge, engaging in a legal duel with defence attorney Mohammad Afzal Nooristani. Lacking a gavel, he repeatedly banged his pen against his microphone in an effort to halt Nooristani’s defence of his client.

Time and again the judge attacked Kambakhsh, who sat pale but composed in the defendant’s chair.

“Just tell me why you did these things,” insisted Qazizada. “What were your motives?”

“I cannot give you reasons, since I did not do anything,” responded Kambakhsh.

The young student is accused of downloading and distributing a text from the internet that criticises, sometimes quite harshly, Islam’s treatment of women. The prosecution contends that Kambakhsh added several paragraphs of his own, and that this proves he is “against Islam”.

In Afghanistan, this is a capital crime, at least according to the court in Balkh province which issued the death sentence in a closed session in late January.

Kambakhsh has consistently denied downloading or handing out the article, still less writing any part of the offending text.

He claims that a confession he signed while held in custody by the National Security Directorate was coerced, and stated that security forces broke his nose and left hand. He told the court that he came under psychological pressure and signed the confession out of fear.

A previous session, on June 1, ended with a defence motion to have Kambakhsh examined for signs of physical trauma.

The results from the department of forensic medicine were inconclusive. In findings read out on June 15, doctors stated that while Kambakhsh’s nose showed a slight deviation, it could be a congenital defect as well as evidence of injury. No pathology was found in the left hand, but, according to the statement, there had been ample time for any injury to heal in the seven months since the beating was alleged to have taken place.

This session was the first time the defence had been allowed to read out a statement rebutting the charges against Kambakhsh.

The prosecution also gave a statement, outlining the evidence that had been gathered.

Once prosecutor Ahmad Khan Ayar concluded his statement, he traded a few jabs with Nooristani, but was soon overshadowed by the presiding judge.

“It is clear that this text belongs to you,” Qazizada told Kambakhsh, When the defendant attempted to protest, he was silenced by the judge’s irritable banging on the mike.

After lunch, the case took an even more sombre tone, as Qazizada intensified his pressure on the defence.

“Kambakhsh may have wanted to make himself popular by writing this text,” he thundered, his voice in the microphone nearly drowning out the simultaneous translation.

“Why was he the only one arrested? Balkh University is very large – why should Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh be arrested and prosecuted? Can you tell me?” he asked, turning to the defendant.

Kambakhsh tried to explain once again that he had no connection with the offending text, that he had no idea why he was arrested, and that he had made the confession under duress.

But the judge was not convinced.

“I have seen the documents, I have read them,” he roared. “[The content] is against Islam.”

The court was also presented with a long list of Kambakhsh’s alleged failings, such as that he was a socialist, impolite, and asked too many questions in class. He was also accused of having swapped off-colour jokes with friends via text messaging on his mobile phone.

When the judge read out one text-message anecdote in a tone of high indignation, several people in the audience had to repress a smile.

The court finally adjourned in order to summon witnesses from Balkh province, whose written testimony provided the body of the case. No date has been set for the next session.

The defendant’s brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, who has been a reporter with IWPR for the past six years, was visibly upset by the day’s events.

“Welcome to the Middle Ages,” he grimaced.

A foreign diplomat also expressed consternation at the way the trial was being conducted.

“I do not see any way out,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonmity.

The government of Afghanistan has come under high-level pressure to find a solution for Kambakhsh, whose case has come up in talks between President Hamed Karzai and several international leaders, including United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

Karzai has made public assurances that “justice will be done” but so far has not openly intervened in the case.

In the months since his sentencing, Kambakhsh has become an international figure, his face appearing on posters and the front pages of newspapers. Britian’s Independent newspaper launched a campaign, gathering tens of thousands of signatures to support the young man.

There is a danger that as time drags on, the level of interest will drop, along with the protection it affords.

“Time means nothing to us,” said Qazizada, adjourning the case yet again.

“That is easy for him to say,” said Ibrahimi, as his brother was led out of the court in handcuffs. “He goes home every night. Parwez is spending his time in prison.”
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