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June 21, 2008 

Six foreign soldiers, scores of rebels slain in Afghanistan
by Sardar Ahmad June 21, 2008
KABUL (AFP) - Six foreign troops including a Polish national were slain in bombings in Afghanistan on Saturday, the forces said, making it the deadliest day for international soldiers in the war-torn nation this year.

Marines claim some gains in southern Afghan town
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
GARMSER, Afghanistan - U.S. Marines are trading gunfire and artillery shells with Taliban militants in the volatile southern province of Helmand, the world's largest poppy growing region.

Afghanistan foreign troop deaths in June exceed those in Iraq
(CNN) -- Five foreign troops were killed Saturday in Afghanistan, bringing the number of NATO and U.S.-led coalition troop deaths in June to 32 -- more than in Iraq.

Shells from Pakistan hit Afghan bases
Sat Jun 21, 3:22 PM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Artillery shells fired from Pakistan landed in an Afghan army compound and close to an international military base in Afghanistan on Saturday and NATO forces returned fire, the alliance said.

German Minister Wants More Troops in Afghanistan
Deutsche Welle
German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung will next week announce plans for the future strength of German troops in Afghanistan, a spokesman said on Saturday, June 21. It's thought another 1,000 troops could be deployed.

Moscow arms for Afghanistan
Sat Jun 21, 4:19 AM ET
MOSCOW (AFP) - Moscow and Washington have agreed a deal in principle over the supply of Russian weaponry to the Afghan army in its fight against the Taliban insurgency, senior diplomats announced in a statement.

U.S. indicts 4 in Afghan ammunition case
The International Herald Tribune By Eric Schmitt Saturday, June 21, 2008
WASHINGTON: The 22-year-old president of a Miami Beach arms-dealing company and three other people were charged Friday with selling prohibited Chinese ammunition to the Pentagon to supply Afghan security forces, federal officials said.

Paying off a debt with a daughter
Saturday, 21 June 2008 BBC News
The ban on poppy farming in Afghanistan may hamper the heroin trade but it also leaves farmers in poverty.

Afghanistan: British troops shooting themselves in the foot over Taliban fight
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom By Thomas Harding 21/06/2008
Outdated tactics and severe equipment shortages are our worst enemies in Afghanistan, not the Taliban, argues Thomas Harding.

Afghan justice, agriculture sectors grow, confront opium trade
Baz Mohammad case illustrates U.S.-Afghan cooperation
Source: United States Department of State By Julie Hyman and Michael Buchanan June 20, 2008
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and its Afghan partners shut down the powerful drug trafficking organization of Haji Baz Mohammad, a Taliban-linked narco-terrorist, in 2005, after a four-year battle

Tyre smuggling thru Afghanistan continues unabated
By Mansoor Ahmad The News International (Pakistan) June 21, 2008
LAHORE: Truck tyre smuggling goes on unabated on the Pak-Afghan border as difference between the cost to importer and smuggler varies in the range of Rs3,000 to Rs5,000, providing a huge incentive to import this item through illegal channels.

Afghanistan: Taliban still strong despite NATO operation
Kabul, 20 June (AKI) - The Taliban remains a strong threat in southern Afghanistan despite claims by NATO and government officials that insurgents were driven out of areas near the city of Kandahar on Thursday.

Would help protect pipeline, Canada says
SHAWN MCCARTHY
OTTAWA (Globe and Mail) 20 June 2008— Canadian Forces would support the Afghan National Army in providing security for a proposed natural gas pipeline through war-torn Kandahar if the Afghanistan government asks for help

Afghanistan's new front: natural gas
Globe and Mail Update June 20, 2008 at 2:00 PM EDT
A $7.6-billion (U.S.) pipeline is slated to be built through Afghanistan, The Globe and Mail's Shawn McCarthy reported Thursday in his article Pipeline opens new front in Afghan war

A prophetic voice on Taliban calls out again
By Jane Perlez
LAHORE, Pakistan (International Herald Tribune) : Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani expert on the Taliban, who until 9/11 knew them better than almost any outsider, has over the decades turned out to be something of a prophet in the region, though mostly of the Cassandra type.

Pakistan's US ambassador urges patience over negotiations with tribes along Afghan border
International Herald Tribune - Americas The Associated Press June 21, 2008
WASHINGTON-Pakistan's new ambassador to the United States is urging patience for those in Washington frustrated with his government's pursuit of peace deals with tribes along the lawless Pakistani-Afghan border.

Terror and Consent: The Wars for the 21st Century
by Philip Bobbitt The Sunday Times Review by Max Hastings June 20, 2008
As this American presidency stumbles towards its conclusion, there is an overwhelming liberal consensus on both sides of the Atlantic that George Bush has got it wrong about almost everything: declaring a “war on terror”;

The Taleban can't win in Afghanistan - but nor can we
History teaches us that British defiance always turns to compromise. Why should it be different in Afghanistan?
The Times Matthew Parris June 21, 2008
It has been hard over the past fortnight to avert our eyes for long from Helmand, and from the task facing the British Forces in Afghanistan. As I write there have been nine deaths in the past nine days, and - although perhaps it shouldn't

A prophetic voice on Taliban calls out again
International Herald Tribune, France By Jane Perlez  June 20, 2008
LAHORE, Pakistan-Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani expert on the Taliban, who until 9/11 knew them better than almost any outsider, has over the decades turned out to be something of a prophet in the region, though mostly of the Cassandra type.

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Six foreign soldiers, scores of rebels slain in Afghanistan
by Sardar Ahmad June 21, 2008
KABUL (AFP) - Six foreign troops including a Polish national were slain in bombings in Afghanistan on Saturday, the forces said, making it the deadliest day for international soldiers in the war-torn nation this year.

Meanwhile, the Afghan army said five Afghan troopers and dozens of militants were killed in operations across the country in the last 24 hours.

Four of the foreign troops serving in the US-led coalition were killed when insurgents attacked them with an improvised bomb and small arms fire just outside the strategic southern city of Kandahar on Saturday, the force said.

"Four coalition service members were killed and two more were seriously wounded today in an IED (improvised explosive device) strike while conducting operations in Kandahar province," a statement from the force said.

A coalition spokesman later told AFP that the "complex attack" included a roadside bomb explosion followed by small arms fire west of the volatile city. The soldiers' nationalities were not revealed.

Another soldier serving under the same deployment died in a similar bomb explosion overnight in the southwestern province of Farah, the force said.

In another bomb attack like the ones that killed the troops serving in the US-led coalition, a Polish soldier in the separate NATO-led International Security Assistance Force was killed in the eastern province of Paktika, ISAF and the Polish defence ministry said.

Four other soldiers were injured, they said.

Ninety-nine foreign soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this year, 32 since the beginning of June, the deadliest month for the deployment this year, according to an AFP tally.

In another improvised bomb explosion, two Afghan soldiers were killed and three wounded in the southern province of Zabul, according to a police commander.

Three other Afghan troops died in fighting that left a dozen rebels dead in the eastern province of Kunar, provincial governor, Fazlullah Wahedi, told AFP.

"The bodies of the enemies have been recovered," he said.

The insurgents in Kunar launched a rocket on a civilian hospital after the fighting, killing a civilian worker in Asadabad, the province's capital, an official said.

"Taliban fired a rocket which landed on our hospital. A construction worker was killed and three others were injured in the attack," the provincial head of public health, Assadullah Fazli, told AFP.

The US-led force said "several militants" were killed in operations across Afghanistan, including Kapisa, which is located some 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Kabul.

"Within the last 24 hours the coalition force reported they have killed approximately 35 insurgents in (separate) operations," US Lieutenant Nathan Perry, a military spokesman, told AFP.

Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for US president, said earlier this week that the real front of the "war on terror" was now Afghanistan and the US mission in Iraq has been a diplomatic and financial disaster.

Nineteen coalition soldiers were killed in hostile fire in Afghanistan last month, while 17 died in action in Iraq over the same period, according to US Defence Department statistics on the independent icasualties.org website.

The overall death tolls for coalition soldiers in May were 23 in Afghanistan and 21 in Iraq, according to icasualties.org.

General Sher Mohammad Karimi, chief of operations for the US-trained Afghan army, said the jump in foreign military casualties was due to the recent widespread use of roadside and suicide bombings.

But General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, chief spokesman for the Afghan army, blamed a controversial peace deal between Pakistan's government and Islamic militants.

"Peace talks between Pakistan and the terrorists are resulting in more attacks in Afghanistan. The high casualties are because of that," Azimi said at a news conference with Karimi.

Since their removal from power in late 2001 in a US-led invasion, the Taliban have regrouped and are trying to depose the US-backed government in Kabul by waging a bloody insurgency that has gained pace in the past two years.

Hundreds of insurgents escaped from a prison in Kandahar last Friday, prompting 1,000 Afghan and foreign forces to launch an operation to hunt the rebels who had massed outside the city following the jailbreak.

Nearly 100 rebels were killed during an operation in Arghandab district, this week, Karimi said, raising the death toll from 56.

"There still might be some Taliban in the area hiding. A search operation is underway," Karimi said, adding the district was likely to be declared "free-of-enemy" by Monday.

ISAF and the US-led force have about 70,000 troops in Afghanistan.
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Marines claim some gains in southern Afghan town
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
GARMSER, Afghanistan - U.S. Marines are trading gunfire and artillery shells with Taliban militants in the volatile southern province of Helmand, the world's largest poppy growing region.

The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit moved into the town of Garmser in late April. It's the farthest south U.S. forces have been in Afghanistan in years.

Marine commanders say the Taliban brought in arms and fighters in response, to protect the lucrative poppy fields that cover Garmser. The Taliban derives tens of millions of dollars from the poppy trade each year by taxing farmers and charging safe passage fees.

The Marines originally planned to be in Garmser for only a couple of days, to open a road that leads to southern Helmand, near the border with Pakistan. But the 24th MEU decided to extend its stay to root out the fighters.

After weeks of skirmishes with insurgents — who fired rockets and mortars at U.S. positions several times daily — NATO officials say the militants fled the region late last month. A shura — a council of village elders — was held in Garmser for the first time in years.

"Many of the people who have approached our patrols have told us how happy they are that the insurgents have left. They seem genuinely glad to be home," said Lt. Col. Anthony Henderson, the commanding officer of the MEU's infantry battalion.

Helmand province is the world's largest opium poppy growing region, the main ingredient in heroin.

The Marines arrived during the poppy harvest season, but didn't cut down the flowery plants. That would have alienated farmers and labors with no other means of feeding their families, the Marines said. Most of the profits in the poppy trade go to traffickers, not farmers.

"Poppy fields in Afghanistan are (like) the cornfields of Ohio," said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Stover, 28, of Marion, Ohio. "When we got here they were asking us if it's OK to harvest poppy and we said, 'Yeah, just don't use an AK-47.'"

British troops have responsibility for Helmand and maintain a small outpost on the northern tip of Garmser, but don't have enough soldiers to move farther south.

U.S. and British advisers hope to bring Afghan security forces into Garmser to capitalize on the Marines' gains, but the Afghan government probably does not have enough trained forces to move into Garmser either. That means the Taliban could move back in if the Marines leave.

The situation underlines why NATO commanders have called for NATO countries to contribute up to another 10,000 forces into Afghanistan.

The U.S. now has a record 33,000 troops in the country, part of an international force that has grown to almost 70,000 troops.
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Afghanistan foreign troop deaths in June exceed those in Iraq
(CNN) -- Five foreign troops were killed Saturday in Afghanistan, bringing the number of NATO and U.S.-led coalition troop deaths in June to 32 -- more than in Iraq.

Foreign troop deaths in the Afghan war have been exceeding those in the Iraq conflict in recent weeks, according to figures compiled by CNN.

The trend reflects a surge in attacks and clashes during the warmer months in Afghanistan, where U.S.- and NATO-led troops have been fighting tenacious Taliban militants. It also points to a decrease in violence in Iraq.

Four service members assigned to the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan were killed Saturday by a roadside bomb and small-arms fire on a Task Force Phoenix convoy, said Lt. Col. Paul Fanning, spokesman for the U.S. military.

The convoy was on a mission to train Afghan national police and soldiers when it was attacked, Fanning said. About three dozen nations have committed troops to that training effort, which includes more than 700 training teams and 8,000 trainers across Afghanistan.

Two other troops were seriously wounded in the attack. Watch journalists break out their flak jackets »

Also early Saturday, a Polish soldier assigned to NATO's International Security Assistance Force was killed and four others were wounded by a roadside bomb while on patrol in the Dila district of Afghanistan's Paktika province, the assistance force said.

Later Saturday, a NATO-led base and an Afghan military compound were attacked from across the border in Pakistan, the assistance force said. There were no reported casualties in the incident at 5:15 p.m. The Pakistan military was notified.

At least 32 troops assigned to the U.S.-led coalition and NATO's International Security Assistance Force have died in Afghanistan in June.

At least 12 Americans, nine Britons, two Canadians, one Pole, a Romanian and a Hungarian have died in Afghanistan in June. The nationalities of six other fatalities have not been released.

In comparison, 19 coalition troops have died in June so far in Iraq, comprising 18 Americans and one from the Republic of Georgia. There are no NATO troops in Iraq.

Aggressive military campaigns against Sunni and Shiite militants have helped reduce casualties in Iraq, as have efforts to bring Sunni militants into U.S.-backed militias and the cease-fire of the mainstream part of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army.

During May, 23 coalition troops died in Afghanistan and 21 died in Iraq.

The deaths last month in Afghanistan included 17 Americans, three Britons, a Canadian, a Lithuanian and an Estonian. In Iraq, there were 19 American and two Georgian deaths last month. The 19 American deaths in May represent the lowest monthly American total of the war.

Overall, the Iraq conflict has been the deadlier war for foreign troops.

More than 4,400 foreign troops have died in the Iraq war; more than 800 have died in Afghanistan. In both wars, the vast majority of fatalities are Americans.

"It's a difficult time right now, but it's an extremely dangerous job," Fanning said after Saturday's attacks in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province. "This is a combat theater. This is why we're here. The enemy's doing their best to thwart the progress we've made, but we're determined not to let them succeed."

Much of the fighting has occurred across southern Afghanistan, where Taliban attacks tend to increase as the weather warms up.

Afghan and NATO forces last week pushed Taliban militants out of several villages in the Arghandab district of Kandahar province after a huge prison break on June 13, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said.

The Afghan Ministry of Defense said 56 Taliban fighters had been killed in the operation. Officials said they had no firm figures on the number wounded.

There is fighting in other parts of the country as well.

The U.S.-led coalition said its forces on Saturday conducted precision airstrikes in Khost province targeting a Taliban commander involved with roadside bombings, foreign fighter operations and weapons smuggling.

Khost is in the eastern part of the country.

In the northeastern province of Kapisa, a coalition operation led to the deaths of several militants and the detention of three others on Friday, the coalition said Saturday.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force on Saturday also reported the deaths of several militants in fighting Thursday in Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the south.
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Shells from Pakistan hit Afghan bases
Sat Jun 21, 3:22 PM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Artillery shells fired from Pakistan landed in an Afghan army compound and close to an international military base in Afghanistan on Saturday and NATO forces returned fire, the alliance said.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, an improvised explosive device (IED) killed four U.S.-led coalition soldiers in the southern province of Kandahar, the scene of a large anti-Taliban offensive and an insurgent jail break.

Tension has mounted between Afghanistan and Pakistan in the last week after Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatened to send troops across the frontier to hunt down Taliban militants based in Pakistan's lawless border region.

"An ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) forward operating base and an Afghan National Army compound in northeastern Paktika province were attacked with indirect fire from across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border today," an ISAF statement said. No casualties were reported.

Three artillery rounds landed near the ISAF base and three rounds landed inside an Afghan army compound, it said. "ISAF forces determined the origination of the rounds to be in Pakistan and returned artillery fire in self-defense."

The Pakistani military was notified immediately when ISAF forces came under fire, the statement said. The armies of Pakistan, Afghanistan and ISAF maintain open channels of communication to avoid escalating any conflict.

A suspected Taliban rocket also hit a hospital in the northeastern town of Asadabad close to the Pakistan border on Saturday, killing one man and wounding another man and a woman, provincial Governor Sayed Fazlullah Wahidi said. He said the rocket appeared to have been fired from across the border inside Pakistan.

Taliban insurgents are able to train, equip themselves and launch attacks into Afghanistan from Pakistan's tribal belt before returning to rest and regroup, analysts say.

The Taliban leadership also directs its campaign to oust the pro-Western Afghan government and drive out foreign forces from bases inside Pakistan. Pakistan denies the charges and says it has little power over its autonomous border regions.

In Kandahar, two coalition soldiers were also wounded in the IED blast, a U.S. military statement said, without giving further details.

The Taliban have upped pressure on Kandahar in the past two weeks, freeing at least 300 of their comrades in the jail break, then occupying areas outside the town, forcing Afghan and foreign troops to launch a large offensive to clear them out.

In another incident, an IED killed a Polish soldier from the ISAF and wounded four more on Saturday in Paktika province, the Polish news agency (PAP) said.

(Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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German Minister Wants More Troops in Afghanistan
Deutsche Welle
German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung will next week announce plans for the future strength of German troops in Afghanistan, a spokesman said on Saturday, June 21. It's thought another 1,000 troops could be deployed.

Jung wants to increase German deployment in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from the current upper limit of 3,500.

Media reports have said the figure could rise to 4,500. A defense ministry spokesman said Jung would make clear the exact number at the end of next week.

Jung said in a radio interview Saturday that any increase in troop strength would be used for training and civil reconstruction projects.

"We want to increase training three-fold. Next year we want to train 7,500 Afghan troops. To achieve this we need to formulate a new upper limit for our mandate which will give German troops greater flexibility," he told German public radio.

Focus on the north

Jung stressed earlier that Germany would continue to focus its efforts on the relatively peaceful north of the country, where it will be providing the Quick Reaction Force from early July, taking over from Norway.

The current German mandate for its troops runs out in mid-October, when parliament must approve a renewal. The annual renewal usually receives broad parliamentary backing, with only the socialist Left Party firmly opposed.

 
A majority of the population opposes the deployment. A poll in February showed 85 percent of the 1,001 surveyed opposed to sending German troops to the volatile south of the country.

Germany has come under pressure from its NATO allies to increase its efforts in Afghanistan, and in particular to provide combat troops to assist the US, British, Canadian and Dutch forces fighting Taliban insurgents in the embattled south.
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Moscow arms for Afghanistan
Sat Jun 21, 4:19 AM ET
MOSCOW (AFP) - Moscow and Washington have agreed a deal in principle over the supply of Russian weaponry to the Afghan army in its fight against the Taliban insurgency, senior diplomats announced in a statement.

The deal was signed in the Russian capital as part of the United States-Russia Working Group on Counterterrorism (CTWG), although no immediate figures were put on any Russian supplies.

"An agreement in principle to provide Russian military material to the Afghanistan National Army," was concluded during a two-day meeting of the CTWG, the communique said.

Twin NATO and US operations are currently active in Afghanistan, following the US-led invasion of 2001. Russia, as part of the then Soviet Union, fought an 11-year war in Afghanistan from 1978 to 1989.

"We in the past have already provided military equipment to Afghanistan and we feel there is now a demand by the Afghan population and the ability of Afghanistan to take its security in its own hands," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak told reporters.

Kislyak said it was "possible" that Russia could increase the delivery of arms to Afghanistan. "It is possible but I would not be eager to put a number on it," he answered in reponse to a specific question.

Kislyak was speaking alongside the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, William J. Burns, as part of the conclusions of the 16th meeting of the CTWG, which meets alternately in Moscow and Washington.

The CTWG works to improve bilateral cooperation between Russia and the United States, whilst also concentrating on Afghanistan, the fight against drug trafficking, the financing of armed extremist groups and weapons of mass destruction.

The Taliban have launched a deadly insurgency since being removed from power in Kabul in 2001.

There are currently around 70,000 foreign troops in the country.
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U.S. indicts 4 in Afghan ammunition case
The International Herald Tribune By Eric Schmitt Saturday, June 21, 2008
WASHINGTON: The 22-year-old president of a Miami Beach arms-dealing company and three other people were charged Friday with selling prohibited Chinese ammunition to the Pentagon to supply Afghan security forces, federal officials said.

A federal grand jury in Miami indicted the munitions dealer, Efraim Diveroli, president of AEY, as well as two former employees and a business associate, on charges of fraud and conspiring to misrepresent the types of ammunition they sold to the Defense Department as part of a $298 million U.S. Army contract.

According to the indictment, Diveroli, his colleagues and the company sought "to unjustly enrich themselves" by shipping aged Chinese rifle cartridges to Afghanistan after claiming they were made in Albania. The army contract and U.S. law prohibit trading in Chinese arms.

A lawyer for Diveroli in Miami, Howard Srebnick, disputed the accusations in an e-mail message, saying that the U.S. ban applied only to Chinese arms bought after 1989, in response to the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, and that AEY had bought ammunition from Albania that was manufactured in China in the 1960s and 1970s.

The charges cap a federal criminal investigation that began last year into the dealings of the fledgling company and its group of 20-something executives. The U.S. military relied on them to be a principal supplier of ammunition to the Afghan security forces.

In March, the U.S. Army suspended Diveroli and the company from future federal contracts, claiming he sent a different shipment of Chinese cartridges to Afghanistan after certifying that they were made in Hungary. One month later, the State Department suspended the company's international export activities, blocking its other business.

"This is a sobering development," said Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who heads the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. "The more we learn about AEY, the more questions we have."

Before the charges were announced, the committee said it would conduct a hearing Tuesday on AEY's activities.

In addition to Diveroli, the indictment named David Packouz, a licensed massage therapist who is AEY's former vice president; Alexander Podrizki, the company's former representative in Albania; and Ralph Merrill, a business associate of Diveroli in Utah who gave the company financial and managerial assistance.

A lawyer for Packouz, Ken Kukec, declined to comment on the charges. Merrill did not return telephone messages, and Podrizki could not be reached for comment.

In January 2007, the U.S. Army awarded AEY a contract, potentially worth $298 million, that made it the primary munitions supplier for Afghan security forces in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

According to the indictment, the contract required AEY to certify that it was providing "serviceable and safe ammunition." The contract also banned supplying ammunition acquired "directly or indirectly from a Communist Chinese military company."

But the charges accuse the AEY employees and the associate of providing "instructions and guidance" on how to remove Chinese markings from the ammunition, to conceal its origins. With each shipment to Afghanistan, the charges say, Diveroli falsely certified that the Chinese rifle and machine-gun cartridges were manufactured in Albania.

The authorities said that based on these false submissions, the army had paid AEY about $10.3 million for 35 shipments of Chinese ammunition.

An examination by this newspaper earlier this year uncovered documents from Albania that showed that AEY bought more than 100 million Chinese cartridges that had been stored for decades in former Cold War stockpiles. Diveroli then arranged to have them repacked in cardboard boxes, many of which split or decomposed after shipment to the war zones. Different lots or types of ammunition were mixed. In some cases the ammunition was dirty, corroded or covered with a film.
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Paying off a debt with a daughter
Saturday, 21 June 2008 BBC News
The ban on poppy farming in Afghanistan may hamper the heroin trade but it also leaves farmers in poverty.

Kate Clark meets one who has had to negotiate the betrothal of his six-year-old daughter to pay a debt.

Jalalabad, near the junction of the Kabul and Kunar rivers, is a green city, shaded by citrus and pine trees.

In spring, the air is sweet with the fragrance of orange blossom.

Farmers who live nearby on the well-watered land are weathering the government ban on opium poppy.

Further away in the mountainous, outlying districts, the ban is hitting home hard.

The ban has made the province restive, too dangerous for me to travel through.

Growing poverty

So with a heavy heart, because I would much rather get out to the villages and sit on the floor, talking to people over tea, I have arranged for farmers to travel in to Jalalabad to see me.

Three times since 2000, a ban on poppy growing has been enforced in Nangarhar province. Cultivation has always bounced back.

But each time, the poorest farmers were left poorer and less able to cope.

One man, Juma Khan [not his real name] has come down from his village in the mountains on the Pakistan border.

Turbaned, with a white beard and a deeply lined face, he looks old enough to be a grandfather.

Selling his daughter

But he has just agreed to hand over his six-year-old daughter to pay off a debt. She is now engaged to the creditor's son.

In a country without banks, opium is the standard way to get a loan.

You borrow opium and pay back with opium.

While Juma Khan was growing poppies, he could pay off the interest on the debt, although never the capital.

The ban means he is having to grow low-value wheat.

This year, he will not even be able to feed his family.

And because he is landless, his only asset is his female children.

He has already exchanged two daughters for debt and now the youngest has wiped off a further £1,000 ($2,000) worth, a huge amount of money in rural Afghanistan.

A father here gets paid by the family of the groom, so payment of money is normal at a marriage.

Heroin trade

The shame for Juma Khan is that he has been forced to marry off his daughter.

Weaning Afghanistan off poppy cultivation must be good, you would think.

Afghan opium, processed into heroin, causes the deaths of tens of thousands of people around the world each year.

It is funding the Taleban insurgency and feeding government corruption.

Afghans usually recognise that it is a haram crop, forbidden in Islam, but if your family is facing hunger, they say, even haram crops become acceptable.

Low risk crop

And here, the poppy has always been regarded as wonderful.

In a high risk environment, it is a low risk crop.

It suits the dry climate. And even when there is war, there is always a market for opium.

And if you grow poppies, you can always get credit.

The farmers range from big landowners to subsistence peasants.

The really big profits, though, go to the traffickers, the corrupt officials, and in the south, to the Taleban who take a religious tax on the harvest.

'Better than aid'

Even so, there is a real trickle down of cash.

Poppy is a labour intensive crop, so even landless labourers get some small share of the profits.

It is more effective than aid at reaching the poor, one development worker told me.

This year in Nangarhar, growing poppies is not an option.

In Juma Khan's district, farmers have been arrested for breaking the ban.

It has become very tough for many families.

Tribal threats

Some men spoke about joining the Taleban to make money, they pay their fighters £70 ($140) a month, or the Afghan National Army who pay rather less.

Many farmers literally do not know how they are going to feed their families.

They are feeling angry and betrayed. They said the government had promised aid to help them through the ban, but they have received nothing.

Some threatened to break the ban next year.

"Our tribe is the Khogiani," said one farmer, "and we're brave like lions, a big tribe, living on the border with Pakistan."

"The government should look after poor families," he said.

And they should watch out. Afghan kings have been brought down by the tribes of Nangarhar.

But the man whose small daughter is now engaged, looks exhausted. His fighting days are long gone.

He went into debt during the jihad against the invading Soviet army, 30 years ago.

Since then, he has never managed to pay back the capital.

No shame

Did he not feel any shame, I asked, about marrying off his six-year-old?

No, he said, the real shame would have been to have his creditors knocking at his door, embarrassing him in front of the village.

Your daughter, I persisted, how does she feel?

"Oh, she's happy to be solving her father's problems," he said.

He cannot stay for long. He needs to get back home to water his fields.

The wheat crop, he said, even though it will only be enough to feed his family for a couple of months, cannot be neglected.
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Afghanistan: British troops shooting themselves in the foot over Taliban fight
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom By Thomas Harding 21/06/2008
Outdated tactics and severe equipment shortages are our worst enemies in Afghanistan, not the Taliban, argues Thomas Harding.

It's been a good fortnight for the Taliban. Nine British soldiers dead in 10 days, hundreds of imprisoned fighters set free in a daring jailbreak and the floundering Afghan government struggling to convince the population that the security they long for is close at hand.

They will be happy, too, that they have probably made the British commander regret telling me three weeks ago that the insurgency was on the verge of defeat.

Power in Afghanistan is all about posture and perception. The Taliban swept through the country in 1996, barely firing a shot, because local warlords saw that the future was with the black turban and did not want to be left behind. What will be the perception now?

It's been a good fortnight for the Taliban. Nine British soldiers dead in 10 days, hundreds of imprisoned fighters set free in a daring jailbreak and the floundering Afghan government struggling to convince the population that the security they long for is close at hand.

They will be happy, too, that they have probably made the British commander regret telling me three weeks ago that the insurgency was on the verge of defeat.

Power in Afghanistan is all about posture and perception. The Taliban swept through the country in 1996, barely firing a shot, because local warlords saw that the future was with the black turban and did not want to be left behind. What will be the perception now?

First a suicide bomber killed three Paras, and then a well-planned ambush accounted for another two. Tuesday's bomb attack left a further four soldiers dead – including, in an invaluable publicity coup for the insurgents, Corporal Sarah Bryant, 26, the first female British soldier to die in Afghanistan.

From the safety of their hideouts in Pakistan, the Taliban's leaders and their al-Qa'eda cronies will be counting the dollars from the opium harvest haul, ready to purchase more men, bombs and bullets as the fighting season begins.

After spending a week on the ground with our commanders in Lashkar Gah, and then a fortnight marching, eating and sleeping alongside the Parachute Regiment, I have heard first-hand the worries of our troops – and their diagnosis of the problem.

They fear that the "war of our generation" is turning into a slog that will suck in more troops, who will require increasing logistical support, which will in turn give the enemy many more targets.

This is because the Taliban's tactics are changing. For the first two years, we fought pitched battles against an insurgency determined to over-run our undermanned outposts, which often came close to running out of food and ammunition.

The Taliban's losses were very heavy – in the thousands. But the last fortnight could signal the start of a new approach. Why waste a score of fighters when a suicide bomber or well-placed mine will do?
With more than 8,000 British troops in Helmand, supported by 2,400 Americans, there are plenty of targets to go round.

The Taliban knows the value of public opinion – so important in a counter-insurgency battle – but you sometimes suspect that Whitehall does not. In the opening rounds of the battle for Helmand in 2006, there was no serious public debate about what the mission was. When it became clear that a very serious battle was unfolding, Downing Street banned the press from covering it, in case the public got a whiff that another bloody campaign was unravelling while the insurgency in Iraq was in full cry.

The senior members of the military cannot complain. They were the ones who assured ministers that fighting a war on two fronts was feasible, so long as troop numbers came down in Basra. They also agreed with the politicians that 3,000 men was a suitable number to contain Helmand.

Two years on, we are approaching three times that number, but the increase has gone largely unnoticed, with increments of a few hundred here and there.

Many of our best and brightest military minds – such as Brigadier Ed Butler of the SAS – have called it a day, fed up with poor pay, uncaring civil servants and having to spend too much time away from their families. But there are some very sharp men left, and many of them believe that our greatest enemy is not the Taliban, but our own doctrines and regulations.

The enemy has been forced to adapt to survive. A full-frontal assault on allied positions will fail: indeed, firing anything more than a couple of mortar rounds will attract a vicious hail of retaliatory fire.

So when he hears an Apache attack helicopter approaching, or sees a jet overhead, he no longer stands and fights, but drops his weapon and melts away, no longer a legitimate target. He knows the rules: if you are not carrying a weapon, you cannot be killed. And time is on your side.

Yes, the British might enter a district for a few weeks, but when they leave, the Taliban return, meting out brutal punishment to anyone who has co-operated with the foreigners. And the amount of force needed to take these towns and overwhelm the Taliban makes our own troops less nimble, thereby absorbing manpower, supplies and precious helicopter hours.

"The problem," says one officer, "is that we are focusing on protective mobility. We are definitely going down the road the Russians went in the Eighties, with over-reliance on massive armoured vehicles."

The debate is starting on the ground because soldiers are frustrated that they can march their hearts out all day to track the enemy, only to be blown up by a mine. They query how a lumbering convoy of 100 armoured vehicles can ever surprise an enemy who knows every rock and cave in his own back yard. The time has come, suggest some, to fight the way the enemy fights – but smarter.

In the Rhodesian insurgency, tiny units called fire forces, working in groups of four or eight, would drop into enemy territory by parachute or helicopter, unheard and unseen.

With the aid of local trackers, they remained concealed for days, watching the enemy's movements and waiting patiently for the optimum time to strike. Again and again the guerrillas were horrified as their safety cordon unravelled, with colleagues falling dead around them.

By contrast, our strategy is static, based on bases in fixed locations. Troops leave them to go on patrol in full view of the enemy – which had fatal consequences this month. "It's bloody hard to deceive the enemy with a column of ground movement that can be picked up 500 metres beyond the base," says one veteran. "The effect of four helicopters disgorging 100 soldiers from an unexpected direction would have a huge impact, and would lead to a reduction in the opportunities to blow us up with mines."

Partly, the problem is the same risk-averse culture that enveloped our campaign in Basra, where the highest priority, to which everything else was subordinated, was avoiding British deaths.

At the moment, regular troops are only allowed to move around in numbers considerably larger than the small groups of the Rhodesian campaign. Even snipers, whose pricey new long-range rifles could be a massive asset, are not allowed to go out with just a spotter, but have to be part of more unwieldy units.

For some soldiers, the excuses about excessive danger wear thin, given the huge support available from air and artillery if things go sour. "At times," one told me wearily, "I am waiting for someone to mention the Health and Safety Executive."

However, the single greatest symbol of what is going wrong with our campaign is the lack of helicopters. At some point a senior commander is going to have to find the courage to mortgage his career and say in public what so many have said to me in private – that we are losing lives needlessly because there are not enough.

The eight RAF Chinooks are being flown relentlessly, and fatigue must be setting in. The Ministry of Defence says that the answer is to fly them for even more hours per month, but that's a stupid argument: we need more airframes, more spare parts and more pilots.

This is a refrain that occurs again and again in conversations with senior officers and seasoned NCOs. "Helicopters would put you in places where vehicles cannot," says one. Another says wistfully: "If I could get my hands on four Chinooks for two whole days"

The reason why the US Marines were so successful in southern Helmand this spring was because they were able to land 600 troops in one lift in one night. In the two weeks I was with them, the Paras could only muster one air assault of two helicopters that had to go in three lifts, hugely increasing the risk of the enemy assembling an anti-aircraft team to attack them.

Then, as we pushed further into Taliban territory, we were forced to travel on foot alongside vehicles, because there were no helicopters available. The Taliban probably just laughed and walked off into the next valley.

Even when we detained a suspected roadside bomber – after slogging through the desert for hours – we almost had to release him because there was no helicopter to take him back to a legal holding facility for three days – the maximum detention time is four days.

The MoD knows that what we have is not enough, and has done for years. But the bean counters have never listened. "If the Government really cared about troops, they would pull their fingers out and get the resources out here," says one soldier.

We can win in Afghanistan, but to do so we will have to find the courage and resourcefulness shown by the enemy – not to mention a few of those long-prayed-for Chinooks.
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Afghan justice, agriculture sectors grow, confront opium trade
Baz Mohammad case illustrates U.S.-Afghan cooperation
Source: United States Department of State By Julie Hyman and Michael Buchanan June 20, 2008
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and its Afghan partners shut down the powerful drug trafficking organization of Haji Baz Mohammad, a Taliban-linked narco-terrorist, in 2005, after a four-year battle that demonstrated a strengthening collaboration between the United States and the newly democratic Afghanistan.

Baz Mohammad's arrest and conviction illustrate the significant relationship that has emerged between the United States and the Afghan government since the Taliban regime was toppled in late 2001. Under the Taliban, Afghanistan had become a safe haven for the transnational terrorist organization al-Qaida, and the Taliban regime claimed about 40 percent of Afghan drug profits. The majority of the drugs produced ended up in Europe and the United States.

One of the significant issues still facing the Afghan people is illicit opium cultivation and production. Programs are under way to change age-old farming patterns, say U.S. officials. Although crucial, improving the judicial system may not be enough to stop drug trafficking in Afghanistan, where 80 percent of citizens earn their living through agriculture.

‘Afghanistan is an opium-producing country. The United States, in coordination with Afghan officials, has not been working for long in trying to find alternate livelihoods and training [for] the Afghan farmers in ... ways to support their families as well as their judicial system. We are still at the ground level and still working hard, so progress has been made, but everyone understands that it is going to take time,’ DEA Special Agent Patrick Hamlette said at a June 19 briefing in Washington.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programs have reduced pressure to cultivate opium poppies by encouraging the return of legal commercial farming with training, seeds and fertilizer; repairing war-damaged roads and irrigation systems; and helping develop new food-processing plants and markets for legal fruit, vegetable and orchard crops. Many Afghans raise livestock, so animal health training will be provided to boost poultry and livestock production.

Afghanistan is looking to confront the narcotics trade and continue to strengthen its economy and institutions to ensure long-term stability.

After the Taliban were removed from power, the United States helped the newly democratic government to bring Baz Mohammad to justice. This case was a new undertaking for the emerging Afghan judicial system as it struggled to deal with a new constitution, corruption inside the government and pressure from outside factions.

‘I think it’s really the ability, the desire of the [administration of President Hamid Karzai] in Afghanistan to promote the rule of law that carried the day,’ said Hamlette, who led the Baz Mohammad investigation. The collaboration between the countries continues to improve the Afghan justice system, he said.

The drug kingpin, responsible for exporting $25 million of heroin from Afghanistan and Pakistan since the early 1990s, helped finance the Taliban in exchange for protection of his opium crops, heroin labs and drug routes. His organization arranged for the heroin to be imported into the United States and other countries and sold for tens of millions of dollars, according to federal authorities. Baz Mohammad called his operations a ‘jihad’ because he and his co-conspirators took Americans’ money for the heroin that was killing them, authorities said.

In October 2007 Baz Mohammad was sentenced in a New York federal court to nearly 16 years in prison.

In the new Afghanistan National Development Strategy presented at the International Conference in Support of Afghanistan in Paris recently, the Afghan government identified justice reform as a top priority. The United States has continued its support and pledged $15 million for Afghanistan’s justice sector.

According to David T. Johnson, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, American federal prosecutors are training and mentoring Afghan prosecutors and investigators to counter the drug trafficking industry. Since May 2005, nearly 1,600 defendants have been convicted in more than 1,400 cases and 55 metric tons of opium have been seized, he said.
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Tyre smuggling thru Afghanistan continues unabated
By Mansoor Ahmad The News International (Pakistan) June 21, 2008
LAHORE: Truck tyre smuggling goes on unabated on the Pak-Afghan border as difference between the cost to importer and smuggler varies in the range of Rs3,000 to Rs5,000, providing a huge incentive to import this item through illegal channels.

The News has found that smuggling is done in the open obviously with the connivance of border authorities. Any truck that crosses Pakistan Customs post with goods loaded for Afghanistan or independent tribal regions returns back to Pakistan by changing 8 to 16 old truck tyres with new ones depending on the size of the vehicle. The old tyres are also brought back by these trucks.

The price difference between a smuggled truck tyre and similar imported one is Rs3,000. Smugglers bear an expenditure of around Rs1,000 per tyre that covers traveling cost and bribe they pay for safe entry.

The importers point out that in order to curb smuggling the government a few years ago reduced duty on truck tyres to five per cent. At the same time, tyres were not allowed in the Afghan Transit Trade till 2005. This effectively curbed truck tyre smuggling.

As per unit cost of these tyres increased in the global market, they say, the impact of 5 per cent duty also rose. The decline in the value of Pakistani currency further increased compound duties on tyres that included withholding tax, import duty and sales tax on duty paid value.

Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry Vice President Shafqat Saeed Piracha, commenting on the issue, says the 5 per cent impact of import duty translates into 29 per cent increase in the original cost of imported truck tyres. Average import price of a truck tyre is Rs8,000 and 29 per cent addition of all government taxes at the import stage raises the cost to Rs10,400, he says, adding the smugglers take advantage of this price differential to marginalise legal importers.

He suggests that the only way out of this impasse is to withdraw import duty on truck tyres while the government should continue to charge sales tax. In this way, he says, the cumulative duty impact on truck tyre would come down by Rs1,000.

As a result, he says, government revenues from tyre imports would increase manifold as the smugglers would have less margin that will make smuggling unattractive.

The News has found that almost 90 per cent of car tyres are also smuggled into the country because the import duty on these tyres is 35 per cent plus sales tax and withholding tax. This duty is said to have been imposed to protect the lone car tyre manufacturer in the country.

Local car tyres are, however, found only on cars assembled in Pakistan. Buyers invariably change these tyres with smuggled ones by selling them at half their company price.

The local manufacturer does not have the capacity to fulfill even 25 per cent car tyre requirement of the country. The duty protection is simply encouraging smuggling.

It has also been found that unlike a decade ago when smuggling of big tractor tyres was not possible the price differential after payment of import duties has made even this possible, though on a limited scale. Tractor tyres are too big to be concealed and certainly find their way into the country in connivance with the authorities.

The high duty of 25 per cent on rear tractor tyres inflates the tyre price exorbitantly as 16 per cent sales tax is charged on duty paid value. A pair of rear tractor tyre now costs Rs26,000.

The importers have appealed to the government to waive duty on tractor tyres as it has withdrawn duties on all agricultural implements. That, they said, would reduce the price of a pair of rear tractor tyres by Rs10,000-12000.
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Afghanistan: Taliban still strong despite NATO operation
Kabul, 20 June (AKI) - The Taliban remains a strong threat in southern Afghanistan despite claims by NATO and government officials that insurgents were driven out of areas near the city of Kandahar on Thursday.

Two senior Afghan journalists told Adnkronos International (AKI) that Friday's suicide attack in southern Afghanistan is a clear sign that the region remains a Taliban stronghold and there were fears that security is deteriorating.

"I think it would be over-optimistic to think that an operation by international forces and the Afghan government would mean a defeat for the Taliban in the region," said Barry Salaam, chief editor of the Good Morning Afghanistan radio programme in an interview with AKI.

Salaam was referring to the two-day operation by Afghan and NATO forces against Taliban fighters who had seized several villages in the Arghandab district on the outskirts of Kandahar city.

NATO said on Thursday that the Taliban had been successfully driven from all the villages and a day later, a suicide bomber killed at least five civilians and a coalition soldier in a suicide attack in neighbouring Helmand province. Two of the victims were children.

Salaam said that the Taliban is so deeply rooted in Helmand, parts of Kandahar and Zabul provinces that Friday's attack was a reminder that even though there are large scale operations, "they can still continue with normal bombings."

"That's part of their overall strategy that they are present at all times in these regions," he told AKI.

This view was also shared by Saheem Dashty, the chief editor of the Kabul Weekly newspaper.

"This [suicide attack] is a reaction of the Taliban, to show that they are still active, that the defeat in Arghandab is not very important," Dashty told AKI.

Both journalists said that ordinary Afghans are afraid and worried that these attacks are occuring more than seven years after US-led coalition forces removed the hard-line Taliban movement from power.

"When all the international forces are in the region, you should see some positive change and yet we can't see it and this is worrying everyone here," Salaam told AKI.

The Kabul-based journalist said that last Friday's jailbreak in Kandahar city in which about 400 Taliban prisoners escaped, was "very alarming and a sign that the situation is deteriorating". The jailbreak came just before the Taliban took control of the villages in Arghandab district.

"They could not have done that without long-term planning, without local support in the prison itself," Salaam said.

"It shows that the foreign forces and the Afghan government are losing control."

The reporters also accused neighbouring Pakistan of not doing enough to stop the influx of the Taliban and other insurgents into the country.

"There is a fear among Afghans that the Pakistani government is not stopping the Taliban from crossing into Afghanistan [to carry out attacks]," Dashty told AKI.

On Sunday, Afghan president Hamid Karzai threatened to send troops over the border into Pakistan to confront the militants based there.

Pakistan for its part has warned Afghanistan from interfering in its internal affairs and says that there has to be a new approach to stopping attacks on both sides.

"Karzai's speech was supported in Afghanistan, not because Afghans support Karzai but because the people have suffered from Pakistan's policies for decades," said Dashty.

"The Taliban have a retreating base on Pakistan soil and that is making it difficult to deal with them in Afghanistan," echoed Salaam.

Salaam said what was necessary was a true commitment from the international community to solve the problem, also within Pakistan.

He also said that it was necessary for the world to remember that the Taliban claimed to be an Islamic movement and that was not true.

"Taking an innocent's life in Islam is like killing the whole of humanity," he said referring to the civilians who were killed in Friday's attack.

"This is against Islam."
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Would help protect pipeline, Canada says
SHAWN MCCARTHY
OTTAWA (Globe and Mail) 20 June 2008— Canadian Forces would support the Afghan National Army in providing security for a proposed natural gas pipeline through war-torn Kandahar if the Afghanistan government asks for help, federal officials said yesterday.

But the Canadian government has not been involved in any planning for the project, including the potential need to protect the pipeline from insurgent attacks, officials added.

Afghanistan agreed this spring with three neighbouring countries - gas-rich Turkmenistan and energy-hungry Pakistan and India - to construct a $7.6-billion (U.S.) natural gas pipeline to connect those markets by traversing the most violence-prone regions of the country.

In a report released yesterday, international energy economist John Foster said the pipeline could require Canada's assistance in providing security, particularly as Afghanistan has vowed to clear the route of land mines and insurgents before the proposed construction start date of 2010.

The United States is strongly backing the so-called TAPI pipeline, both to provide economic development in Afghanistan and as part of a broader energy-related geopolitical strategy. The Americans are eager to see the project proceed to prevent Iran from supplying Pakistan and India with gas through a rival project, and to reduce Russia's influence in the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan.

Mr. Foster said Canada risks being drawn - wittingly or not - into that "new great game" in which its forces are used to guard strategic energy infrastructure. He added, however, that the pipeline is unlikely to be built as long as the Taliban continued to battle NATO and Afghan forces in Kandahar and other southern provinces.

Federal officials said yesterday that Ottawa has played no role in planning the project, though Canada has endorsed the country's official development plan, which promotes both the gas pipeline and an aggressive effort to build power facilities in the country to provide rural electricity.

A senior defence official suggested that it is unlikely Canadian troops would be involved directly in providing security for the pipeline, but would support Afghan efforts to do so.

"We are supporting the [Afghan National Army], and if it becomes one of their priorities, then we'll support them in that priority," Colonel Gerry Champagne said during a briefing yesterday.

Another senior government official - who spoke on the condition he not be identified - said Canada broadly supports the Afghan effort to build a legitimate and stable economy, including projects like the TAPI pipeline. But Canada has not been promoting the pipeline as part of a broader geopolitical agenda, as the Americans have, he said.

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny - chairman of the Senate's national security and defence committee - said Canada has similar interests in the global energy market as the United States, and should not shy away from supporting U.S. geopolitical objectives. "I don't think we would be serving Canadian interests if we were ignoring American interests," he said.

Liberal defence critic Bryon Wilfert said the pipeline represents a welcome signal of co-operation between the participants - especially traditional rivals Pakistan and India - but will require a co-ordinated approach to security. He noted the British have supported the construction of a dam in Helmand province to provide electricity, and that facility has been the target of Taliban attacks.

"From an economic standpoint, it certainly would be very positive in terms of its construction, but with that, it's going to become a magnet for those who would want to stop progress and, of course, we know the Taliban have attacked similar projects," he said.

"So it's good news, but it means security is going to be even more of an issue."
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Afghanistan's new front: natural gas
Globe and Mail Update June 20, 2008 at 2:00 PM EDT
A $7.6-billion (U.S.) pipeline is slated to be built through Afghanistan, The Globe and Mail's Shawn McCarthy reported Thursday in his article Pipeline opens new front in Afghan war

The conduit, on which construction is to begin in 2010, will deliver natural gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India, and will pass through the volatile Kandahar province.

Energy economist John Foster says the pipeline is part of a wider struggle by the United States to counter the influence of Russia and Iran over energy trade in the region.

Mr. Foster says the Canadian government has long ignored the broader geopolitical aspects of the Afghanistan deployment, even as NATO forces, including Canadian troops, could be called upon to defend the critical energy infrastructure.

"Government efforts to convince Canadians to stay in Afghanistan have been enormous," he says in a report prepared for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a left-of-centre think tank in Ottawa.
"But the impact of the proposed multibillion-dollar pipeline in areas of Afghanistan under Canadian purview has never been seriously debated."

What could be the geopolitical fallout of this pipeline? Is Canada prepared, or willing, to become embroiled in a "new great game" over energy security that is playing out in the region? How will this change Canada's current mission in Kandahar province?

Mr. Foster, an international energy economist and an expert on the world oil scene, was online earlier today to discuss the Afghan pipeline and his report.

Your questions and Mr. Foster's answers appear at the bottom of this page.

Mr. Foster was born in London, England, and graduated from Cambridge University in economics and law. He served in the Royal Navy and went to Suez (1956). He has 40 years of worldwide experience in energy and international development — with two international development banks and two oil companies — and has worked in more than thirty countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

With British Petroleum in England and Montreal (1957-66), he worked on oil pricing and corporate strategy. At the World Bank (1966-76) in Washington, D.C., he served in its Asia Department and then became the Bank's first petroleum economist. Returning to Canada, he joined Petro-Canada when it was created and served as its lead economist (1976-81), then operated a consulting firm in Ottawa (1982-90), specializing in energy policy. He returned to Washington, D.C., and worked on energy and development issues in Latin America with the Inter-American Development Bank (1990-98), then served as an independent consultant (1998-2002). He lives in Kingston.

Shawn McCarthy, The Globe and Mail: Hi John. Thank for joining us.

I'd like to start by asking you to assess the pros and cons of the TAPI pipeline. I know you've said the project could actually be a benefit to the region, if it ever gets off the ground.

What are those benefits? And then, what is your greatest concern about it?

John Foster: Thanks, Shawn. Yes, there are pros and cons.

The good news is that the pipeline could become Afghanistan's largest development project, generating revenue for the government. Some reports say as much as half the government's current revenue.
That could help the Afghan government sustain development efforts, pay for infrastructure and teachers.

It would also provide gas to Pakistan and India, as well as Afghanistan.

Industries are planned along the pipeline route.

The bad news is that the route of the pipeline follows the main road through Afghanistan and would pass through Kandahar where the insurgency is strong. Without peace, the pipeline could become a massive target.

Shawn McCarthy: The government says Canadian Forces would not directly provide security for the project but, if asked to do so by the Kabul government, would support the Afghan National Army in securing the pipeline right-of-way and the project itself.

Do you have concerns about Canada playing such a role?

John Foster: Shawn, I am concerned because current CF commitments expire in 2011. Pipeline construction is planned to start in 2010 and finish in 2015.

What is the significance of the statement that Canada would be willing to provide security support if asked to do so?

Is this the thin edge of the wedge for extending the mission again?

The aim should be to bring in the Pashtun and Taliban as stakeholders so they are part of it. That requires a negotiated peace.

I've never made loans to developing countries with conditionality that there be a foreign army present to protect the project. It just wouldn't work.

Adam, Ottawa: I would like to first thank Mr. Foster and the CCPA for all its hard work and determination over the years! Also, I would like to say that it is about time that this issue be brought into public discourse. Thanks both to Mr. Foster and The Globe for encouraging this process.

I would like to ask what, if any, Canadian companies are involved in the pipeline project? If any, how long have they been a part of the project? Thanks.

John Foster: Adam, my understanding is that there will be a special company set up to build and operate the project. It would be composed of national oil companies from the four participating countries. These companies can sub-contract other international companies to lay and operate the pipeline.

We don't know what private companies may be interested, but Canada has plenty of capability to be involved.

Duncan Munro: How in the world can they plan to build a pipeline through a war zone and expect it to remain intact?

Which firms will profit from this pipeline? What benefit will it provide to Afghanistan?

John Foster: Duncan, I have the same concern. I'm dubious about it being a bankable project while the insurgency is so strong.

The benefits to Afghanistan are many — revenue, job-creation, energy for industry.

Foreign suppliers of goods and services would benefit too.

We've no indication of specific firms being interested yet. In my experience, with a Latin American pipeline, the companies were there, ready to go, when the enabling environment was all prepared.

K.S., Toronto: How important is the pipeline to Pakistan?

Could it be valuable enough to them to turn them into a more reliable ally in the fight against the Taliban? If the Taliban attack the pipeline or try to prevent its construction, could this drive a wedge between them and their supporters in Pakistan?

John Foster: Pakistan shares the Pashtun population with Afghanistan — 30 million people or more on both sides of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. Thus, friendship across the border is important.
Pakistan has a growing need for imported natural gas. There are 2 competing sources — Afghanistan and Iran.

Also, the pipeline requires cooperation among the participating countries. It would bind all of them together in a way that promotes peace.

Pablo, Toronto: It can be argued that most wars over the course of history have had a strong economic component.

Do you feel that the economic aspects of the many conflicts over Afghanistan have been ignored by the media and politicians? For example, did the Soviets have an economic reason for their invasion?
John Foster: Pablo, yes, arguably, many wars have had a strong economic component.

Right now, global competition over energy is massive. Oil and gas are commodities like no other — they're critical for economic growth and military power.

Economic reasons for war don't sell well with people, nor do struggles over natural resources.

That's why I wrote my report.

Paul Heinila, Toronto: This fits right into global and Central Asia geopolitics.

Russia never really let go of its grip on the area.

The U.S. effort to manifest itself in Uzbekistan failed, and Vladimir Putin moved in.

China, in its march toward a new Han 1,000-year dynasty is making deals with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

China's trade with these countries is reducing the Kremlin's influence. China builds pipelines and roads. China made the deal with Afghanistan for the rights to mine copper.

As a No. 2 in Asia, India must manifest itself also and needs the gas to stay in competition.

The EU needs to find alternate sources to reduce Russian chances for blackmail.

The U.S. needs India to check China, and the World likes to see new faces in Tehran.

That's why I think the pipeline is a good idea!

John Foster: Paul, as you point out, there's a lot of history in the region.

There is a great game for control over energy resources and routes. It's important that we understand it here in Canada.

J.D. Smith: If parents and citizens are expected to sacrifice family and country for ill-defined business objectives related to oil, the Middle East and Russia/China, then I would think that the intellectually honest thing to do would be engage the West's population in this debate. Then decide how to deal with it.

Why has this not happened?

John Foster: J.D., I share your concern that we need to debate energy issues. That's why I wrote the paper.

We should know all the reasons for war when we commit our troops. We need transparency. Let's make the debate happen.

John Mackenzie, United States: I understand that the pipeline across Afghanistan is not a new idea. When was the pipeline first planned and by whom?

John Foster: John, it was planned in the 1990s. Two consortia vied for the project, one led by Unocal (U.S.), the other by Bridas.

The U.S. government supported the Unocal consortium and was negotiating with the Taliban regime. Unocal dropped out at one point, but U.S. negotiations continued until August 2001.

After Karzai assumed office, pipeline planning continued — this time at a governmental level (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan). India entered the scene later on.

Jason Schmidt, Saskatoon: Are you sure about what you state in your report?

A lot of left-wing loonies have been arguing for years, including on the boards here at the G&M, that the whole Afghan mission was a cover to get a pipeline built and had little or nothing to do with 9/11.

Your report plays right into their hands, you know.

John Foster: Jason, my report is solid. Check the endnotes. There are 82 of them, mostly hyperlinked.

There may be many reasons for the Afghan mission. The energy issue was not talked about here in Canada, although it was all over Asia and in think tanks in U.S.

I saw an untold story. That's why I wrote the report.

There's pipeline politics involved. The U.S. wants to get some of Turkmenistan's gas going south through Afghanistan or west under the Caspian (rather than via Russia or China).

It's the New Great Game in Central Asia — for control of access to resources and export routes. Official U.S. sources confirm this.

Catherine Wilkie posted this comment on Shawn's original article. Care to respond?

"It's hard not to feel very cynical about this. So many young lives lost. We certainly are tokens to our petroleum friends."

John Foster: Catherine, I think we need to debate these issues.

Do we want our troops to protect pipelines? U.S. proposals at the NATO Summit in 2006 called for members to protect pipelines and sea lanes. No decision was made, but NATO continues to discuss energy security.

Where is the Canadian discussion? When have we had a chance to understand energy security, what it means etc.?

I too regret many young lives lost. I saw this myself at Suez in 1956. And I grew up in London during WWII. I know what it's like to be bombed.

Dean, from Winnipeg posted the following comment on Shawn's article. Care to respond?

"I think it's a good idea to help the Afghan economy and I hope the average Afghani will be able to receive jobs and training.

"But if this is a U.S.-backed project, Canada should take only a very small part in any defence and stick to its original goal — to continue to build up the infrastructure, and to defend and make safe the area alongside the Afghan army, for its residents.

"The Americans should take on the lions share of the defence for the pipeline."

John Foster: Dean, the pipeline has economic benefits for Afghanistan and I too hope development takes hold in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a tribal society. Do we understand how we may be supporting one tribe against another?

The pipeline project requires participation of all the parties as stakeholders, including the Pashtun, the southern tribes. Is bombing the way to create peace?

I'm an energy economist. I've taken part in many development projects in more than 30 countries and I've never made a loan at the end of a gun. It just doesn't work.

I thought Canadians should be debating these questions and learning more about the situation in Afghanistan.

That's what motivated me to research what was going on and write about it.

Jim Sheppard, Executive Editor, globeandmail.com: Thanks very much, John, for joining us today. I'm sure our readers appreciate your insight and analysis. Any last thoughts?

John Foster: Jim, thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to answer questions.

And congratulations to The G&M, especially Shawn McCarthy, for bringing this issue to public attention in Canada.
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A prophetic voice on Taliban calls out again
By Jane Perlez
LAHORE, Pakistan (International Herald Tribune) : Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani expert on the Taliban, who until 9/11 knew them better than almost any outsider, has over the decades turned out to be something of a prophet in the region, though mostly of the Cassandra type.

A longtime critic of the Taliban who raised alarms about the group back in the mid-1990s, Rashid, 59, has just come out with his fourth book: "Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia" (Viking, 2008), a caustic compendium of the mistakes by the Bush administration and, by extension, its regional allies, in tackling Islamic militancy.

His central argument is not original: that the money and blood spent on Iraq should have been invested instead in Afghanistan, rebuilding the country after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 drove the Taliban from power, in order to prevent the Taliban resurgence so much in evidence now. Since that was not done, Rashid says, the options for stabilizing Afghanistan have dwindled to one: Pakistan must cut its ties to the Afghan Taliban.

Rashid, who has been roaming the wilds of Afghanistan and western Pakistan since the 1960s, distinguishes between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, the latter a force that is helping to shelter Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda cells in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan.

"The Pakistani Army needs to make a strategic decision to dump support for the Afghan Taliban leadership in Quetta," he said, referring to the desert city in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan where the Afghan Taliban keep a rear base. "The Afghan Taliban can be quietly arrested and put under house arrest."

Only after that, he says, will Pakistan, and by extension, the United States, be able to reduce the threat from Al Qaeda and their brethren, the Pakistani Taliban who operate out of the tribal lands. If the Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan are not eliminated, the United States and its NATO allies will find it impossible to win what has turned out to be an unexpectedly prolonged war in Afghanistan, he argues.

Pakistani intelligence and military officials deny that there are any Afghan Taliban in Pakistani territory, but that does not stop Rashid from taking them on. Nor is he shy about pointing out what he considers the mistakes of the Bush administration and its failure to be tougher on the Pakistani government.

For too long, he insists, the Pakistan Army and the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency have protected the Afghan Taliban as a future "strategic asset" against rival India in the event the United States - widely considered a fair-weather friend - withdraws its patronage from Pakistan.

He says the Bush administration was too gentle with President Pervez Musharraf after the Pakistani leader gave his commitment to the campaign against terror following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. "The Americans never said strongly enough that Pakistan had to stop supporting the Taliban - that was because Musharraf was giving them the Al Qaeda types," he said, a reference to the capture of top Al Qaeda operatives who were captured by the Pakistanis and handed over to the United States. Bush should have insisted that Musharraf quash the Taliban too, he said.

The son of a military officer, Rashid got his first taste of guerrilla warfare after graduating from Cambridge in the late 1960s. Steeped in the era's favorites, Marx, Mao and Che, he took off for the hills of Baluchistan. He stayed for 10 years.

He was a guerrilla fighter and political organizer, and with a couple of like-minded Pakistani friends led peasants fighting for autonomy against the Pakistani government and army, with its helicopters and well-armed men.

After bouts of hepatitis and malaria and lost teeth, he emerged not exactly disillusioned, but defeated, he recalled from the comfort of his study overlooking a garden of palms.

The experience proved to be the launching pad for his real career: the prolific chronicler in books, magazines and newspaper columns of Afghanistan, Central Asia, and his homeland, Pakistan, all places that Western writers have found difficult to gain access to, let alone comprehend in their full depth and complexity.

He got to know Afghanistan when he was still behind the lines in Baluchistan in the late 1970s. The Afghan president at the time, Mohammed Daoud, provided sanctuary to Baluch refugees from the separatist movement, and in 1978, Rashid was in Kabul for the Communist coup. He was in Kandahar a year later when the Soviet military rolled in.

"I saw the invasion when all the Soviet tanks came from the town of Herat into the bazaar in Kandahar," he said. "The soldiers got off their tanks and asked for tea. There was no tension."

The tanks continued on to Kabul.

With his perfect English and his British education, he became what he calls the "intellectual repository" for Western journalists who parachuted into the Afghan capital for the Soviet Union's last big invasion. They found Afghanistan the end of the world, and trusted Rashid as their political and cultural interpreter.

It is a role he has played on a larger canvas ever since as a writer and, occasionally, a behind-the-scenes adviser to diplomats who have grappled with what to do about the Taliban.

His book "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia" (Yale University Press, 2001), an account of the rise of the mullahs in Afghanistan, was published just before the Sept. 11 attacks and has sold 1.5 million copies in English, an astonishing number for an academic press.

He was the first foreign journalist, he said, to visit the Taliban in 1994 as they emerged from the debris of civil strife in Afghanistan after the Soviets left.

"I persuaded an ABC television journalist to come with me to Kandahar, and I was shocked they wouldn't allow us to take pictures," he said. "I'd been living with the mujahedeen who loved publicity. When these guys in Kandahar wouldn't be photographed, I suddenly realized this was a completely new thing."

Intrigued, he joined their battle groups and, with his nose for being in the right place at the right time, he was in Kabul with the Taliban when they captured the capital in 1996. In his reporting, for The Far Eastern Economic Review and the British newspaper The Independent, he warned against Pakistan's decision in the mid-1990s to support the Taliban. "I wrote that it meant a continuation of the Afghan civil war."

He eventually wore out his welcome with the Taliban with the publication of his book. These days, he is more likely to be found around the dining table of his Lahore home, which is known for its fine cuisine.
Rashid is sought after for advice by diplomats in Islamabad and Kabul, and by policy makers in NATO capitals and Washington. When she was Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto asked whether he would be interested in becoming ambassador to Afghanistan, but he declined, preferring the rough and tumble of frontier reporting.

His writings have never sat well with the Inter-Services Intelligence, a subject he says he does not want to discuss beyond saying he is "unpopular." Like many Pakistanis, he has watched the unraveling of Musharraf, but he declined to predict his moment of exit.

He is on good terms with Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower, leader of the dominant Pakistan People's Party and regarded as the most powerful man in the country. But after a two-hour lunch with Zardari recently, Rashid said that he worried the new government "has no clue" about the "multilayered terrorist cake" that flourishes in the tribal areas.
 
Of the new government's attitude to the Islamic militants, he says, "They are not briefed, and I am deeply concerned."
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Pakistan's US ambassador urges patience over negotiations with tribes along Afghan border
International Herald Tribune - Americas The Associated Press June 21, 2008
WASHINGTON-Pakistan's new ambassador to the United States is urging patience for those in Washington frustrated with his government's pursuit of peace deals with tribes along the lawless Pakistani-Afghan border.

Ambassador Husain Haqqani said in an interview with Associated Press reporters and editors Friday that the United States should judge the outcome of talks being conducted by Pakistan's "fledgling democracy," not the often contentious process of negotiating.

That may be difficult advice for U.S. critics who say the peace talks have removed military pressure from the region and allowed Taliban and al-Qaida militants to regroup and stage attacks on U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan.

Haqqani said Pakistan's government, which won February elections against the party of staunch U.S. ally President Pervez Musharraf, is working to strike agreements that would require the tribes to give up their weapons, withdraw support for foreign fighters in their midst and "end attacks inside Pakistan, across the border and around the world."

"These are our own people," added the ambassador, once an adviser to former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. "We cannot, just because somebody in the United States wants us to, just go and start bombing them, without at least going through the process of showing our desire to negotiate in good faith."

A poll released Friday showed strong public support in Pakistan for negotiating with militants in the tribal regions rather than fighting them. Meanwhile, tensions between the United States and Pakistan have been high since a U.S. air strike last week killed 11 Pakistani border troops.

U.S. and Afghan officials say remnants of Afghanistan's Taliban militia are sheltering in Pakistan, which Pakistan denies. Militants based in Pakistani tribal areas, where Osama bin Laden and his top aides are believed to be hiding, say they are sending fighters into Afghanistan.

Robert Hathaway, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Asia program, said ties between Pakistan and the United States are "very troubled."

"Suspicions between the American military and the Pakistani military are the highest they've been in many years, and there's a great deal of uneasiness in the United States because the new government in Pakistan seems to be bogged down and incapable of dealing with many of the serious issues confronting the country," Hathaway said in an interview.

Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, triggered anger in Pakistan last year when he said that he might authorize U.S. troops to strike unilaterally in Pakistan if they located bin Laden.

Addressing Obama's comments, Haqqani said Pakistan understood that it was "a rhetorical answer to a hypothetical question and not a statement of policy."

He added, however, that "anyone thinking unilateral strikes inside Pakistan are a good idea needs to re-examine that position." Such an attack would "only infuriate the Pakistani public" and turn more people to extremism and against the United States.

The ambassador, in Friday's interview, also touched on the case of Abdul Qadeer Khan, a hero in the eyes of many Pakistanis for his key role in developing the Islamic nation's nuclear bomb. Khan admitted in 2004 that he had operated a network that spread nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

The United States has not requested that the new Pakistani government grant access to Khan, Haqqani said. But, he added, Islamabad would not provide access even if it was asked because all the information that Pakistan has obtained on Khan's network has been shared. Pakistan would not hand over Khan, he said, because of the scientist's knowledge of "Pakistan's own strategic deterrent, and, therefore, it would be a security risk for Pakistan. No other country would do it either."
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Terror and Consent: The Wars for the 21st Century
by Philip Bobbitt The Sunday Times Review by Max Hastings June 20, 2008
As this American presidency stumbles towards its conclusion, there is an overwhelming liberal consensus on both sides of the Atlantic that George Bush has got it wrong about almost everything: declaring a “war on terror”; mismanaging Afghanistan; invading Iraq; identifying the security interests of America with those of Israel; deploying vast force as a substitute for policy, diplomacy, intelligence.

Philip Bobbitt is a quiet-spoken, boundlessly charming Texan, a nephew of Lyndon Johnson, who has spent much of his career as a law professor, with interludes serving at the White House. Although a lifelong Democrat, he is an impassioned supporter of much that Bush has attempted since 2001. In this huge volume, he argues that the West should indeed conduct a war on terror; that the Afghan intervention, though “incomplete”, was right and remains winnable; and that the Iraq war likewise.

He is haunted by apprehension about what terrorists in possession of WMD could do to our civilisation, and believes that a radical reform of international law is necessary to forestall them. He rejects the notion that terror is rooted in social ills or remediable political grievances. Pervading his argument is a warning: unless we change our expectations of swift and decisive victory on such battlefields as Afghanistan and Iraq, and reconcile ourselves to the necessity for very, very long hauls, the consequences for the West will be dire.

All this seems good for us to debate. If Bush overreacted, or rather misreacted, after 9/11, many other people have underreacted — as also after the London bombings in July 2005. We have eagerly embraced expert opinion, which tells us that it is harder than doomsayers suppose for terrorists to acquire nuclear weapons, or to weaponise biological agents. Yet it seems impossible to dispute that there are ingenious, energetic, lavishly funded people out there who wish to do us harm, and could sooner or later acquire horrible means. Bobbitt poses good questions that are hard to answer — for instance, if terrorism is rooted in Muslim grievances about western support for Israel or engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq, why are so few of those apprehended in the West for terrorist crimes Palestinians, Afghans or Iraqis ?

His last book, The Shield of Achilles, addressed the global transition from nation to market states. Here, he returns to this theme. On the one hand, he perceives citizens’ weakening loyalty and gratitude towards their own governments and institutions. On the other, he sees enemies who admit no allegiance save to the pursuit of terror, and are committed to the fantastic and unattainable adoption of a worldwide caliphate. The market state, he says, empowers the terrorist as much as the individual at the expense of the forces of legitimate authority and order. It is vastly more difficult to mobilise and sustain democratic consent for anti-terrorist laws and security measures than for national defence in a conventional war, in which everybody can see the enemy’s armies at the gates, his bombers overhead.

Pervading Bobbitt’s book is a deep moral belief in the rightness of the West’s cause which is at odds with much popular instinct. I would venture to suggest that Osama Bin Laden inspires less hatred in our society than does George Bush. In our perverse, idiotic way, we admire Bin Laden for making the American military machine look ridiculous, while we deplore Bush because we share the embarrassment of his leadership and the burden of his follies.

Such sentiments are an indulgence that may soon become unaffordable. To possess any hope of defending ourselves against evildoers — and evil the terrorists assuredly are — we need to possess faith in ourselves. Many people, however, are deeply troubled by America’s unqualified support for Israeli expansionism in Palestine, which Bobbitt scarcely mentions. We perceive Muslim extremism as driven by a readily comprehended, if not easily assuaged, cultural and economic resentment towards the West.

We do not trust the governments of America or Britain to display the supreme wisdom which alone could justify granting them the far-reaching legal powers which the author advocates. I believe that there will be further terrorist atrocities, following which the American and British publics will accept — indeed, probably demand — new curbs on civil liberties. But it seems right that we should adopt a policy of reluctant proportionate response, rather than draconian precautionary initiative.

Bobbitt does not believe we can afford to act so cautiously, when Al-Qaeda and its many offshoots are committed to creating a permanent state of terror. Beyond the big issues, his book addresses numerous subordinate points that deserve attention. The author is surely right, that the organisation and agendas of western intelligence services need radical reform. Air travel will remain a nightmare until we recognise the absurdity of subjecting every passenger to equally intense security screening, and prioritise plausible terrorist suspects. So-called “profiling” enrages civil libertarians, but it is obvious that, for instance, an elderly white woman is unlikely to be a suicide bomber.

I share wholeheartedly Bobbitt’s belief that the armed forces must be reconfigured, to provide effective civil support in the wake of conflict. The old US army view that “we don’t do nation building” has been a significant contributory factor to failure in Iraq. The first duty of soldiers is to fight, not kiss babies. But every man who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan recognises the indispensability of committing engineers, doctors and above all policemen behind the tanks. We shall never get military interventions right anywhere in the world, until we commit stabilising forces to secure societies.

One factor not mentioned in the book, but that seems critical, is the contrast between, say, 1945 Germans and Japanese, who were defeated and knew it, and modern Iraqis and Afghans, who are instead told that they are victims who have been liberated. Liberated people cannot be casually shot if they break rules, as were the vanquished of 1945. They are encouraged to have expectations much like those of western electorates, and respond with appropriate disgust if these are disappointed. Iraq’s politicians display an intransigence about compromise with each other that would have been unthinkable among the defeated of the second world war, and which contributes mightily to the difficulties of creating a workable society today.

Many of us believe that terrorism (asymmetric warfare) is inevitable in an age when American military power is invincible against conventional forces, and that it acquires a tragic moral legitimacy in places where no democratic means exist of remedying grievances. “Give us F-16s,” a Palestinian is alleged to have said, “and we shall no longer need suicide bombers.” The author’s pleas for changes in international law are unlikely to be heeded, if these appear measures further to empower the strong against the weak.

I put down this challenging, complex book still believing that terrorism is best fought by sustained, convincing diplomacy, intelligence, police and special forces operations, rather than through military initiatives or dramatic changes in national polities. But the author obliges us to think about all manner of issues vital to the security of the western democracies, when too many people still cling to the hope that each terrorist horror will prove the last.
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The Taleban can't win in Afghanistan - but nor can we
History teaches us that British defiance always turns to compromise. Why should it be different in Afghanistan?
The Times Matthew Parris June 21, 2008
It has been hard over the past fortnight to avert our eyes for long from Helmand, and from the task facing the British Forces in Afghanistan. As I write there have been nine deaths in the past nine days, and - although perhaps it shouldn't - the fact that one was a woman has only sharpened the media spotlight. Sadly, the battle for Helmand is a good story. The plot is simple, the human tragedies poignant, the pride in victories real, and the photography amazing.

And yet an insistent voice within whispers that we needn't bother about Helmand. I mean this literally: not that Helmand doesn't matter but that we can be fairly confident of holding the line there. We can hold Helmand for as long as we try hard to. As an issue we can forget the ebb and flow of military fortune in southern Afghanistan because, though military fortune will always ebb and flow, there is no way our troops are going to sink.

British commanders in the field are right to say that the Taleban's resort to crude terrorism marks a retreat of a kind: an acknowledgement that it cannot gain victory in set-piece battle. And nor can we. And nor can the Taleban gain victory by terrorism. And nor can we gain victory over terrorism. And nor need the cost in blood deter us: the Boer War took a much crueller toll. And nor need the cost in treasure dismay us; it's a hefty whack we're paying for this but it isn't going to ruin the British economy.

It isn't, in the end, the way each day's skirmish goes that should preoccupy British policymakers. It's what the skirmishing is for, and whether this is achievable, that should trouble British minds, even as we mourn each loss and celebrate each victory.

I'm only 58 years old but I remember through boyhood six huge and sustained campaigns against local insurgencies that have dominated the news in my lifetime, four of them British. They are Cyprus, Kenya, Malaya, Aden, Algeria and Vietnam. And as I prepared to write this column I seemed to remember that in not one of them did military defeat occur; and nor was the fear of military defeat what caused (in every case but one) our withdrawal or that of our allies. The exception was Malaya, which we won, but a key difference there was that most of the insurgents belonged to a minority race.

But as to the others, was my memory correct? Using the Times Archive, I decided to check. How did this newspaper's leading articles reflect some of these conflicts?

It is absorbing to read those old accounts. The Times took a consistently ambivalent and less hawkish line than The Daily Telegraph, but there is a pattern and it is depressingly clear.

At first we announce that the insurgents must be beaten. We list the reasons, usually headed by a “thin end of the wedge” argument about the network of alliances and commitments upon which security depends. We are confident that the insurgents do not represent the majority of the native population, who approve of our efforts.

As the conflict drags on, we note that the insurgents are resorting to terrorist methods of the most cowardly sort. We observe that this threatens our popularity among the majority population, because of the intrusive methods we need to adopt to keep the terrorists at bay.

Throughout we report successes and setbacks, the dominant tone being guardedly optimistic that the battle is being won so long as we redouble our efforts, send as many troops as necessary, and stay the course. Where the ruling administration is not ours (French or American, for instance) we are more doubtful about the chance of victory. Where we are in charge, the doubt caused by stalemate comes later.
After three or four years of fighting, we start to talk about a “settlement”, which we describe as (and genuinely persuade ourselves to be) a progressive and honourable move. We insist, in the immediate, that the military effort must be maintained, but that the battle - a battle for hearts and minds - will not be won by military means. Give-and-take may be necessary. And in the end we withdraw, never saying (even to ourselves) that we are retreating, and wish everyone well.

Take Aden:
December 31, 1964. “[The terrorist] campaign in Aden has been misconceived and mistimed and will misfire, whatever toll of innocent life the terrorists may take, and brag of, at the outset. Any appreciable reduction in the [commitment] is scarcely feasible.”

April 4, 1966. “The hope is that [regional delegates to a conference] will agree upon a combined Government with authority to treat with Britain on the transference of power. Terrorism will then come to an end, because it will have no further purpose.”

Or Cyprus:
June 22, 1956. “There are many promising signs the military drive against Eoka, the Cypriot terrorist organisation, will be continued.”

October 11, 1956. “Terrorism can and will be destroyed by military means, but time is needed Ordinary Cypriots would welcome a new truce offer by the terrorists.”

August 4, 1958. “Terrorism in Cyprus has sunk to new depths of foulness. The gunmen who shot Sergeant Hammond, of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, in the back... are murderers of the most cowardly kind.”

Or Kenya:
November 8, 1952. “There have been welcome signs that law-abiding citizens of all races are co-operating with the security forces... there can be no going back on the course which Britain set herself”

February 17, 1953. “The Armed Forces have conducted wide and successful sweeps through the affected areas the volume and accuracy of intelligence reports seem to be increasing.”

May 6, 1954. “Some 370 Africans have now been executed by hanging and 150 more are under sentence of death... anxiety cannot fail to be felt at the high number of executions”

Enough. None of these cases is the same either as each other or as Afghanistan. But militarily we were in every case able to hold our own (or better) until the question “can we?” was replaced with the question “why”, as casualties and costs showed no sign of abating and the ingrained nature of our opponent's position looked harder to alter.

In Northern Ireland it was arguably the terrorists, not we, whose acceptance that victory was impossible broke the stalemate.

It is time the “why?” overtook the “can we?” in Afghanistan too. Enthusiasts for staying the course regardless are not without an answer. It is that we are giving a fledgeling democracy under an elected President, Hamid Karzai, the time and space to grow strong. That is the dream, and if it appeared that it was coming to pass I would be with the hawks.

But is it? This, and not the tides of war in Helmand, is the question. This is the story.
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A prophetic voice on Taliban calls out again
International Herald Tribune, France By Jane Perlez  June 20, 2008
LAHORE, Pakistan-Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani expert on the Taliban, who until 9/11 knew them better than almost any outsider, has over the decades turned out to be something of a prophet in the region, though mostly of the Cassandra type.

A longtime critic of the Taliban who raised alarms about the group back in the mid-1990s, Rashid, 59, has just come out with his fourth book: "Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia" (Viking, 2008), a caustic compendium of the mistakes by the Bush administration and, by extension, its regional allies, in tackling Islamic militancy.

His central argument is not original: that the money and blood spent on Iraq should have been invested instead in Afghanistan, rebuilding the country after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 drove the Taliban from power, in order to prevent the Taliban resurgence so much in evidence now. Since that was not done, Rashid says, the options for stabilizing Afghanistan have dwindled to one: Pakistan must cut its ties to the Afghan Taliban.

Rashid, who has been roaming the wilds of Afghanistan and western Pakistan since the 1960s, distinguishes between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, the latter a force that is helping to shelter Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda cells in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan.

"The Pakistani Army needs to make a strategic decision to dump support for the Afghan Taliban leadership in Quetta," he said, referring to the desert city in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan where the Afghan Taliban keep a rear base. "The Afghan Taliban can be quietly arrested and put under house arrest."

Only after that, he says, will Pakistan, and by extension, the United States, be able to reduce the threat from Al Qaeda and their brethren, the Pakistani Taliban who operate out of the tribal lands. If the Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan are not eliminated, the United States and its NATO allies will find it impossible to win what has turned out to be an unexpectedly prolonged war in Afghanistan, he argues.

Pakistani intelligence and military officials deny that there are any Afghan Taliban in Pakistani territory, but that does not stop Rashid from taking them on. Nor is he shy about pointing out what he considers the mistakes of the Bush administration and its failure to be tougher on the Pakistani government.

For too long, he insists, the Pakistan Army and the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency have protected the Afghan Taliban as a future "strategic asset" against rival India in the event the United States - widely considered a fair-weather friend - withdraws its patronage from Pakistan.

He says the Bush administration was too gentle with President Pervez Musharraf after the Pakistani leader gave his commitment to the campaign against terror following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. "The Americans never said strongly enough that Pakistan had to stop supporting the Taliban - that was because Musharraf was giving them the Al Qaeda types," he said, a reference to the capture of top Al Qaeda operatives who were captured by the Pakistanis and handed over to the United States. Bush should have insisted that Musharraf quash the Taliban too, he said.

The son of a military officer, Rashid got his first taste of guerrilla warfare after graduating from Cambridge in the late 1960s. Steeped in the era's favorites, Marx, Mao and Che, he took off for the hills of Baluchistan. He stayed for 10 years.

He was a guerrilla fighter and political organizer, and with a couple of like-minded Pakistani friends led peasants fighting for autonomy against the Pakistani government and army, with its helicopters and well-armed men.

After bouts of hepatitis and malaria and lost teeth, he emerged not exactly disillusioned, but defeated, he recalled from the comfort of his study overlooking a garden of palms.

The experience proved to be the launching pad for his real career: the prolific chronicler in books, magazines and newspaper columns of Afghanistan, Central Asia, and his homeland, Pakistan, all places that Western writers have found difficult to gain access to, let alone comprehend in their full depth and complexity.

He got to know Afghanistan when he was still behind the lines in Baluchistan in the late 1970s. The Afghan president at the time, Mohammed Daoud, provided sanctuary to Baluch refugees from the separatist movement, and in 1978, Rashid was in Kabul for the Communist coup. He was in Kandahar a year later when the Soviet military rolled in.

"I saw the invasion when all the Soviet tanks came from the town of Herat into the bazaar in Kandahar," he said. "The soldiers got off their tanks and asked for tea. There was no tension."

The tanks continued on to Kabul.

With his perfect English and his British education, he became what he calls the "intellectual repository" for Western journalists who parachuted into the Afghan capital for the Soviet Union's last big invasion. They found Afghanistan the end of the world, and trusted Rashid as their political and cultural interpreter.

It is a role he has played on a larger canvas ever since as a writer and, occasionally, a behind-the-scenes adviser to diplomats who have grappled with what to do about the Taliban.

His book "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia" (Yale University Press, 2001), an account of the rise of the mullahs in Afghanistan, was published just before the Sept. 11 attacks and has sold 1.5 million copies in English, an astonishing number for an academic press.

He was the first foreign journalist, he said, to visit the Taliban in 1994 as they emerged from the debris of civil strife in Afghanistan after the Soviets left.

"I persuaded an ABC television journalist to come with me to Kandahar, and I was shocked they wouldn't allow us to take pictures," he said. "I'd been living with the mujahedeen who loved publicity. When these guys in Kandahar wouldn't be photographed, I suddenly realized this was a completely new thing."

Intrigued, he joined their battle groups and, with his nose for being in the right place at the right time, he was in Kabul with the Taliban when they captured the capital in 1996. In his reporting, for The Far Eastern Economic Review and the British newspaper The Independent, he warned against Pakistan's decision in the mid-1990s to support the Taliban. "I wrote that it meant a continuation of the Afghan civil war."

He eventually wore out his welcome with the Taliban with the publication of his book. These days, he is more likely to be found around the dining table of his Lahore home, which is known for its fine cuisine.
Rashid is sought after for advice by diplomats in Islamabad and Kabul, and by policy makers in NATO capitals and Washington. When she was Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto asked whether he would be interested in becoming ambassador to Afghanistan, but he declined, preferring the rough and tumble of frontier reporting.

His writings have never sat well with the Inter-Services Intelligence, a subject he says he does not want to discuss beyond saying he is "unpopular." Like many Pakistanis, he has watched the unraveling of Musharraf, but he declined to predict his moment of exit.

He is on good terms with Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower, leader of the dominant Pakistan People's Party and regarded as the most powerful man in the country. But after a two-hour lunch with Zardari recently, Rashid said that he worried the new government "has no clue" about the "multilayered terrorist cake" that flourishes in the tribal areas.

Of the new government's attitude to the Islamic militants, he says, "They are not briefed, and I am deeply concerned."

6 killed in south Afghanistan A suicide bomber attacked a NATO convoy as it passed through a town in southern Afghanistan on Friday, killing five civilians and a soldier from the U.S.-led coalition, officials said, The Associated Press reported from Kandahar.

Mohammad Hussein Andiwal, police chief of Helmand Province, said a lone bomber, who was on foot, struck Friday morning as the convoy passed through a market area in the town of Gereshk.

Helmand borders Kandahar Province, where hundreds of NATO and Afghan troops backed by warplanes mounted an operation this week to clear militants from a valley from which they could have threatened Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan.
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