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June 23, 2008 

Coalition: 55 militants killed in Afghan battle
By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S.-led forces rained fire for two days on militants near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, officials said Monday, killing about 55 insurgents and underscoring how fighting with Taliban insurgents is escalating.

Five killed, 19 injured in Afghan suicide attack
Mon Jun 23, 11:41 AM ET
HERAT, AFGHANISTAN (AFP) - A suicide car bomb exploded near a convoy of international forces in western Afghanistan on Monday, killing five Afghan civilians and injuring at least 19 others, officials said.

Afghans protest alleged civilian casualties by US forces
Mon Jun 23, 3:09 AM ET
JALALABAD, Afghanistan (AFP) - Hundreds of protesters took to streets in eastern Afghanistan on Monday after a father and son were allegedly killed by gunfire from US-led soldiers, a governor and witnesses said.

Afghanistan to get Pakistani wheat despite Karzai's saber rattling
[IANS] - Karachi, June 23 : Pakistan is planning to export 50,000 tonnes of wheat to neighbouring Afghanistan despite recent saber-rattling by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, media reports said Monday.

US Military Chief Asks 3 More Brigades For Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (AFP)--The top U.S military officer, Admiral Michael Mullen, said Monday he needs three more brigades in Afghanistan to battle Taliban fighters and train Afghan forces.

Seventeen tribal policemen abducted in Pakistan
Mon Jun 23, 8:57 AM ET
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) - Suspected Taliban rebels kidnapped 17 tribal policemen near Pakistan's Khyber pass, police said Monday, the latest incident on the main supply route for international forces in Afghanistan.

Battling drug addiction in Afghanistan
By Martin Patience BBC News, Kabul Monday, 23 June 2008
When Rahim Ahmedy was an Afghan refugee in neighbouring Iran, he and his friends would go on three-day picnics.

Iran seized 900 tonnes of drugs from Afghanistan in 2007
Mon Jun 23, 6:42 AM ET
TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran seized less than half of the 2,500 tonnes of drugs that entered the country from its eastern neighbour Afghanistan in 2007, a top police commander said on Monday.

AFGHANISTAN: Stream of deportees from Iran continues
KABUL, 23 June 2008 (IRIN) - About 490,000 Afghans have been deported from Iran over the past 18 months, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Afghanistan's Ministry of Refugees and Returnees (MoRR) told IRIN.

Routing of Fighters Brings Anxious Calm to Kandahar
Despite Swift Action, Confidence in NATO, Afghan Forces Waning
Washington Post - Asia/Pasific By Candace Rondeaux Washington Post Foreign Service Monday, June 23, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan-A tense quiet has settled here in Afghanistan's second-largest city, a little more than a week after hundreds of Taliban fighters mounted a dramatic prison break, then briefly took control of several villages in the area.

Film-maker Sean Langan kidnapped in Afghanistan is set free
Alexi Mostrous The Times (UK) June 24, 2008
An award-winning British documentary maker was on his way home last night after being held hostage by Islamic extremists for three months in the hostile border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Teaching in Kandahar requires bravery
Afghan-born teacher, Canadians teaming up to open schools that give Afghan girls a future
Rosie DiManno The Toronto Star (Canada) June 23, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan–An Internet café for Afghan women only: What a concept.

Afghan governor parades bombing suspects
Doug Schmidt ,  Canwest News Service Monday, June 23, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - On the same day top Afghan police and army generals were giving the thumbs-up for villagers to return to an area at Kandahar City's doorstep - temporarily controlled last week by Taliban militants

In Afghan police training, US aims to curb corruption
Boston.com - World By David Zucchino Los Angeles Times June 23, 2008
FARAH, Afghanistan-There were two good reasons why Captain Dave Panian made a perilous journey across the desert to this dusty provincial capital.

Army 'vacuum' missile hits Taliban
Michael Smith The Sunday Times (UK) June 22, 2008
British forces in Afghanistan have used one of the world’s most deadly and controversial missiles to fight the Taliban.

A nation as yet unbuilt
Afghanistan has never been a successful state. Our involvement there is based on a delusion
Peter Preston The Guardian UK Monday June 23, 2008
Francis Fukuyama posed the basic Afghan dilemma as the supposed triumph of western invasion began to fall apart. Afghanistan has never been "modern", he observed, chillingly. "Under the monarchy that existed until the beginning of its political

A sliver of hope
Despite his bleak, brilliant analysis of the Afghan region's descent into chaos, Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid hasn't abandoned all optimism
Ottawa Citizen, Canada Janice Kennedy Sunday, June 22, 2008 Descent into Chaos
Ahmed Rashid ends his bleak new book on a note of hope.

Terrorism help for Pakistan
Sydney Morning Herald, Australia Jonathan Pearlman Foreign Affairs Correspondent June 23, 2008
AUSTRALIAN counter-terrorism experts could be sent to Pakistan under a far-reaching plan by the Federal Government to help that country promote stability, slow the spread of Islamic extremism and stem the flow of insurgents into Afghanistan.

Iran opens port to Afghan business
www.quqnoos.com Written by PAN Sunday, 22 June 2008
Businessmen to get special permits to use Iranian sea port
IRAN has agreed to let Afghan businessmen use the Iranian sea port of Chabahar to import and export goods into and out of their country.

Afghan Wireless, Roshan Hit 2 Million Subscribers Each
Dan Nystedt, IDG News Service via Yahoo! News Mon Jun 23, 3:00 AM ET
Despite continued fighting in the nation, Afghan Wireless Communications and rival Roshan both said their subscriber numbers have each hit 2 million in Afghanistan, marking fast growth in a nation that in 2002 first launched mobile phone services.

Afghanistan and Iraq are all about energy
Gulf Times - Home By Eric S Margolis  Monday, 23 June, 2008
PARIS-The ugly truth behind the Iraq and Afghanistan wars finally emerged into full view last week.

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Coalition: 55 militants killed in Afghan battle
By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S.-led forces rained fire for two days on militants near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, officials said Monday, killing about 55 insurgents and underscoring how fighting with Taliban insurgents is escalating.

The battle in eastern Paktika province was the second in the past week to reportedly inflict major casualties on militants, whom Afghan officials insist are swarming in from strongholds in Pakistan.

Pakistan's government on Monday reiterated an offer to fence the craggy, 1,500-mile frontier — a project begun but abandoned last year amid criticism that it would only enrage the tribes who straddle the frontier and among whom the Taliban find many recruits.

The battle in Paktika began Friday morning, when militants armed with rockets and guns ambushed troops from the U.S.-led coalition patrolling a road in Ziruk district, the coalition said. The troops returned fire and called in airstrikes.

Fighting continued until Sunday morning, and the majority of the deaths were from the airstrikes, coalition spokesman Capt. Christian Patterson said. About 55 militants died, 25 others were wounded and three were detained, he said.

Patterson said no coalition troops died, but declined to say if any were wounded.

It was not possible to get independent confirmation of the death toll, but Nabi Mullakhail, the provincial police chief, said militants had suffered "huge" casualties in the remote, mountainous district. Afghan forces were not involved, he said.

The clash was the second in a week to inflict heavy casualties on insurgents, who have little answer to Western airpower.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said its soldiers counted the bodies of 94 militants after a joint operation with NATO forces last week in Arghandab, a valley just outside the southern city of Kandahar.

The SITE Intelligence Group said the Taliban posted statements on the Internet on Monday disputing the death toll in Arghandab. SITE, which monitors militant Web sites, said the Taliban postings reported six Taliban killed and three wounded and that the other bodies were civilians.

The latest deaths means that June is already the bloodiest month this year.

According to an Associated Press tally based on statements from military and government officials, 465 people have died in insurgency-related violence this month, more than the 398 recorded in April.

For the year to date, the tally is nearing 2,000, most of them militants.

Violence was escalating because of stepped-up military operations by the more than 60,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, said Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center.

Alani said the Taliban were exploiting anger at reports of civilian casualties in military operations and successes such as a mass jailbreak in Kandahar to recruit new fighters.

The insurgents have become more adept at Iraq-style guerrilla tactics, including roadside bombs, he said.

"The number of casualties is not a measure of victory or defeat for them (the Taliban)," Alani said. "Those people are viewed as martyrs."

NATO said its forces prevented four militants from planting a bomb on a road in eastern Nangarhar province on Monday, but denied reports that two civilians died.

After a gunbattle, it said the troops called in air support, killing one militant. The others fled.

However, Zalmay Dadak, mayor of Khogyani district, said coalition fire during the overnight operation also hit a house in a village, killing a man and his son. More than 100 villagers blocked the road in protest for several hours Monday.

Video footage obtained by Associated Press Television News showed the corpses of a young man and a boy lying on wooden beds under trees in the village Monday. Residents said a hole in the roof of the family's house was caused by a shell.

The violence highlighted the need for regional and Western governments to seek political solutions to a conflict that shows no sign of easing, said Charles Dunbar, professor of international relations at Boston University and former U.S. diplomat.

As part of that, "Pakistan can perhaps do more than it is doing to control the free movement of the Taliban" as well as its current policy of seeking peace deals with militants on its side, he said.

Fencing the border is mainly a political figleaf for the hard-pressed Pakistani government, he suggested. "This is an effort on their part to look busy," he said.
___
Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez and Amir Shah contributed to this report.
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Five killed, 19 injured in Afghan suicide attack
Mon Jun 23, 11:41 AM ET
HERAT, AFGHANISTAN (AFP) - A suicide car bomb exploded near a convoy of international forces in western Afghanistan on Monday, killing five Afghan civilians and injuring at least 19 others, officials said.

It could not be immediately definitively confirmed if any foreign soldiers were injured in the bombing in western Herat province's Shindand district, which was claimed by Taliban militants.

"I confirm there was a suicide car bomb against a three-vehicle international forces' convoy. The casualty toll has risen -- five killed and 19 injured," La'al Mohammad, the district chief, told AFP.

All the dead were men and some of the wounded -- also all male -- were in a critical condition, Mohammad said, adding that the bombing took place in a bazaar on the highway between Shindand and Herat city.

Afghan army general Jalandar Shah Behnam put the injured toll at 25 and said one of the dead was a woman, adding all the victims were civilians.

Most of the foreign troops based in Herat are Italian nationals. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed the bombing against its troops but said only there were no casualties "so far".

Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi, talking to AFP from an unknown location, said his militant movement carried out the attack.

"One of our mujahedeen (holy warriors) carried out a suicide bombing against foreign forces in Shindand," the rebel spokesman said, claiming, "several soldiers were killed."

The bombing was the latest in a growing insurgency being waged by the Taliban, whose regime was ousted from power in a US-led invasion in late 2001.

The rebels have been widely using suicide attacks and other bomb explosions in their campaign.

A US soldier and a handful of Afghan civilians were killed in a similar bombing in the country's southern province of Helmand on Friday.

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Afghans protest alleged civilian casualties by US forces
Mon Jun 23, 3:09 AM ET
JALALABAD, Afghanistan (AFP) - Hundreds of protesters took to streets in eastern Afghanistan on Monday after a father and son were allegedly killed by gunfire from US-led soldiers, a governor and witnesses said.

Around 200 people demonstrated in the Khogyani district of Nangarhar province, chanting "We want the trial of those responsible for the death of civilians," witnesses said.

US-led coalition and Afghan troops were on patrol overnight in Khogyani when they saw a militant planting a bomb by a road, Khogyani governor Haji Zalmai Khan told AFP.

"They opened fire and killed the militant on the spot and it was followed by cannon fire from a coalition base on a suspected Taliban hideout in the area," Khan said.

"One of the cannon shots landed on a house in the nearby village and killed a father and son, who were civilians not Taliban," he said.

The coalition forces denied causing any civilian casualties in Khogyani district but said they could not provide details since their operation in the area was ongoing on Monday.

A spokesman for the Taliban, who were ousted from power in late 2001 by a US-led invasion, claimed they had killed ten "American soldiers" in a roadside blast in the district.
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Afghanistan to get Pakistani wheat despite Karzai's saber rattling
[IANS] - Karachi, June 23 : Pakistan is planning to export 50,000 tonnes of wheat to neighbouring Afghanistan despite recent saber-rattling by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, media reports said Monday.

The exports will be made from the stocks of state-owned Pakistan Agriculture Storage and Supplies Corporation (PASSCO) at subsidized rates, English-language daily Business Recorder said.

Last weekend Karzai threatened to invade Pakistan in pursuit of insurgent Talibans, triggering new tensions between the two countries and causing a 7 percent decline in the country's main Karachi bourse.

But this did not impede Pakistan's willingness to supply wheat or flour at subsidized rates to cash-strapped and hungry Afghanistan. Fifty thousand tonnes of the staple will be sent in addition to the regular 600,000 tonnes annual export to the war-torn country.

The foreign ministry has already sought bids from private transporters to dispatch the wheat.

Pakistan itself is going through a severe wheat shortage and has recently placed orders for importing 2.5 million tonnes.
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US Military Chief Asks 3 More Brigades For Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (AFP)--The top U.S military officer, Admiral Michael Mullen, said Monday he needs three more brigades in Afghanistan to battle Taliban fighters and train Afghan forces.

"We are short of forces there," Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a meeting of military officers.

"I need at least an additional three brigades, one of them a training brigade, " Mullen said. A brigade is about 3,500 soldiers.

For months, the U.S. has asked members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to deploy reinforcements to the strife-torn nation, where 70,000 soldiers are fighting under separate U.S. and NATO commands.

"Violence is up this year by every single measure," Mullen said.

June is already the bloodiest month this year for international forces, with 32 soldiers killed so far.

The United States deployed 3,500 marines this spring and several NATO countries have pledged to send more troops.

Mullen said he hoped the United States could reduce its troop presence in Iraq in the fall, "which will allow me to get more forces into the fight in Afghanistan."

A German general, Egon Ramms, told German radio Sunday that NATO needs up to 6,000 more soldiers to stabilize Afghanistan.

Ramms warned that the situation would only worsen later this year, when U.S. forces withdraw some troops from Afghanistan.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has 53,000 soldiers from 40 nations, up from 33,000 troops 18 months ago. But military officers say they need more reinforcements.
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Seventeen tribal policemen abducted in Pakistan
Mon Jun 23, 8:57 AM ET
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) - Suspected Taliban rebels kidnapped 17 tribal policemen near Pakistan's Khyber pass, police said Monday, the latest incident on the main supply route for international forces in Afghanistan.

Armed men attacked four checkposts on Sunday in the troubled region, where militants blew up 36 tankers bringing fuel for US and NATO troops across the border in March, wounding 100 people.

"Seventeen of our policemen are missing after the attack, carried out by a group of armed men who looked like local Taliban," Ali Mohammad Shah, commander of local tribal police, told AFP.

One policeman was injured when the attackers fired a rocket at one the posts, he said, adding that police were trying to trace the hostages and their kidnappers.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

But Pakistan's envoy to Afghanistan was also abducted in February while passing through the Khyber region. He was freed by militants in May after protracted negotiations.

The security of the route has been under scrutiny since the US-led coalition reported that four helicopter engines worth 13 million dollars had gone missing in April while being transported by a Pakistani haulage firm.
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Battling drug addiction in Afghanistan
By Martin Patience BBC News, Kabul Monday, 23 June 2008
When Rahim Ahmedy was an Afghan refugee in neighbouring Iran, he and his friends would go on three-day picnics.

They would slaughter sheep for feasting and take drugs such as opium and heroin.

At first the 30-year-old thought it was fun. But then it took over his life.

He returned to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taleban in 2001 with all his worldly possessions - and a drug addiction.

"Then my family became distant from me," said the father-of-one, his face gaunt and emaciated, sitting in the Nejat drug treatment clinic in Kabul.

"It was then that I realised how bad the drugs had become."

Afghanistan is the world's biggest producer of heroin and opium. But less well known is the country's drug problem.

According to the most recent UN figures in 2005, there are about one million addicts in a country of about 30 million people.

'Increasing'

But some officials and organisations believe that the true figure is higher.

"The addicts are increasing year on year," said General Khodaidad, the Afghan Minister for Counter-Narcotics. "This is a type of war that we are fighting."

Drug addiction takes many forms in Afghanistan.

In many cases, refugees, like Mr Ahmedy, have returned to the country with their habits.

Other addicts are opium farmers, hooked on the drug they harvest.

Some are female carpet weavers who take opium to dull the aches in their fingers joints. And many are young users with little else to do.

The Afghan government with the help of the international community has established about 40 drug addiction clinics, according to officials.

They are dispersed throughout the country.

But Dr Tariq Suliman, the director of the Nejat clinic, says that the number of places available for treatment needs to dramatically increase.

He also says that there needs to be greater awareness about drugs among the general population.

"The important thing is that the young people who aren't involved in drugs know the dangers," he says. "This would be a very positive step."

Social element

The Nejat clinic runs a three-month programme to help wean participants off drugs.

The drug addicts are provided advice by medical professionals on how to rehabilitate and detoxify their bodies.

There is also a large social element to the programme, with participants regularly drinking tea together, talking and even playing chess.

Dr Suliman says that the treatment has about a 30% success rate among the participants.

One of those in the programme and determined to get off heroin is Najib Hakimi, 30, who used to be a driver.

He became addicted to drugs after socialising with his nephew who is a heroin addict.

"The only thing I now have is my family," he says, explaining that he lost his job because of his drug addiction. "But I'm lucky to be alive."

Throughout the morning and early afternoon, drug addicts seeking help arrive at the clinic.

At one stage, three men turn up. They are dirty and bedraggled, but Dr Suliman welcomes them warmly to the facility.

Another doctor gives them a small bottle of shampoo and they are taken to shower blocks to wash themselves. They may just be the lucky ones to get the attention they need.

Afghanistan is a country facing many problems - and many of its most needy are being overlooked.
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Iran seized 900 tonnes of drugs from Afghanistan in 2007
Mon Jun 23, 6:42 AM ET
TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran seized less than half of the 2,500 tonnes of drugs that entered the country from its eastern neighbour Afghanistan in 2007, a top police commander said on Monday.

"Around 900 tonnes of drugs out of the 2,500 tonnes of drugs that entered the country from Afghanistan were seized in 2007," Iran's police chief and anti-drug trafficking supremo Esmaeel Ahmadi Moghadam told reporters.

Iran lies on a major transit route for smuggling illegal drugs from Afghanistan towards European markets.

It has lost hundreds of police killed in clashes with drug smugglers in recent years and has repeatedly lamented a lack of funding and support from the West to combat the traffickers.

The proportion of the total volume of Afghan drugs transiting through Iran fell to 31 percent in 2007 from 42 percent in 2006, Ahmadi Moghadam said, adding that the volume itself was unchanged due to a major rise in Afghan production.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has said that Afghanistan's opium production increased from 6,100 tonnes in 2006 to 8,200 tonnes in 2007, accounting for 93 percent of global production.

Around a third of the drugs from Afghanistan that are not seized by Iranian police are consumed in Iran itself, creating a serious domestic drug abuse problem.

Opium use has long been a problem in Iran but crack and heroin consumption is on the up with the latter available at 3.5 dollars (2.4 euros) per gram, according to the United Nations.

"According to our latest analysis, there are 1.16 million drug addicts in Iran and around 700,000 occasional users," said Ahmadi Moghadam.
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AFGHANISTAN: Stream of deportees from Iran continues
KABUL, 23 June 2008 (IRIN) - About 490,000 Afghans have been deported from Iran over the past 18 months, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Afghanistan's Ministry of Refugees and Returnees (MoRR) told IRIN.

"One hundred and forty thousand undocumented Afghans have been deported so far in 2008, and some 350,000 were deported in 2007," said Salvatore Lombardo, the UNHCR representative in Afghanistan, adding that most of the deportees were "single males" who had gone to Iran in search of work.

Abdul Qadir Zazai, chief adviser to the MoRR in Kabul, told IRIN Tehran was continuing to deport Afghans who are not refugees. Kabul has requested that the deportations be conducted in a humane and gradual manner.

"Every day 1,500-2,000 individuals are expelled from Iran," Zazai said.

"Afghanistan does not have the capacity to absorb large numbers of deportees in a short time," he said.

The Iranian embassy in Kabul was not immediately available for comment. However, Iranian officials have always said it is their right to deport all Afghans who "illegally" enter Iran.

Aid for "the most vulnerable"

According to the UNHCR and the MoRR, over 90 percent of the deportees are young men who go to Iran to look for jobs but who do not qualify for humanitarian assistance when deported to Afghanistan.

"Together with UN agencies we provide minimal assistance only to the most vulnerable deportees," Zazai said.

In response to a massive expulsion in mid-2007 which pushed ill-prepared Afghanistan into a humanitarian emergency, the Afghan government, assisted by aid organisations, set up two transition centres close to the Iranian border to mitigate the impact of large-scale deportations.

Those deemed "most vulnerable", mostly women and children, can stay in the transition centre for up to 48 hours and receive free food, and transportation assistance to help them reach their final destination.

"The UNHCR has a presence in the border area and we will continue to assist the most vulnerable deportees," said Lombardo, adding that over 1,500 deportees had been assisted in the past six months.

Some two million Afghans in Iran

Some one million Afghans are registered as refugees in Iran. They are allowed to stay and work in the country, and their permits may be renewed, the UNCHR said.

The MoRR estimates there are a up to a further one million Afghans in Iran who do not have appropriate residency documents and are therefore eligible for deportation according to Iranian law.

Lack of socio-economic opportunities, conflict and drought are driving thousands of Afghans to Iran and other regional countries.
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Routing of Fighters Brings Anxious Calm to Kandahar
Despite Swift Action, Confidence in NATO, Afghan Forces Waning
Washington Post - Asia/Pasific By Candace Rondeaux Washington Post Foreign Service Monday, June 23, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan-A tense quiet has settled here in Afghanistan's second-largest city, a little more than a week after hundreds of Taliban fighters mounted a dramatic prison break, then briefly took control of several villages in the area.

One of the city's main traffic circles, Chowk-e Shahidan, was nearly empty, except for a cluster of armored vehicles manned by Afghan and Canadian soldiers. Just a few shoppers roamed nearby Herat Bazaar, Kandahar's largest market, and a couple of dusty green pickup trucks full of Afghan police ranged the empty streets, past carts brimming with mangoes.

At Sarposa Prison, a few miles from Herat Bazaar, Afghan police and soldiers cleared debris from the suicide bomb attack on June 13 that blew apart the walls at the main gate. The carcasses of two dozen cars and minivans still littered the area just outside the entrance, where at least 20 Afghan soldiers and police officers were killed in the explosion and a hail of rocket and gunfire. Afghan officials say many of the 350 to 400 Taliban fighters freed in the attack remain at large.

In the lush fruit-growing district of Arghandab, about 12 miles northwest of Kandahar, NATO and Afghan troops patrol the villages that fell under Taliban control when insurgents launched an offensive there last Monday after the prison attack. The troops have largely rid the district of insurgents, but hundreds of residents remain with relatives and friends in Kandahar while soldiers remove mines laid by the insurgents.

NATO and Afghan military officials quickly claimed victory in Kandahar after more than 1,000 foreign troops were deployed to help beat back the insurgents in Arghandab. But security concerns continue to rattle many in the region, which has long been the heart of the Taliban insurgency.

And even as Afghan officials reported that about 94 Taliban fighters were killed and 29 captured as insurgents fled the area, NATO and Afghan casualties linked to the counteroffensive mounted over the weekend.

On Saturday, four foreign soldiers were killed and two were injured when a NATO convoy was ambushed after hitting a roadside bomb in Kandahar, according to Lt. Col. Paul Fanning, a U.S. military spokesman. Insurgents opened fire on the convoy after the explosion, which damaged several vehicles, Fanning said.

In all, eight foreign troops have been killed in the fighting since the counteroffensive in Kandahar was launched; their names and nationalities have been withheld pending notification of their families.

Despite the swift military response in Arghandab, confidence in the nascent Afghan security forces and NATO troops is waning in the region.

Hayatullah Alokhor, a tribal elder from the village of Loytabil in Arghandab, said he and his family fled their homes when hundreds of Taliban fighters began appearing in the district after the prison attack.
Alokhor, a member of the local district council, said he and other council members had warned Afghan, Canadian and U.S. soldiers of a growing Taliban presence in the nearby district of Kharkrez during a council meeting two weeks before the prison break.

"I told the American and Canadian soldiers that the Taliban was regrouping. I told them that the security situation was getting worse in Kharkrez," Alokhor said. "They said they would tell their superiors, but then nothing happened."

Security in districts west of Kandahar has deteriorated so rapidly that many tribal elders are considering forming their own militias to fight the insurgents, Alokhor said. "The police will not be able to bring security to the area. They are too new at this and they don't have the proper training," he said.

Kandahar -- the capital of Afghanistan's most populous southern province, also called Kandahar -- has been a center of Afghan political power for centuries. It has also been the nerve center of the Taliban insurgency, which has run like a river through the heart of the conflict in Afghanistan since the mid-1990s under the leadership of its founder, Mohammad Omar.

Afghan security officials have repeatedly blamed the resurgent Taliban activity in Kandahar on an influx of foreign fighters who have crossed into southern Afghanistan from Pakistan. Many of the inmates freed in last week's prison break are from Pakistan's lawless tribal areas on Afghanistan's eastern border, which have become a hotbed of training for suicide bombers and Islamist fighters, according to Afghan officials in Kandahar.

Kandahar's provincial police chief, Sayed Agha Saqib, said about 20 mid-level Pakistani Taliban commanders -- many of them key strategists in the insurgency's suicide attack networks -- were among those freed in the prison attack.

Saqib said that investigators believe the prison raid was planned by Taliban leaders "inside and outside Afghanistan" and that it bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda tactics. He accused Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency of having a hand in the attack.

"There is absolutely no doubt that this was an al-Qaeda-led attack, and there is no difference here between the Taliban, the ISI and al-Qaeda."

Pakistan has denied that its intelligence agencies, which funded and supported the Taliban during the Soviet incursion in Afghanistan in the 1980s, continue to harbor links with the Taliban.

Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the influential head of the Kandahar provincial council, expressed doubt about the Taliban's staying power, saying that the Arghandab offensive and the prison raid were meant to do little more than send a message that the insurgency is still alive.

"The Taliban is no longer a movement that can take over a city or a province," he said. "The Taliban is now the kind of movement that can say, 'We can still create problems for you.' " More than 8,000 people were killed in Taliban-led attacks last year, and more than 1,700 have been killed this year in insurgent attacks.

Meanwhile, confidence in the NATO mission in Afghanistan has fallen to an all-time low. Western donor countries agreed two weeks ago in Paris to give about $21 billion in aid to Afghanistan, but that amount is less than half that requested by the beleaguered Afghan government. And as NATO casualties rise -- particularly among the Canadians, who lead NATO forces in the south -- coalition partners are facing domestic pressure to withdraw from the mission.

Ahmed Wali Karzai attributed the success of the most recent anti-Taliban operation to Afghan coordination with foreign troops in the region and a more rapid response from NATO's headquarters in Kabul, the capital.

But he added that the region, and the country, desperately needed to better prepare for the next wave of attacks. "We need a quick-action force so we can go after them," Karzai said. "We shouldn't be in a position of defending the city. We should go after the Taliban instead."

Special correspondent Javed Hamdard contributed to this report.
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Film-maker Sean Langan kidnapped in Afghanistan is set free
Alexi Mostrous The Times (UK) June 24, 2008
An award-winning British documentary maker was on his way home last night after being held hostage by Islamic extremists for three months in the hostile border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Sean Langan, whose Channel 4 documentary Fighting the Taliban was short-listed for a Bafta this year, had been held in a dark basement and endured a number of mock executions.

He was kidnapped while filming in a tribal area on the border in March. Negotiations with the kidnappers, which began after Channel 4 discovered that he had been taken a few weeks later, were “extremely tense all the way through”, Afghan sources close to the talks told The Times. According to one source the kidnappers twice reneged on a promise to release Mr Langan.

“It was only down to some extremely skilled negotiations, conducted at great risk, that clinched the release,” the source said. “This wasn’t some bandit group. The kidnappers were well linked politically.”

The source said that Mr Langan had been allowed to telephone his family two weeks ago to establish “proof of life”, and that he may have been kidnapped by members of a group he was trying to interview.

Mr Langan, 43, described by his friends as a “hugely eccentric and entertaining character”, emerged shattered from his ordeal on Saturday night, reportedly suffering from dysentery. His interpreter, an Afghan called Sammy, was also released unharmed.

A source close to the family of Mr Langan said that his brother David, his former wife Annabelle and his mother had been working tirelessly to secure his release. His family will make a formal statement after he arrives back in the country today.

Mr Langan travelled to the hostile region at the end of last year to film a follow-up to his award-winning Channel 4 film Meeting the Taliban. The remote location meant it took three weeks until his absence was picked up by Channel 4, which then initiated established procedures to secure his release.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “We’re glad to hear he’s safe and well and would encourage people to give him space after a traumatic experience. We were not involved directly in securing his release but have subsequently provided consular assistance.”

The Foreign Office first heard of the kidnap in May when its embassy in Kabul reported that a journalist was missing in Afghanistan.

Mr Langan specialises in making video-diary style documentaries, working alone for long periods of time and often in hostile environments. His three films on Afghanistan, Tea with the Taliban, Kabul Vice, and Fighting the Taliban were nominated for Bafta and Grierson awards.

Mr Langan has focused on the War on Terror since 2001 and held the first interviews with the Islamic militants in Iraq fighting US troops.

When Fighting the Taliban won a Rory Peck award last year Toby Young, a journalist and friend of Mr Langan’s, called to offer his congratulations. “He’s up a mountain somewhere, incommunicado,” his former wife told Mr Young.
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Teaching in Kandahar requires bravery
Afghan-born teacher, Canadians teaming up to open schools that give Afghan girls a future
Rosie DiManno The Toronto Star (Canada) June 23, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan–An Internet café for Afghan women only: What a concept.

Ehsanullah Ehsan, with the help of some benevolent Canadians, took the idea from concept to reality. Just as he fashioned a vocational training academy out of little more than personal initiative, with seed money from an Ottawa couple looking for a charitable project that had "special meaning.''

Today, there are 700 students, mostly female, attending school at the Afghan-Canadian Community Center in Kandahar city, and the Internet café inside its learning compound is constantly bustling with online activity.

"Tell Canada that your money is being spent in the right place, at the right time,'' says Ehsan, an Afghan-born educator who has opened private not-for-profit schools in Kandahar, Zabul, Helmand, Uruzgan and Pakistan.

But it is this facility, behind protective gates in Kandahar city – incubating locale of the education-loathing Taliban – that has been his most ambitious endeavour.

The school opened in January 2007, originally with 200 female students. Since then, it has expanded more than three-fold, opened its courses to male students – whose modest fees help pay for the free education available to girls – and will soon move to larger space.

That relocation has been made possible by the announcement last month that Canada, through the Canadian International Development Agency, was donating $60,000 to the facility. It is a visible and vibrant CIDA "capacity-building'' project, and the widely criticized funding agency can point to few of those.

"The security situation in Kandahar is not good and girls have difficulty getting an education,'' says Khatera Kaker, 17, a student at the academy for the past year. "Here, I feel safe. And the school is giving us all an opportunity to become something. I want to be a doctor because Afghanistan needs doctors, especially female doctors who can examine female patients.''

There are about a dozen women in the Internet café this afternoon, peering at the screens of donated computers, many provided by Canada's Provincial Reconstruction Team, participating in online courses offered by distance-learning institutions, including the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Twelve students have enrolled in their online business management program.

"Nobody bothers us at this school,'' adds Amina Haidary, 19, who also wants to be a doctor. "In other areas of the province, the Taliban burn down schools, threaten the students and the teachers. Families are afraid to send their daughters to school even if they want them to get an education.''

The grim facts: Instability and an expanding insurgency in the south is keeping 40,000 children out of school in Kandahar province. Out of 360 existing schools, most built since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001, only 232 were open as of last month; the rest were either put to the flame by anti-education, anti-government militants, shut down because parents fear exposing their children to violence, or closed due to the absence of teachers, themselves routinely threatened with death, often enough slain to make the bloody point.

The situation is particularly wretched for girls: only 35 per cent of enrolled students in Afghanistan are female. Currently, one-third of schools operated by the Ministry of Education are boys-only. Further, many parents don't want their daughters being educated by male teachers, yet only 28 per cent of teachers are women.

With fighting now a daily occurrence in the five southern provinces – bombings and improvised explosive devices on the roads and gun battles – it is simply not safe to attend school, though many districts struggle on, holding class for hundreds of students at a time under outdoor tents.

"It has been very hard, but we are trying to give ourselves a future,'' says Sadia Rochi, who has been teaching English at the centre for the last 18 months. "You have to be very brave to be a teacher in Kandahar these days.''

Ehsan, centre director, adds that it's not just the Taliban who thwart educational objectives in Afghanistan. "The warlords, including some in the government, don't like the idea of enlightenment either. For them, it's better to keep Afghans in the dark.''

It was a story about a Kandahar school two years ago by Star foreign correspondent Mitch Potter that prompted Ryan Aldred and Andrea Caverly to do some good – directly.

"I'm just a private citizen who wanted to get involved,'' Aldred explained in an email this week.

"I'm also a reservist, so doing a charitable project for Afghanistan has special meaning to me. I used to donate to larger organizations but became sick of not knowing where my donations actually went.

"I admit, a project of this size wasn't on my radar when I first spoke to Ehsan. I was just going to help him purchase computers or pay some additional salaries, but once I became aware of what the need was over there, I just wanted to do more.''

What Aldred and Caverly did was set up the Afghan School Project, partnered with Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, to raise funds that initially allowed the school to operate for six months. Aldred is program director for the project; Caverly is its chief operations officer.

Although the project is still awaiting charitable institute status, donors have continued to contribute, stabilizing the centre's existence until finally CIDA came aboard with funding through the Kandahar Local Initiatives Program. But even before CIDA's involvement, the lively centre was one of the most successful development projects in Kandahar.

The school offers post-secondary courses in health care – training for student nurses – information and computer technology, business management and English language studies. With these skills, graduates have secured good-paying jobs with international development organizations and prominent Afghan companies such as Roshan, the cellphone provider.

"Already, more than 90 of our students have obtained jobs where they are earning up to $1,000 U.S. a month,'' says Ehsan proudly.

Soon, he hopes to offer a new course: "Journalism. It appears to be very popular.''
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Afghan governor parades bombing suspects
Doug Schmidt ,  Canwest News Service Monday, June 23, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - On the same day top Afghan police and army generals were giving the thumbs-up for villagers to return to an area at Kandahar City's doorstep - temporarily controlled last week by Taliban militants - the provincial governor held a news conference Monday to parade two alleged suicide bombers arrested while on their way into the city.

Looking frightened and with his feet in shackles, Ali Ahmad, 22, confessed to reporters he was following the urging of his mullah at a madrasa, or religious school, in the nearby Pakistani city of Quetta, to go to Afghanistan to fight a jihad, or religious war. But he denied any knowledge of the explosives found in the car, which was stopped by Afghan authorities on the highway between the border city of Spin Boldak and Kandahar City.

The other suspect paraded before journalists was in handcuffs and leg shackles and didn't speak, but Gov. Asadullah Khalid said he was Abdul Zahir, 28, also a Pakistani of Quetta, and that he tried to convince authorities he was travelling to the strife-torn country to visit its "amazing" zoos. It's been at least more than a year since a Kandahar resident closed his city property that displayed a small collection of caged monkeys and little else.

A third man arrested but not present, was an Afghan resident of Zhari District, located to the west of Kandahar City in an area where Canada's battle group has been actively engaged in fighting insurgents.

Ahmad rejected any suggestion he was on a suicide attack mission, which has become a regular occurrence here, as well as the source of most recent coalition force deaths, including Canadian soldiers.

Meanwhile, two top Afghan generals said Monday the roadside bombs, land mines and remnant Taliban fighters had been cleared out of the Arghandab District. Brig.-Gen. Gul Aga Naebi, commander of 205 Corps, said last week's lopsided battle saw at least 100 insurgents killed, while the Afghan army lost two soldiers. He listed a number of purported Taliban commanders among the dead.

"We have diminished the aspirations of the enemy," Naebi said.

Naebi said his troops will continue to occupy police checkpoints in and around the city until residents in the area "are assured" the current crisis, which began with a spectacular June 13 prison break, followed by Taliban boasts of an imminent city takeover, has passed.
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In Afghan police training, US aims to curb corruption
Boston.com - World By David Zucchino Los Angeles Times June 23, 2008
FARAH, Afghanistan-There were two good reasons why Captain Dave Panian made a perilous journey across the desert to this dusty provincial capital.

He wanted to check on his close friend, a district police chief whose family had been threatened by the Taliban. He also wanted to pry loose salaries for the chief's police officers, who were owed two months' pay.

Panian, a lanky officer from San Diego, heads a small US Army team training local police near the village of Bala Buluk, 40 miles northeast of Farah in southwest Afghanistan, where his friend Haji Khudaydad is the chief. Training is the easy part. The hard part is cutting through threats, bureaucracy, cronyism, and corruption.

The effectiveness of police and other local officials is taking on growing importance as the Taliban move to regain territory in southern Afghanistan this summer. Afghan and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops battled the Taliban last week for control of villages around the city of Kandahar, about 220 miles east of Farah.

Throughout the country, police often have been little more than hired guns who raise money for local warlords through illegal taxes, shakedowns, and corruption. Many police and district officials sell weapons and opium. Some collude with the Taliban. Since 2003, trainers such as Panian from the US military and its foreign partners have been working to reform the police.

Some units have fought effectively alongside US forces, but others remain mired in cronyism and Mafia-like criminal enterprises. With fighting picking up in southern Afghanistan, the role of police chiefs such as Khudaydad and the loyalty of their officers are crucial.

So Panian got into a shouting match with provincial officials who refused to release last month's pay for the police. He ended up storming over to the local bank and coming out with a plastic bag stuffed with the equivalent of $14,000 in afghanis, the local currency. But first he warned the officials that there would be "hell to pay" if they didn't cough up this month's pay the next day.

Then Panian found out that even though the Taliban had placed a $30,000 bounty on Khudaydad, officials had refused to help him move his wives and children outside the provincial capital, to where relatives and fellow tribesmen could protect them.

After a harrowing seven-hour drive across the desert at night in a convoy of police, US soldiers, and Marines, Khudaydad was delivered back to his Bala Buluk compound. He was relieved to be out of Farah.

"I don't trust those people," Khudaydad said of certain provincial officials.

In Bala Buluk, Panian's 14 trainers live in a spartan compound next to district police headquarters. They have run about 100 police officers through an eight-week police academy in Herat, about 140 miles to the north, and mentored Khudaydad's officers daily for six months.

"I won't deny there's still corruption, but it's at a much lower level," Panian said.

Panian and his trainers forced out two previous chiefs. One extorted cash from local shopkeepers and imposed taxes on passing vehicles. The other ran drugs and guns, according to US team members.
The trainers maneuvered Khudaydad into the chief's job, even though he is a sergeant major, not an officer. They consider him tough, fair, and honest.

"He's not blameless, but he's as good as they come based on what we've seen here," Panian said.

Khudaydad, who appears to be in his mid-40s, has a long face, a wispy, black beard, and expressive brown eyes. He seems to command respect from his men, who listen closely when he speaks.

He fought the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, and in 2001 turned against the Taliban, which he said has killed 38 of his family members and fellow tribesmen, including four nephews and two sons.

Twelve of Khudaydad's officers have died since he took over as chief April 2. Some were killed in a vehicle accident, but others died in fighting against the Taliban in late May, in which a US trainer also was killed.

The Taliban control much of the countryside in Farah Province, where their fighters plant roadside bombs and mount occasional ambushes. A roadside bomb killed four Marines earlier this month.

"I waited a long time for the Americans to come," Khudaydad said, referring to training, weapons, and equipment US forces have provided.
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Army 'vacuum' missile hits Taliban
Michael Smith The Sunday Times (UK) June 22, 2008
British forces in Afghanistan have used one of the world’s most deadly and controversial missiles to fight the Taliban.

Apache attack helicopters have fired the thermobaric weapons against fighters in buildings and caves, to create a pressure wave which sucks the air out of victims, shreds their internal organs and crushes their bodies.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has admitted to the use of the weapons, condemned by human rights groups as “brutal”, on several occasions, including against a cave complex.

The use of the Hellfire AGM-114N weapons has been deemed so successful they will now be fired from RAF Reaper unmanned drones controlled by “pilots” at Creech air force base in Nevada, an MoD spokesman added.

Thermobaric weapons, or vacuum bombs, were first combat-tested by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s and their use by Russia against civilians in Chechnya in the 1990s was condemned worldwide.

The secret decision to buy the Hellfire AGM-114N missiles was made earlier this year following problems attacking Taliban fortified positions.

British Apache pilots complained that standard Hellfire antitank missiles were going straight through buildings and out of the other side. Even when they did explode, there were limited casualties among the Taliban inside, particularly when a building contained a number of rooms.

American Apache pilots overcame the problem in Iraq with the thermobaric Hellfire.

The weapons are so controversial that MoD weapons and legal experts spent 18 months debating whether British troops could use them without breaking international law.

Eventually, they decided to get round the ethical problems by redefining the weapons.

“We no longer accept the term thermobaric [for the AGM-114N] as there is no internationally agreed definition,” said an MoD spokesman. “We call it an enhanced blast weapon.”

The redefinition has allowed British forces to use the weapons legally, but is undermined by the publicity of their manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, which markets them as thermobaric.

When the American military bought them in 2005, President George W Bush said: “There are going to be some awfully surprised terrorists when the thermobaric Hellfire comes knocking.”

Despite the Bush rhetoric, it is unlikely anyone targeted by the missile would know much about it. The laser-guided missile has a warhead packed with fluorinated aluminium powder surrounding a small charge.

When it hits the target, the charge disperses the aluminium powder throughout the target building. The cloud then ignites, causing a massive secondary blast that tears throughout any enclosed space.

The blast creates a vacuum which draws air and debris back in, creating pressure of up to 430lb per sq in. The more heavily the building is protected, the more concentrated the blast.

The cloud of burning aluminium powder means victims often die from asphyxiation before the pressure shreds their organs.

Jim Gribschaw, Lockheed Martin’s programme director for air-to-ground missiles systems, said the thermobaric Hellfire was “capable of reaching around corners to strike enemy forces hiding in cases, bunkers and hardened multi-room complexes.”

Human Rights Watch argues they are “particularly brutal” and that their blast “makes it virtually impossible for civilians to take shelter”.

Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: “It is staggering the MoD has added these weapons to Britain’s arsenal in cloak-and-dagger secrecy. Parliament has never assented to their use.”

He added: “Gordon Brown claimed the moral high ground when Britain supported a ban on cluster munitions but leaving a loophole for these weapons casts a different picture on the true position.”

The MoD said: “We are conscious of the controversial aspects [of this weapon] but it is being used sparingly and under strict circumstances where it is deemed appropriate by the commander on the ground.”

A spokesman added that it could “achieve objectives with the minimum coalition casualties and reduced collateral damage”.
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A nation as yet unbuilt
Afghanistan has never been a successful state. Our involvement there is based on a delusion
Peter Preston The Guardian UK Monday June 23, 2008
Francis Fukuyama posed the basic Afghan dilemma as the supposed triumph of western invasion began to fall apart. Afghanistan has never been "modern", he observed, chillingly. "Under the monarchy that existed until the beginning of its political troubles in the 1970s, it largely remained a tribal confederation with minimal state penetration outside Kabul". And the subsequent years "of communist misrule and civil war eliminated everything that was left" of that feeble entity. History wasn't dead, in short; Afghans were dead.

And now, many killing fields later, we can put that even more starkly. Afghanistan isn't a "failed" state, because Afghanistan has never been a successful one. Afghanistan is a crossroads, a traffic island, a war zone, a drug den, an exotic doormat, and an eternal victim.

But it is not, in any coherent sense, a nation. We cannot see peace, harmony and freedom "restored" there, because such concepts have no roots in its essentially medieval past, or present. Afghanistan has always been a disaster waiting to happen, again and again.

Did John Reid, pausing briefly at the Ministry of Defence on his routemarch through Whitehall, know this when he vowed that we would "be perfectly happy to leave in three years without firing one shot, because our job is reconstruction"? One hundred body bags back at Brize Norton, that question answers itself. Of course, he didn't know. Nobody who ordered the troops in to flush out al-Qaida knew. Nobody dreamed that Kabul and Kandahar would be tougher nuts to crack than Baghdad and Basra. But they ought to realise it now.

Reid thought that the American mission was "chasing the terrorists who did so much to destroy the twin towers", while our happy boys could get by with a little roadbuilding. Which delusion seems greater today?

Osama bin Laden is still somewhere out there, chased but uncaught. Even Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban government, hasn't been brought to book. And Helmand province, these past few days, has seen only roadside bombs blowing up our boys (and one natural front-page girl). You couldn't have a greater failure of intelligence, or expectation.

What's gone wrong? See the official excuses pour in. Of course the porous border with ungovernable Waziristan and Baluchistan doesn't help. Of course, Iran can be blamed for almost anything too. And, of course, corruption, both central and local, weighs everything down. (Guess which one world commodity crop isn't shrinking ...) But the crippling difficulty, nullifying all efforts, seldom breaks cover.

You'd suppose, from press and ministerial briefings, that the Taliban and al-Qaida were somehow synonymous - alien forces implanted among loyal, struggling Afghans. It's a convenient delusion, one that chimes with a similar yarn in Iraq (where bombings and kidnappings are blamed on stray Saudis or Egyptians, not indigenous Iraqis). But that's clearly rubbish as the suicide attacks proliferate. Taliban patrols do, indeed, pass back and forth across Pakistan's non-frontier. But they are also an Afghan presence with Afghan support. They are part of the Afghan scenery (just as they were when Mullah Omar ruled).
This isn't a war against invaders. This is a war pitting Afghan against Afghan, as usual, as ever: an uncivil conflict. Which is why it is a war we cannot win. If there is no structure, no authority beyond ad hoc tribalism, then there is no victory that can last. The past few decades here, like the centuries that went before as the Mongols and Genghis Khan stormed by, have been years of splitting and slaughtering: one tribe against another, one warlord against his neighbour, one communist against another, the peripheries against Kabul.

The irony is that, left alone to stew, the Taliban would have gone the way of the Parcham and the Khalq before. There was no need to try to destroy them: Afghan anarchy would have done that in time.

But because we persisted in thinking of al-Qaida as some disciplined "terrorist army" pitted against our armies, because we talked in conventional terms that seemed to turn this wreck of a non-state into a nation like any other, we thought that conventional tactics could work. They won't. They have no foundations.

Afghanistan is a nation yet unbuilt, a black hole of hope defying calculation. It kills outsiders; it kills the insiders who seek to rule it. Its great game, over generations, knows only failure; and the only way not to become a loser is to resolve - at last - not to play.
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A sliver of hope
Despite his bleak, brilliant analysis of the Afghan region's descent into chaos, Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid hasn't abandoned all optimism
Ottawa Citizen, Canada Janice Kennedy Sunday, June 22, 2008 Descent into Chaos
Ahmed Rashid ends his bleak new book on a note of hope.

The respected Pakistani journalist, whose previous books have educated the western world in the ways and ramifications of Islamic extremism, concludes Descent into Chaos with the fervent wish that the global community learn from the mistakes it has made in Afghanistan and the nations surrounding that woefully failed state.

But it is a faint hope, almost a pro forma way of bringing to a close a 400-page tale of missed and bungled opportunities, lies and deception, tragically flawed decisions and unforgivable ignorance. For all its exhaustive scope, nuanced interpretation and analytical brilliance, Descent into Chaos (subtitled The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia) is both depressing and frightening.

But for Rashid, the prognosis is not completely dark.

"I am not without hope," he said by phone last week from New York, where he was on the American leg of his international book tour. The Lahore-based journalist, author of Taliban (2000) and Jihad (2002), visits Ottawa this week to participate in an invitation-only symposium on Parliament Hill on "Cosmopolitan Identity in the Islamic World," sponsored by the Centre for International Governance Innovation think-tank.

What gives him hope are the results of the February elections in Pakistan, where the late Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party won shared power with another former opposition party. "Those elections were positive," says Rashid, who contributes regularly to such publications as London's Daily Telegraph and the International Herald Tribune.

"In the long term, the people of Pakistan voted for a secular party."

That is reason for optimism, he says, despite the continuing problem of military influence and the Islamic extremists harboured up and down the country's border with Afghanistan.

And that is reason for optimism in Afghanistan itself, which continues to suffer from Pakistani-based Taliban incursions such as the recent Kandahar jailbreak that freed as many as 1,100 prisoners, nearly 400 of them Taliban militants. When the situation starts improving in Pakistan, it should have an impact on Afghanistan. But as Rashid makes clear, there is a vast distance to go.

Descent into Chaos is that rarest of literary creations, a crucial book -- necessary reading for any cogent understanding of how we have landed in this morass, and what we can do about it. But despite the penetratingly bright light it shines into the darkness, it is not a comforting book. Both hawks and doves on the question of Afghanistan will find much in it to enlighten, but little to support previously held views.
Rashid, who received a Pakistani award for courage in journalism and who is a consultant for Human Rights Watch, dissects the extraordinarily tangled geopolitical mess in his native part of the world with insight, warm sensitivity and surprising readability. This is a skilled analysis that, like all good journalism, never forgets the human element at the heart of the events. Readers are presented with as many empathetic, fleshed-out portraits of people and moving accounts of their role in unfolding history as they are with reportage that might otherwise seem dry.

Descriptions of children flocking to reopened schools, of Afghans scarred by war and hardship waiting in long lines on election day with patient good humour, of the energetic hope embodied by wise old peacemakers like UN representative Lakhdar Brahimi -- all put a memorable face on dusty facts.

Rashid, 60, writes with the benefit of decades of experience, uniquely informed by both his personal and professional life in Pakistan as well as his breathtaking wealth of connections. He has addressed both the United Nations General Assembly and NATO ambassadors on the situation in Afghanistan, and he counts Afghan president Hamid Karzai as his friend, though he is far from uncritical. "I'm able to be very blunt with him," he says, which may explain his characterization in the book of Karzai's leadership as weak, vacillating and impotent in the face of warlords and rampant corruption.

But Descent into Chaos is about so much more than the failure of Afghan leadership. At heart, it is about the the catastrophic results of the failure of the U.S. and its global allies to do their duty -- to recognize the need for nation building and engage in it. What Rashid presents, based on vast intimate knowledge and experience, is a picture of an escalating global crisis that could have been avoided.

NATO's boasts that it has won all its battles are hollow, he writes, since it has no "overarching strategy ... for transforming military victories into development, reconstruction, good governance, and political strategies."

Because of such failures, along with those of the Karzai government to improve the lives of the Afghan people, the Taliban have been "winning by default."

Meticulously researched and documented (there are 48 pages of footnotes alone), his book follows the tortured path of events, since 9/11, in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the troubled surrounding region.
It considers the dangerous situation in Pakistan, where Islamic extremists have been not only harboured but nurtured, and looks at the repeated failings within Afghanistan of both the Karzai government and the various international powers that have left their heavy footprint.

It examines the needs of the area, and the determinedly deaf ear turned toward those needs by the administration of George W. Bush, as well as by NATO. It looks at the legacy of Bush and his henchmen Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, zeroing in on the catastrophic results of their pathological obsession with Iraq, which meant an abandonment of Afghanistan.

Staring into the face of a thoroughly ravaged country, writes Rashid, "scholars and diplomats now argued for a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan." But, he continues, "the Bush neocons had simply no interest before or after the war in doing anything like this." And at home there was little genuine protest against such inaction as "the American public remained largely ignorant of the humanitarian crises escalating everywhere."

Descent into Chaos also explores the numerous ripe conditions that have contributed to the rise of Islamic extremism in the area, including not only an ill-waged battle for hearts and minds, but also such pragmatic realities as the rise in opium production in the "narco-state" of Afghanistan.

"The Taliban resurgence, al-Qaeda's reorganization and the restarting of its training camps for international terrorist groups after the U.S. invasion would have been impossible without the explosion in heroin production," writes Rashid, who notes that in Helmand province alone last year, for example, there was a staggering 45-per-cent increase in opium production.

Rashid also provides provocative tidbits. He describes, for example, the hugely expanding "cottage industry" in the manufacture of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in the Taliban-heavy border areas. He details the blundering of U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks that essentially permitted the escape of Osama bin Laden. He lists the countries that help the U.S. out by providing secret detention facilities for rendered prisoners.

He also offers intriguing glimpses into the realities of a region deeply foreign to, and misunderstood by, most westerners. Rashid writes (in terms Canadians will certainly recognize) of young Pakistan's tenuous sense of national identity. He describes the calculatedly split political personality of Pervez Musharraf (known as "double-talk Musharraf"), contrasting his present with his past as a fun-loving young man and indifferent student. He tells the almost romantic tale of Karzai's return home to Afghanistan in October 2001 -- on the back of a motorbike, with an old satellite phone that he keeps today as a reminder of that incredible journey.

Canada figures into Rashid's book, but only marginally. He cites the Maher Arar case in "America Shows the Way," his chapter on torture, renditions and secret jails. But the country itself appears primarily as just another member -- albeit a fully contributing one -- of a NATO presence that has been confused and misguided. He also writes of Canada's ongoing public debate on its role in Afghanistan, a heated discussion echoed by other NATO members.

"The critical mistake Canada made," he said in last week's interview, "was that it had no policy toward Pakistan. It just went along with whatever the Americans were telling them." (And the American perspective, in Rashid's view, was spectacularly flawed.) This had its impact as Canada arrived in Kandahar, where it "didn't have a clue about what to expect. You can not look at Afghanistan without looking at the neighbouring countries. You need to have a strategic policy that looks at the entire region." Rashid is referring to the whole of Central Asia, republics like Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, with their poverty, unstable governments and exploding populations of Islamic militants. His book suggests that they constitute a far greater global threat than Iraq.

Rashid's recommended strategic policy would also address what he calls the "biggest conundrum," the vast and proliferating safe havens for Islamic terrorists along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

In the meantime, he says, Canada should probably wait and watch, along with the rest of the world, to see what happens next November in the U.S. presidential election.

Republican hopeful John McCain is not talking much about Afghanistan, says Rashid, because it has become an embarrassment to his party. But he is encouraged -- a little -- by the Democrats' Barack Obama, who, he says, has suggested he'll concentrate on Afghanistan, rather than Iraq. "He needs to put flesh on this policy," says Rashid, but it may be a good sign.

So no, he says, based on recent events, he is not entirely without hope. But in the disastrous narrative of that powder-keg world he knows so well and describes with such compelling authority in Descent into Chaos, it will be difficult for the average reader to share that sliver of optimism.

Janice Kennedy is an Ottawa writer and Sunday Citizen columnist.
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Terrorism help for Pakistan
Sydney Morning Herald, Australia Jonathan Pearlman Foreign Affairs Correspondent June 23, 2008
AUSTRALIAN counter-terrorism experts could be sent to Pakistan under a far-reaching plan by the Federal Government to help that country promote stability, slow the spread of Islamic extremism and stem the flow of insurgents into Afghanistan.

The plan would mark a significant deepening of Australian-Pakistani relations and could result in the two countries working together on the types of extensive counter-terrorism programs that have been extended to Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific. Senior Government sources told the Herald the measures would extend beyond security and include plans to develop an extradition treaty, formalise dialogues between senior officials and ministers , deal with food security, assist with security training and extend aid and development assistance.

Government sources said closer engagement with Pakistan could help promote stability - including the protection of the country's nuclear arsenal - and prevent the flow of insurgents from sanctuaries in the western tribal areas, who have been attacking NATO-led and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. It could also allay any Pakistani concerns about Australia's expanding ties with India.

It is understood the plan is being drafted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with input from agencies including the federal police, the Defence Force, the Immigration Department and the Attorney-General's Department. It would build on a counter-terrorism memorandum Australia and Pakistan signed in 2005.

The Rudd Government has shifted its focus from the war on Iraq - from which the last Australian combat troops returned yesterday - to the war in Afghanistan, where Australia's 1100 troops operate in some of the most dangerous provinces, including Oruzgan, which is close to Pakistan.

Government sources said Australia was well placed to provide counter-terrorism support to Pakistan because Australia was free of the baggage that beset other key allies, such as Britain, a former colonial power, and the US, which is widely disliked for its perceived intrusiveness and the fallout from military incursions such as a recent air strike that killed 11 Pakistani soldiers.

Pakistan's high commissioner to Australia, Jalil Jilani, told the Herald the Pakistani Government and public saw Australia as a "very friendly country" and would be receptive to greater co-operation.
"The Government and people of Pakistan would desire a strengthening of relations in almost every area," he said.

"I do not think there are issues involved in co-operating on counter-terrorism activities as long as it does not impinge on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan."

Mr Jilani said Australia was praised in Pakistan after the Howard government's swift provision of aid after the devastating earthquake in 2005.

Western governments have become increasingly vocal about the need for Pakistan to tackle Islamic radicalism. The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen, predicted two weeks ago that any future al-Qaeda attack on the US would originate in Pakistan's tribal areas, where Osama Bin Laden is believed to have been hiding since the fall of the Taliban.

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith, has called for international action to help and encourage Pakistan to crack down on the flow of insurgents.

"We have got to start looking at the border between Afghanistan not just as a bilateral issue between those two nations but a regional issue" he said this month.

Mr Smith will meet the Indian Minister for External Affairs, Pranab Mukherjee, in Canberra today. It is understood that the Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, has been invited to Australia and is likely to visit within the next 12 months.
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Iran opens port to Afghan business
www.quqnoos.com Written by PAN Sunday, 22 June 2008 
Businessmen to get special permits to use Iranian sea port
IRAN has agreed to let Afghan businessmen use the Iranian sea port of Chabahar to import and export goods into and out of their country.

The historic deal will weaken Afghanistan’s reliance on Pakistan as a transit route for goods travelling into and out of the country.

The head of Afghanistan’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Mohammad Qurban Haqjo, said the deal, singed on June 19, will boost trade and create business opportunities for the country’s private sector.

The port is located on the Oman Gulf, about 700km from the Afghan province of Nimroz, and serves as a jumping off point to the Indian Ocean through the Arabian Sea.

The nearest sea port Afghanistan is currently allowed to use is in Karachi, Pakistan, 1,200km from Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar.

Haqjo said the route through Pakistan was fraught with problems for Afghan businessmen: goods are often seized by customs officials or delayed for months.

Businessmen have also complained in the past of the deteriorating security situation along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

The port at Chabahar will allow Afghan goods to reach the international market far quicker, he said.

The Iranian government will rent 50 hectares of the port’s land to Afghan businessmen for the next 99 years as part of the landmark deal.

The Iranian government’s representative in Chabahar, Dr Baqer Zada, said Afghans will be allowed to start up construction companies, hotels and tourism businesses in the port

"We are neighbours. We share the same religion. We want to encourage Afghan private sector development," he said.

Businessmen will be able to obtain a special permit to travel to Chabahar without having to apply for a visa.

Malaysia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and China all use the port.
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Afghan Wireless, Roshan Hit 2 Million Subscribers Each
Dan Nystedt, IDG News Service via Yahoo! News Mon Jun 23, 3:00 AM ET
Despite continued fighting in the nation, Afghan Wireless Communications and rival Roshan both said their subscriber numbers have each hit 2 million in Afghanistan, marking fast growth in a nation that in 2002 first launched mobile phone services.

Afghan Wireless reported hitting the milestone earlier than Roshan.

Afghan Wireless was the first company allowed to set up a GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) wireless network in Afghanistan through a deal signed in April, 2002. By July 9, of the same year, the company had 41,000 wireless subscribers in four cities. At the time, Afghanistan had just 40,000 fixed-line connections in a nation of over 22 million people.

As of May 28 this year, Afghan Wireless boasted 2 million subscribers spread over 300 towns in all 34 provinces across Afghanistan.

Roshan, the largest competitor for Afghan Wireless, launched services in July, 2003 and also said it hit the 2 million mark last week on June 19. The company's network covers 224 cities across 33 provinces in Afghanistan, according to its Web site.

The war in Afghanistan started in October, 2001, as a response to al-Qaida's destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Forces from the U.S., U.K., Germany, Poland and elsewhere remain in Afghanistan today.
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Afghanistan and Iraq are all about energy
Gulf Times - Home By Eric S Margolis  Monday, 23 June, 2008
PARIS-The ugly truth behind the Iraq and Afghanistan wars finally emerged into full view last week.

Four major Western oil companies, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Total, are about to sign US-brokered no-bid contracts to begin exploiting Iraq’s oil fields. Saddam Hussain had kicked these firms out three decades ago when he nationalised Iraq’s foreign-owned oil industry for the benefit of Iraq’s national development. The US-installed Baghdad regime is turning back the clock.

The same oil companies that used to exploit Iraq when it was a British colony are now returning. As former US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan recently admitted, the Iraq war was all about oil. Vice President Dick Cheney stated in 2003 that the invasion of Iraq was about oil and for the sake of Israel.

Afghanistan just signed a major deal to launch a long-planned, 1,680 km long pipeline project expected to cost $8bn. If completed, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI) will export gas and, later, oil from the Caspian Basin to Pakistan’s coast where tankers will transport it to the West.

The Caspian Basin located under the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakkstan, holds an estimated 300tn cubic feet of gas and 100-200bn barrels of oil. Securing the world’s last remaining known energy Eldorado is a strategic priority for the western powers. China can only look on with envy.

But there are only two practical ways to get gas and oil out of land-locked Central Asia to the sea: through Iran, or through Afghanistan to Pakistan. The US Israel lobby has blocked any dealings with Iran. That leaves Pakistan, but to get there, the planned pipeline must cross western Afghanistan, including the cities of Herat and Kandahar.

In 1998, the Afghan anti-Communist movement Taliban and a Western oil consortium led by the US firm Unocal signed a major pipeline deal. Unocal lavished money and attention on Taliban, flew a senior delegation to Texas, and also hired a minor Afghan official, one Hamid Karzai.

Enter Osama bin Laden. He advised the unworldly Taliban leaders to reject the US deal and got them to accept a better offer from an Argentine consortium, Bridas. Washington was furious and, according to some accounts, threatened Taliban with war.

In early 2001, six or seven months before 9/11, Washington made the decision to invade Afghanistan, overthrow Taliban, and install a client regime that would build the energy pipelines. But Washington still kept up sending money to Taliban until four months before 9/11 in an effort to keep it `on side’ for possible use in a war against Iran.

The 9/11 attacks, about which Taliban knew nothing, supplied the pretext to invade Afghanistan. The initial US operation had the legitimate objective of wiping out bin Laden’s Al Qaeda. But after its 300 members fled to Pakistan, the US stayed on, built bases – which just happened to be adjacent to the planned pipeline route – and installed former Unocal `consultant’ Hamid Karzai as leader.

Washington disguised its energy geopolitics by claiming the Afghan occupation was to fight ‘terrorism’, liberate women, build schools, and promote democracy. Ironically, the Soviets made exactly the same claims when they occupied Afghanistan from 1979-1989. The cover story for Iraq was weapons of mass destruction, Saddam’s supposed links to 9/11, and democracy.

Work will begin on the TAPI once Taliban forces are cleared from the pipeline route by US, Canadian and Nato forces. As American analyst Kevin Phillips writes, the US military and its allies have become an `energy protection force’ .

From Washington’s viewpoint, the TAPI deal has the added benefit of scuttling another proposed pipeline project that would have delivered Iranian gas and oil to Pakistan and India.

India’s energy needs are expected to triple over the next decade to 8bn barrels of oil and 80mn cubic meters of gas daily. New Delhi, which has its own designs on Afghanistan and has been stirring the pot there, is cock-a-hoop over the new pipeline plan. Russia, by contrast, is grumpy, having hoped to monopolise Central Asian energy exports.

Energy is more important than blood in our modern world. The US is a great power with massive energy needs. Domination of oil is a pillar of America’s world power. Afghanistan and Iraq are all about oil. After last week’s news, those who pretended otherwise looked like fools.
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