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June 25, 2008 

Afghanistan blames Pakistan in Karzai attack
By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan official on Wednesday accused Pakistan's premier spy agency of organizing a recent assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the most serious in a string of allegations against Pakistan.

Pakistanis "won't allow" attacks into Afghanistan
By Robert Birsel
ISLAMABAD, June 25 (Reuters) - Pakistan said on Wednesday it will not allow militants to attack Afghanistan from its territory and it will never let foreign troops operate on its soil.

Afghan, U.S.-led troops kill up to 35 Taliban
Wed Jun 25, 4:32 AM ET
KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) - U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces killed up to 35 Taliban insurgents after the militants attacked two towns in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border overnight, a police chief said on Wednesday.

British soldier killed by explosion in Afghanistan
Wed Jun 25, 7:25 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A British soldier has been killed in an explosion while checking for mines in troubled southern Afghanistan, military authorities confirmed Wednesday.

Pakistani Taliban militants kill 22 rival tribesmen: officials
by S.H. Khan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) - Militants loyal to Pakistan's top Taliban leader killed 22 pro-government tribesmen after abducting them during battles to control a town near the Afghan border, officials said Wednesday.

Afghan villagers slow to return after offensive
By Jonathon Burch
ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan, June 25 (Reuters) - Bunches of ripe red grapes hung heavy in vineyards near Afghanistan's second city Kandahar on Wednesday, with villagers slow to return a week after Afghan troops routed hundreds of Taliban in their fields.

British forces too "stretched" to fight wars in Iraq, Afghanistan
LONDON, June 25 (Xinhua) -- Britain's Armed Forces were stretched beyond their capabilities and could not continue fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a British newspaper said on Wednesday.

Russia joins the war in Afghanistan
By M K Bhadrakumar Asia Times Online / June 25, 2008
Moscow is staging an extraordinary comeback on the Afghan chessboard after a gap of two decades following the Soviet Union's nine-year adventure that ended in the withdrawal of its last troops from Afghanistan 1989.

Germany to Send More Troops to Afghanistan
Increase of 1,000 Follows U.S. Pleas
By Craig Whitlock Washington Post Foreign Service Wednesday, June 25, 2008; Page A08
BERLIN, June 24 -- Germany pledged Tuesday to contribute up to 1,000 more troops to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, responding to months of pleas from the United States and other allies to bulk up its peacekeeping force.

Pakistan calls the shots
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / June 25, 2008
KARACHI - Since signing on for the "war on terror" in 2001, Pakistan has received approximately US$10 billion in aid from the United States. It has also been pledged $600 million in economic and security assistance and $50 million

Afghanistan: Clashes' zone near Kandahar to get emergency relief aid
KANDAHAR, 24 June 2008 (IRIN) - The government of Afghanistan and UN agencies have agreed to distribute emergency humanitarian relief immediately to thousands of Battle-Affected Persons (BAPs) in Arghandab District, Kandahar Province.

Threats shut many Afghan schools
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 18:11 UK BBC News
About 80% of schools in the south-eastern Afghan province of Zabul are closed due to a lack of security, the government says.

Afghan warlords stockpiling opium crop
Michael Evans, Defence Editor The Times (UK) / June 24, 2008
The Taleban is believed to be stockpiling vast quantities of opium after a bumper crop last year sent the price of the drug spiralling downwards.

AFGHANISTAN: Juvenile justice system lacks resources
KABUL, 25 June 2008 (IRIN) - Shahla (not her real name), aged 14, fears the future: Her father has threatened to kill her when she is released from a juvenile centre in Herat Province, western Afghanistan.

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Afghanistan blames Pakistan in Karzai attack
By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan official on Wednesday accused Pakistan's premier spy agency of organizing a recent assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the most serious in a string of allegations against Pakistan.

The charge bodes ill for American efforts to get Pakistan's new government to work with Karzai's embattled administration to counter Islamic militants on their common border.

Karzai escaped unharmed when assailants fired guns and mortars toward the president, senior officials and foreign diplomats during a military parade in downtown Kabul on April 27. Three Afghans were killed.

Since then, Karzai has ramped up his criticism of Pakistan, whom Afghan officials have long suspected of secretly aiding the insurgents. Karzai even threatened to send troops into Pakistan to eliminate Taliban leaders this month.

Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh alleged last month that suspects involved in the attempt on Karzai had exchanged cell phone text messages with people in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions and the city of Peshawar.

Presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said Tuesday that "the hand of one foreign intelligence agency was clearly involved."

Saleh's spokesman, Saeed Ansari, went further Wednesday, claiming Afghan intelligence could prove Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, was involved.

"The evidence and documents as well as the confessions of people arrested by the intelligence service shows that the main organizer of the terrorist acts during the 16th anniversary of the mujahedeen victory was the intelligence service of Pakistan and its allies," Ansari said.

Pressed at a news conference for details, Ansari said one piece of evidence was a secret code used during phone conversations between militants. He released a list of phone numbers prefixed with Pakistan's country code, 92, which he said they had used.

However, he said couldn't reveal all the reasons the Afghan agency was certain the ISI was involved because it could compromise its operations.

"We are sure and confident" of an ISI connection, he said.

Ansari also said that militants involved in a deadly attack on Kabul's Serena Hotel in January had links with the ISI.

A spokesman for the Pakistan army, which controls the ISI, was not immediately available for comment. The Foreign Ministry said it would only respond after viewing a transcript of Ansari's remarks.

Pakistani leaders acknowledge that Taliban and al-Qaida militants find refuge in its lawless tribal belt. However, they angrily reject suggestions that its security agencies are colluding with militants.

"Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used against other countries, especially Afghanistan," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Wednesday.

But in a message to both Afghanistan and the United States, he added: "Under no circumstances will foreign troops be allowed to operate inside Pakistan."

Cross-border relations are already strained in the wake of a U.S. airstrike which Pakistan says killed 11 of its soldiers last month.

The top American commander in Afghanistan said Tuesday that one-star generals from the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan this week began a joint investigation of the incident.

Pakistani officials complain that they being unfairly blamed for the failure of the Karzai government to stabilize Afghanistan, despite billions of dollars in international aid and the presence of 60,000 foreign troops.

In the latest fighting, the U.S.-led coalition said Afghan police called for help Tuesday night when insurgents armed with rockets and guns attacked government offices in the Sarobi and Gomal districts of Paktika province.

"When coalition air support arrived, the 22 militants who attacked the district centers were positively identified and killed," a coalition statement said.

Ghamai Khan Mohammadyar, spokesman for the provincial governor, said police counted the bodies of 22 "enemy fighters" on the battlefield. He said no Afghan forces were killed and claimed that the surviving militants had fled toward the Pakistani border.

The coalition said one of its troops died and three others were wounded when a bomb hit a vehicle on a combat operation in Helmand province.

One NATO soldier also died in Helmand when an explosion hit a patrol in Nahri Sarraj district on Tuesday, the alliance said.

More than 2,000 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press tally.

Many are militants slaughtered by U.S. warplanes responding to skirmishes on the ground. A total of 111 foreign troops have also died, including 36 this month — a faster monthly pace of attrition than in Iraq.
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Associated Press writers Stephen Graham and Amir Shah in Kabul and Matthew Pennington in Islamabad contributed to this report.
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Pakistanis "won't allow" attacks into Afghanistan
By Robert Birsel
ISLAMABAD, June 25 (Reuters) - Pakistan said on Wednesday it will not allow militants to attack Afghanistan from its territory and it will never let foreign troops operate on its soil.

The declaration came after threats from Afghan President Hamid Karzai to send troops into Pakistan to fight Taliban militants he says operate from border sanctuaries, and after 11 Pakistani border soldiers were killed in a U.S. air strike.

"Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used against other countries, especially Afghanistan and under no circumstances will foreign troops be allowed to operate inside Pakistan," the government said in a statement after a top-level security meeting.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani presided over the meeting which included federal and provincial government leaders and military and security agency chiefs.

"The meeting unanimously agreed that elimination of terrorism and extremism is the gravest challenge to Pakistan's national security and to fight this menace a multi-pronged strategy will be followed," the government said.

It was the strongest message on militancy yet from a three-month old government that critics say has been preoccupied with internal political wrangling and blind to looming security threats.

The main thrust of the policy would be the political engagement of the people through their elected representatives and tribal elders, together with economic development and "selective use of military force", the government said.

"ROBUST ENFORCEMENT"
The government that emerged from February elections, made up of President Pervez Musharraf's opponents, is trying to end violence through talks with tribal elders in the hope they can press militants in their areas to give up.

But the United States says negotiations and peace deals with militants can give them a free hand to plot attacks and U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan say Taliban attacks launched from Pakistani border sanctuaries have been increasing.

The government said tribal elders would be responsible for expelling foreign militants and for ensuring that militants did not cross the border into Afghanistan.

"All agreements with the tribes ... will be backed by a robust enforcement mechanism" with the government reserving the right to use force, it said.

It did not refer to similar agreements struck under the previous government which failed to curb militant violence and, critics say, enabled the militants to regroup.

Many Pakistanis blame Musharraf's alliance with the United States and his support for the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism for a wave of violence in Pakistan in which hundreds of people have been killed over the past year.

The two main partners in the new coalition government, slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's party and that of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, came to power after promising a new approach, including negotiations.

But security has been deteriorating in several parts of the northwest over recent days.

This week, Pakistani Taliban seized a town and killed more than 30 rivals, kidnapped nearly 20 policemen in the strategically important Khyber pass and battled soldiers and police in a northwestern valley where a peace deal was struck last month.
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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Afghan, U.S.-led troops kill up to 35 Taliban
Wed Jun 25, 4:32 AM ET
KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) - U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces killed up to 35 Taliban insurgents after the militants attacked two towns in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border overnight, a police chief said on Wednesday.

The Taliban have launched a number of ground assaults and rocket attacks on isolated towns in eastern Afghanistan in the last week, part of a rising wave of violence in the east that Afghan and U.S. officials have said is the result of de-facto ceasefires with militants in neighboring Pakistan.

About 100 Taliban insurgents attacked the towns of Gomal and Sarobi in Paktika province overnight, but fled when they were engaged by Afghan police supported by coalition troops, said provincial Police Chief Nabi Jan Mullah Khail.

Coalition air strikes then killed 35 insurgents who were hiding after the attacks, he said.

But the U.S. military said "approximately 22" militants were killed by coalition air support after the attacks.

"When coalition air support arrived, the 22 militants who attacked the district centers were positively identified and killed," the statement added.

The Afghan government and some of its Western allies are growing increasingly frustrated by Pakistan's failure to clamp down on militant activity in its tribally ruled border regions.

The new Pakistani government has halted military offensives against pro-Taliban groups on its side of the border and has attempted to seal peace deals with the militants to try to stem violence which has killed hundreds in Pakistan in the last year.

But Afghan and Western officials have said the peace talks free up the militants to mount more attacks in Afghanistan.

The U.S. commander of NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan said on Tuesday insurgent attacks in the region had risen by 40 percent in the first five months of this year compared to last.

A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Tuesday Pakistan must stop the militants launching cross-border raids or Afghanistan would take action. Karzai threatened this month to send Afghan troops into Pakistan to hunt down the militants.

Pakistan strongly objected to Karzai's threat and said only its troops were permitted to carry out operations on its soil.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, U.S.-led coalition forces killed several militants and detained another 12 in the southern Afghan province of Helmand on Tuesday, the U.S. military said.

More than 11,000 people have been killed, most of them Taliban insurgents, in the past two years in Afghanistan, the bloodiest period since the militants were toppled in 2001.

(Reporting by Elyas Wahdat; Writing by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Jon Hemming and David Fogarty)
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British soldier killed by explosion in Afghanistan
Wed Jun 25, 7:25 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A British soldier has been killed in an explosion while checking for mines in troubled southern Afghanistan, military authorities confirmed Wednesday.

The soldier died Tuesday in Helmand province, where the majority of Britain's 7,800 troops in Afghanistan are based.

The International Security Assistance Force troops were on patrol in Nahri Sarraj district of Helmand when a blast struck their convoy, the NATO military alliance said a statement.

"One ISAF soldier died from an explosion during a patrol in Nahri Sarraj district," it said.

Britain's Ministry of Defence confirmed the death.

"The soldier from 4th Battalion the Parachute Regiment, attached to 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, was dismounted from his vehicle checking for mines in the Upper Sangin Valley when he was killed by a suspected IED (improvised explosive device)," the Ministry of Defence in London said.

"No one else was injured."

In a separate incident Tuesday in the neighbouring district of Sangin, a soldier from 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment was killed during a firefight with Taliban insurgents.

The latest deaths take to 102 the number of foreign soldiers killed in the country this year, according to an AFP tally.

It brings to 108 the British death toll in Afghanistan since operations began in late 2001.

Violence in Afghanistan is on the upswing, despite the presence of 70,000 multinational troops, some under US command, some under NATO.

The head of Britain's armed forces said Tuesday that the country's military was "very stretched" by its commitments in Afghanistan and in Iraq, where around 4,000 troops are stationed.

"We are not structured or resourced to do two of these things on this scale on an enduring basis but we have been doing it on an enduring basis for years," Sir Jock Stirrup, the air chief marshal and chief of the defence staff said.
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Pakistani Taliban militants kill 22 rival tribesmen: officials
by S.H. Khan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) - Militants loyal to Pakistan's top Taliban leader killed 22 pro-government tribesmen after abducting them during battles to control a town near the Afghan border, officials said Wednesday.

The bloodsoaked, trussed-up bodies were found dumped near the key garrison town of Jandola, where followers of shadowy Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud have been fighting rival tribesmen throughout the week.

The killings underscore concerns among Islamabad's Western allies about the government's peace talks with Mehsud, who was blamed by the previous administration for the assassination of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto in December.

"According to our information 22 bodies of peace committee members have been found in Kiriwam village," district official Barkatullah Marwat told AFP.

A peace committee is a body of tribal elders who are helping the government to tackle militancy in the conservative regions near the Afghan frontier.

"Some of the dead were shot and some had their throats slit," Marwat said, adding that they were among some 30 tribesmen kidnapped by the militants a day earlier.

The men's hands were tied behind their backs and the corpses left in a drain by a roadside, security officials said.

A spokesman for Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the militant group that Mehsud heads, claimed responsibility for killing the 22 and said they would soon decide the fate of the other eight.

"The men we killed were involved in thefts and robbery and had unleashed a reign of terror on the people. They were being patronised by the government," spokesman Maulvi Omar told AFP by telephone.

"The government should not intervene in the current situation, otherwise peace talks would be seriously undermined."

Clashes broke out in Jandola on Monday between followers of pro-government tribal elder, Commander Turkistani, and militants belonging to Mehsud's tribe after rockets were fired at the home of a peace committee member.

Tensions had been high between the groups for months.

The army said the militants had withdrawn from Jandola after troops moved in late Tuesday. It put the death toll from all of the violence in the region over the past week at only nine.

Residents said the situation was tense in Jandola and armed militants were still in the town, although Pakistani troops were also in position in their forts.

All shops were closed and roads were deserted.

Pakistan's government launched peace talks with Mehsud -- who is based in the South Waziristan tribal region, near Jandola -- after defeating allies of US-backed President Pervez Musharraf in elections in February.

Mehsud, named along with Pakistan's army chief in Time Magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people this year, vowed recently to continue attacks on NATO and US forces in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani held a meeting with top civil and military officials on the law and order situation in the country.

An official statement later said the meeting decided to fight "terrorism and extremism" through a multi-pronged strategy.

"The broad objective of this strategy will be to bring about peace, reconciliation and normalcy of life in the country and marginalise the hard core terrorists, militants and criminal elements," it said.

The government, including the military, will ensure that "all foreign fighters will be expelled" from Pakistan.

Pakistan's border regions have been the scene of fighting between troops and militants since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

But there have also been several outbreaks of violence between the area's conservative Pashtun tribes.
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Afghan villagers slow to return after offensive
By Jonathon Burch
ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan, June 25 (Reuters) - Bunches of ripe red grapes hung heavy in vineyards near Afghanistan's second city Kandahar on Wednesday, with villagers slow to return a week after Afghan troops routed hundreds of Taliban in their fields.

Most people fled Arghandab 10 days ago after the Taliban, buoyed by a jailbreak that freed 400 of their comrades in Kandahar days earlier, seized some seven villages in the rich agricultural district just northwest of the city.

Kandahar, the main city in Afghanistan's mainly Pashtun south and the Taliban's former de-facto capital, appeared under threat and 1,000 extra Afghan troops were rushed in from the north.

Nearly 100 Taliban fighters were killed in the ensuing battle, one of the biggest yet fought by the fledgling Afghan National Army (ANA). But the Taliban are still not far away and most families remain in the relative safety of Kandahar city.

"The people are only slowly coming back," said a senior police officer in Arghandab who declined to be named.

"The men come to check on their houses, but the rest of the families are staying behind in Kandahar."

A few lonely figures quickly scattered as a convoy of Afghan army pick-up trucks weighed into view to inspect the battlefield of a week before. Smiling soldiers helped themselves to the unpicked grapes, once famous throughout Asia for their sweetness.

The insurgents, though driven back for now, were stil not far away. "The Taliban are no more than 20 km (13 miles) away," said the police officer.

CAT AND MOUSE
Since Canadian troops moved in to lead NATO forces around Kandahar in 2006, they have been largely tied up battling the Taliban to the west of the city and sometimes having to capture districts several times after insurgents swept aside Afghan forces put in place to hold onto the area.

Arghandab meanwhile remained relatively secure under pro-government tribal leader Mullah Naqib and NATO forces could afford only a light presence there.

But since Naqib died of a heart attack last October, last week's Taliban raid was the second time the insurgents swept down into Arghandab from the hills in the north.

Now the Canadians, who have suffered perhaps the highest casualty rate of any of the more than 40 nations with soldiers in Afghanistan, have had to move troops into Arghandab as well.

"What makes it difficult is that the insurgents hide amongst the people so it's difficult to know what we're up against," said Canadian Major Jay Janzen.

"There was anywhere between 150 and 200 insurgents here. Some were killed, some were captured, some escaped. They will go to other regions and regroup. They will scatter into small groups."

While NATO commanders continually complain they do not have enough troops in Afghanistan and Afghan security forces still have a long way to go before they can operate independently, the cycle of cat-and-mouse warfare is unlikely to end and more Afghan villagers will have to flee their homes.

"We don't have enough Canadian soldiers to be everywhere in Kandahar. That is why the emphasis is on ANA training. They have done well but they still have some way to go," said Janzen.

"The insurgents, all they can do is to disrupt. They cannot hold ground," he said. But "there is no question that insurgents will cause disruptions in the future." (Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Jerry Norton)
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British forces too "stretched" to fight wars in Iraq, Afghanistan
LONDON, June 25 (Xinhua) -- Britain's Armed Forces were stretched beyond their capabilities and could not continue fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a British newspaper said on Wednesday.

"We are not structured or resourced to do two of these things on this scale on an enduring basis but we have been doing it on an enduring basis for years," Chief of the Defense Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup said in the comments reported by The Daily Telegraph.

"Until we get to the stage when one of them comes down to small scale, we will be stretched beyond the capabilities we have," said Stirrup.

"That is not what we are structured for, nor is it what we plan for. We are very stretched at the moment. Until we get down to one operation at this scale, we are always going to be stretched," said he.

Stirrup's comments came as it was confirmed on Tuesday that another British soldier was killed in a firefight with Taliban in southern Afghanistan, taking the death toll to 107 since November 2001.

However, Britain has repeatedly denied that the two wars have left British forces stretched. Last Monday, when U.S. President George Bush paid his final visit to London before leaving office in January next year, Britain announced that it would send 230 more troops to Afghanistan by spring 2009, taking the number of the troops there to 8,030.

Currently, Britain has over 7,800 soldiers based in Afghanistan, and around 4,000 troops in southern Iraq.
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Russia joins the war in Afghanistan
By M K Bhadrakumar Asia Times Online / June 25, 2008
Moscow is staging an extraordinary comeback on the Afghan chessboard after a gap of two decades following the Soviet Union's nine-year adventure that ended in the withdrawal of its last troops from Afghanistan 1989. In a curious reversal of history, this is possible only with the acquiescence of the United States. Moscow is taking advantage of the deterioration of the war in Afghanistan and the implications for regional security could be far-reaching.

A joint statement issued in Moscow over the weekend following the meeting of the United States-Russia Working Group on Counterterrorism (CTWG) revealed that the two sides had reached "agreement in principle over the supply of Russian weaponry to the Afghanistan National Army" in its fight against the Taliban insurgency. The 16th session of the CTWG held in Moscow on June 19-20 was co-chaired by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns.

Talking to reporters alongside Burns, Kislayak said, "We [Russia] in the past have already provided military equipment to Afghanistan and we feel there is now a demand by the Afghan population for the ability of Afghanistan to take its security in its own hands." He added it was "possible" that Russia might increase the delivery of arms to Afghanistan, though "I wouldn't be eager to put a number on it".

Washington has consistently rebuffed Russian attempts to become a protagonist in the Afghan war - except in intelligence-sharing. As recently as March, public demonstrations erupted in Afghanistan against alleged "deployment of Russian troops" reported in a Polish newspaper, which had all the hallmarks of a sting operation by Western intelligence. The Kremlin's then-first deputy press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, had to clarify that rumors of Russia sending troops to Afghanistan were "absolutely untrue".

Russian analysts felt that the Polish report was deliberately intended to create "an image of an external threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan in order to give a more plausible explanation for NATO's [North Atlantic Treaty Organization's] military presence in the country".

Clearly, the weekend's announcement in Moscow underscores a change in the US stance. The deterioration of the war is undoubtedly a factor behind the shift. (Incidentally, in a similar shift, Washington recently approached China and India also for the dispatch of troops to Afghanistan.) Britain's Telegraph newspaper reported last week on a growing "despair" in Washington over the NATO allies' perceived failings in Afghanistan. The gung-ho attitude - "have-gun-will-travel" - is no more there.

A top Pentagon advisor told the Telegraph, "There's frustration, there's irritation. The mood veers between acceptance and despair that nothing is changing. We ask for more troops and they're not forthcoming in the numbers we need. The mistake was handing it over to NATO in the first place. For many countries, being in Afghanistan seems to be about keeping up appearances, rather than actually fighting a war that needs to be won. Was that necessary diplomatically? Probably. Is it desirable militarily? I don't think so nor do most others who are involved with Afghanistan."

A German NATO general said on Sunday that 6,000 additional troops are urgently needed in Afghanistan to complement the 60,000 foreign troops already in the country, most of them part of the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force.

The Russians are all too aware of the pitfalls of another intervention in Afghanistan. Zamir Kabulov, Moscow's veteran diplomat who served in the Soviet Embassy in Kabul all through the 1980s when the Soviets occupied the country, is the present Russian ambassador to Afghanistan. Kabulov recently dissected the tragedy of the Soviet intervention in an interview with the US-government owned National Public Radio. He said: "We underestimated the allergy of the Afghan nation to foreign invaders because we didn't believe ourselves to be invaders at that time ... We neglected traditions and their culture and the religion of Afghans."

With such profound hindsight, how could Moscow be once again wading into Afghanistan? There is no question of Russia ever sending troops to Afghanistan. But what prompts the Russian involvement is the belief that "You can double and triple the number of your contingent and you still will lose this war because it's not a matter of numbers, it's a matter of the quality of the Afghan national army and police", to quote Kabulov.

That is to say, there has always been this belief within the Russian security establishment that the tragedy of Afghanistan could have been averted if only president Mikhail Gorbachev hadn't pulled the plug off the life-supporting system of Soviet supplies for Mohammad Najibullah's regime. They believe that Najibullah, who became president in 1986, could have held on even after the Soviet troop withdrawal if only he had been provided with the necessary material wherewithal.

Questions remain over the Russian enterprise to enhance the quality of the Afghan army. Will Russia also assume the responsibility for training the Afghan army in addition to equipping it? Indeed, that would seem logical. The next best thing would be to involve the erstwhile cadres of Najibullah's armed forces who were trained in the Soviet military academies and intelligence schools. But that might be too much for Washington to stomach.

One thing is clear. Moscow acted with foresight in initiating the proposal at the beginning of the year that NATO could use Russian territory for the dispatch of its supplies to Afghanistan. The agreement formalized at NATO's Bucharest summit meeting on April 2-4 served Moscow's purpose in different ways. Moscow signaled that despite Washington's hostile mode, it is prepared to help out in Afghanistan, which only shows that the Russian-NATO relationship can be based on mutuality of interests and concerns.

As expected, NATO's European members were receptive to such a signal. At the Russia-NATO council meeting on the sidelines of the Bucharest summit, for the first time perhaps, the format worked in the fashion in which it was intended to work when the Bill Clinton administration proposed it to a distraught Boris Yeltsin anxious about NATO's expansion plans in the mid-1990s - that the format would have the alliance members participate as national entities rather than as bloc members.

Russia has a problem with NATO expansion. As Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told Le Monde newspaper recently during his visit to Paris, "There's no Soviet Union anymore. There's no threat. But the organization remains. The question is: 'Against whom are you allied? What is it all for?' And expanding the bloc is only creating new borders in Europe. New Berlin walls. This time invisible, but not less dangerous ... And we can see that military infrastructure is heading towards our borders. What for? No one is posing a threat."

Therefore, Moscow has put NATO on the defensive by stretching a helping hand to Afghanistan. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointed out at a speech in Moscow on May 28: "Russia does not claim any veto rights. But I think we have the right to expect reciprocity if our partners expect us to consider their interests. Indeed, without such reciprocity, it is hard to see how the Bucharest summit could have produced an agreement on ground transit to Afghanistan. It would, after all, have been easy for us to let NATO carry out its international mission in Afghanistan on its own. But we did not do this ... Russia will continue to be involved to such an extent as meets our interests and principles of equal cooperation."

The directions in which Western "reciprocity" manifests will be absorbing to watch on the Eurasian political landscape. To be sure, there is an overall mellowing toward Russia in the European approach. The George W Bush administration has failed to initiate the deployment plan for anti-ballistic missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. The forthcoming Russia-European Union strategic negotiations on a new partnership agreement promise a new start. These are positive tidings.

But equally, NATO's expansion plan with regard to Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan still remains on the agenda. Russia-NATO tensions have appeared over Georgia and Kosovo. Therefore, Russia won't take chances, either.

Parallel to the growing involvement in Afghanistan, Moscow is also stepping up its military presence in Central Asia. Arguably, the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan has prompted Moscow to beef up the security of the Central Asian region. But a distinctive feature is that Russia's move is also in response to the wishes of the Central Asian states. Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov recently proposed that the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Community must merge into a single body so as to create a "powerful union capable of becoming a counterbalance to NATO and the EU".

From the Central Asian perspective, Russia's capacity to play a bigger role in regional security looks more credible today than at any time in the post-Soviet era. As influential Moscow commentator Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika Foundation, wrote in Izvestia newspaper recently, "The strengthening of ties with Russia today appears much more logical and natural than it did in the 1990s when, on the contrary, the Western economies were growing, while ours was steadily declining. The growing energy crisis also works in favor of integration."

Russia as a status quo power also holds attraction for local governments in Central Asia. Most important, there is profound disquiet in Central Asian capitals regarding the Afghan crisis - the US strategy in Afghanistan and NATO's grit to win the war.

Until last year, Russia and the Central Asian states counted on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) playing a role in stabilizing the Afghan situation. But then they began sensing that China was following a complex policy within the SCO by exploiting it to develop its bilateral links with Central Asian countries and for penetrating deep into the energy sector, but all the while applying the brakes on Russian attempts to augment the grouping's profile as a security organization. (The SCO comprises China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.)

China has virtually put its foot down on a Russian proposal regarding close CSTO-SCO ties. China disfavors SCO-CSTO military exercises. In sum, Beijing seems anxious not to create misgivings in Washington. (The CSTO consists of of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.)

This is not to say that China is indifferent to the stability of Afghanistan. Far from it. China's preference is to keep its options open rather than be tied down by the SCO or overtly identifying with Russian interests. After all, China has huge stakes in Afghanistan. Beijing perceives advantages in directly cooperating with the US (and NATO) rather than from within the SCO. Conceivably, Beijing might not be altogether averse to the idea of sending peacekeeping troops to Afghanistan at a later stage, provided a suitable United Nations mission could be structured.

That is to say, an important phase of the SCO's evolution as a security organization lies ahead when Russia assumes its chairmanship in 2008-2009, following the SCO summit meeting scheduled to be held at Dushanbe (Tajikistan) in August. From all appearances, there has been some serious rethink in Moscow as well during recent months regarding the SCO's potential to play an influential role in Afghanistan, given China's manifestly lukewarm attitude. The Russian thinking also seems to have veered around to abandoning hopes of working within the framework of CSTO or SCO but instead to concentrate on a bilateral Russian-Afghan track.

Afghanistan also does not want to cooperate with either the CSTO or the SCO. During his visit to Moscow on May 25-26, Afghan Foreign Minister Dadfar Spanta made it clear that Afghanistan would not be seeking observer status with the SCO. He let it be known in no uncertain terms that Russia is a low priority for Kabul in its foreign policy - as compared to, say, China. All in all, therefore, Moscow would realize that a long journey lies ahead in cultivating influence in Kabul, which it must undertake all by itself.

Moscow appreciates that the present regime in Kabul of President Hamid Karzai is unabashedly pro-American and is a participant in the US's regional strategy that passes as "Great Central Asia Partnership for Afghanistan and Neighboring Countries", which actually aims at undercutting Russian influence in Central Asia.

Thus, the weekend's announcement in Moscow far from heralds a joint US-Russian effort to stabilize the Afghan situation. In fact, there is hardly any scope for a common US-Russian regional agenda. As Nikonov put it, "We [Russia] and the Western countries have diametrically opposite definitions of success in our policy toward the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries. For Russia, success lies in strengthening of integration ties, rapprochement with its neighbors and a strengthening of cooperation. For the West, on the contrary, success means a distancing of these countries from Russia, a reorientation to external centers of power aimed at preventing 'a rebirth of the Russian empire'. When political goals are so diametrically opposed, it is impossible to speak of a common agenda."

M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India's ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).
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Germany to Send More Troops to Afghanistan
Increase of 1,000 Follows U.S. Pleas
By Craig Whitlock Washington Post Foreign Service Wednesday, June 25, 2008; Page A08
BERLIN, June 24 -- Germany pledged Tuesday to contribute up to 1,000 more troops to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, responding to months of pleas from the United States and other allies to bulk up its peacekeeping force.

"The security situation has become more difficult," Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said at a news conference. "The increase is necessary to give us more flexibility to respond to challenges."

Like most of the 3,500 German troops already in Afghanistan, however, the additional forces will be limited to duties in the country's northern provinces, where the level of violence and conflict is relatively low. Canada and Britain, which make up NATO contingents in the more volatile southern part of Afghanistan, have been asking for reinforcements for months.

Germany's participation in the Afghan security mission is unpopular with voters, opinion surveys show, making lawmakers reluctant to send more troops.

But German military commanders have been increasingly outspoken recently on the need for reinforcements.


In April, Gen. Wolfgang Schneiderhan, the highest-ranking officer in the German military, said that Germany's forces near the northeastern city of Kunduz faced a growing threat from Taliban and other insurgents and that he was handicapped by parliamentary limits on the number of troops he could deploy.

"This takes away flexibility for me to react quickly to any worsening in the situation," he told Focus magazine.

On Sunday, German Army Gen. Egon Ramms, a top NATO commander, said the alliance needed up to 6,000 more troops in Afghanistan immediately. The present shortage, he said, risked delaying an eventual withdrawal by several years.

"We need these soldiers very soon, as we need to hold onto certain areas," Ramms said in an interview on German public radio. "We need to create trust among the Afghan population, because we want to hand over this responsibility in 2010, 2011 or 2012 to the Afghan forces when they are prepared."

NATO has about 60,000 troops in Afghanistan, more than half of them American.

The German troop increase requires the approval of the lower house of Parliament. But lawmakers and analysts said the coalition government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel had the votes to pass the measure easily.

Germany's current commitment of 3,500 troops in Afghanistan is set to expire in October. The expansion, if lawmakers approve it, would last until December 2009, shortly after Germany's next round of federal elections.

In April, France announced that it would send an extra battalion of 700 soldiers to eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border. France currently has a contingent of about 1,500 troops in the country.
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Pakistan calls the shots
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / June 25, 2008 
KARACHI - Since signing on for the "war on terror" in 2001, Pakistan has received approximately US$10 billion in aid from the United States. It has also been pledged $600 million in economic and security assistance and $50 million in earthquake reconstruction aid on an annual basis through to 2009.

Washington is wondering just what it has received in return for all this largesse, so much so that next month US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher is scheduled to visit Pakistan to discuss Pakistan's role in the "war on terror", and is expected to give final notice that if Islamabad does not raise its game, the aid will dry up.

The US has been particularly concerned since the new coalition government took power after February's elections, as it was supposed to be US-friendly. But it has refused point-blank to adhere to earlier commitments it made for joint operations with the US in Pakistan's tribal areas against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants.

This message was relayed through Pakistan's ambassador in Washington, Professor Husain Haqqani, and to the US Embassy in Islamabad, that Pakistan will fight the "war on terror" on its own terms and that it will not pull out of any peace deals it has with militants. And the Americans will not be allowed to operate in Pakistani territory.

Washington saw the writing on the wall immediately after the February polls when former premier Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League won more seats than was expected. The anticipation had been that the US-friendly Pakistan People's Party, headed by former premier Benazir Bhutto until her assassination last December, would romp home.

Amid the political uncertainty that this result caused, allied with terror attacks in the country, the military delayed operations in the tribal areas. The military's position was hardened when on June 10 the US attacked militants in Pakistan's Mohmand Agency but killed several Pakistani security forces.

Washington's plan, which had been in the making for two years, is now in ruins, that is, the ideal of a compliant elected government, an accommodating military and a friendly president (Pervez Musharraf) acting in unison to further the US's interests.

The crux is, while America was playing its game, so too was al-Qaeda. Through terror attacks, al-Qaeda was able to disrupt the economy, and by targeting the security forces, al-Qaeda created splits and fear in the armed forces, to the extent that they thought twice about dancing to the US's tune.

Unlike Musharraf, when he wore two hats, of the president and of army chief, the new head of the military, professional soldier General Ashfaq Kiani, had to listen to the chatter of his men and the intelligence community at grand dinners.

What he heard was disturbing. Soldiers from the North-West Frontier Province region were completely in favor of the Taliban, while those from the countryside of Punjab - the decisive majority in the armed forces - felt guilty about fighting the Taliban and reckoned it was the wrong war. Therefore, Kiani decided it was necessary to support peace talks with the militants to create some breathing space for his men.

At the same time, the dynamics in the war theater have changed, providing Pakistan with more options and more room to play in its Afghan policy. Pakistan's former ally in Afghanistan, the Taliban, are no longer irrelevant; they have emerged as the single-largest Pashtun opposition group.

On the political front, the pro-Pakistan Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan holds about 40 seats in the 249-seat parliament - a sizeable chunk - and it hopes to put up a candidate in next year's presidential polls. Even if it does not beat President Hamid Karzai, it could serve as a strong opposition catalyst. Antagonism against Karzai and his American masters is also on rise, and Tajik warlords in the north have started negotiations with the Taliban.

In this situation, Pakistan has the liberty to make its own decisions and American pressure on it is significantly less effective.

Washington is acutely aware of the damage Pakistan could do if it decided on just a minimum of support for the Taliban, such as secretly equipping them with short-range missiles or providing training courses.

The top brass at General Headquarters Rawalpindi realize they now hold a strong hand and that every minute of Pakistan's non-cooperation in the "war on terror" is a threat to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization mission in Afghanistan.

Boucher has a lot of talking to do when he arrives in Pakistan.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Afghanistan: Clashes' zone near Kandahar to get emergency relief aid
KANDAHAR, 24 June 2008 (IRIN) - The government of Afghanistan and UN agencies have agreed to distribute emergency humanitarian relief immediately to thousands of Battle-Affected Persons (BAPs) in Arghandab District, Kandahar Province.

"Seven thousand families have been verified as in need of assistance," said Salvatore Lombardo, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) representative in Afghanistan, adding that the number may increase as verification continues in the coming days.

Two thousand families are expected to receive food and non-food aid in the initial phase which will start on 25 June, aid agencies said. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Kabul said on 24 June that 234 tonnes of mixed food items have been delivered to Arghandab District and would be distributed on 25 June.

Thousands of civilians abandoned their homes in the district after scores of Taliban fighters reportedly raided several villages and prepared to fight Afghan and international forces on 16-17 June, planting landmines and destroying bridges. The insurgents were driven back by Afghan army and NATO-led forces on 19 June.

According to the Defence Ministry, only one civilian was killed during the military operation in which over 90 insurgents and two Afghan soldiers died.

Livelihoods affected

But the impact on local people has been significant. "Some people have been severely affected by the conflict and require long-term assistance to revive their damaged and lost livelihoods," Mohammad Qasim, the district administrator of Arghandab, told IRIN on 24 June.

Arghandab District, which starts some 10km to the northwest of Kandahar city, is the province's main fruit producing area, and over 85 percent of its estimated 120,000 population are involved in agriculture.

"In some cases fruit gardens have been damaged, water-sources have been destroyed or fruit that farmers had prepared for delivery to market before the conflict rotted in the sun," Qasim said, adding: "Obviously farmers are poor and cannot afford such losses."

Compensation payments

Taliban insurgents have been condemned for their destruction of public and private property in the district, but some locals said they also suffered losses in aerial strikes by international forces.

"What can I do with a sack of wheat? My house has been destroyed and so has my [fruit] garden. I need help to rebuild them," said a local, Obaidullah.

The US army and over 30 other coalition forces do not offer compensation to civilians who get killed or lose property in military operations, according to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. However, some NATO member countries, have paid ad hoc "sympathy" and "condolence" payments to families.
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Threats shut many Afghan schools
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 18:11 UK BBC News
About 80% of schools in the south-eastern Afghan province of Zabul are closed due to a lack of security, the government says.

It estimated that some 35,000 boys and girls were missing lessons because of the closures.

Pupils and teachers in Zabul said they had been warned not to attend school by insurgents and other armed groups.

The education minister, Hanif Atmar, urged people to work with the government to help improve security.

He said the ministry was offering places in boarding schools.

Hundreds of schools have been attacked by insurgents in the south and east of Afghanistan.
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Afghan warlords stockpiling opium crop
Michael Evans, Defence Editor The Times (UK) / June 24, 2008
The Taleban is believed to be stockpiling vast quantities of opium after a bumper crop last year sent the price of the drug spiralling downwards.

The Taleban, which relies on sales of the drug for arms purchases, is hoping to hold onto its stock for long enough for the value to rise again, officials in Kabul said today.

A Western counter-narcotics official said opium from the harvested poppy crops was currently valued “as low as $50 a kilo”.

Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said: “Last year Afghanistan produced about 8,000 tonnes of opium. The world in the last few years has consumed about 4,000 tonnes, so this leaves a surplus. It is stored somewhere and it’s not with the farmers.”

Mr Costa told BBC’s “File on 4” programme that the Taleban still managed to make about $100 million (£50 million) last year from the opium business, “charging poppy farmers ten per cent tax for their harvested crops".

Last year was a near-record poppy crop. This year’s harvest which finished in May is expected to produce a lower yield, although the final figure will not be published by UNODC until August.

One counter-narcotics specialist in Afghanistan said it took time to assess satellite imagery to distinguish between wheat crops and the poppy fields. “But partly because of a bad winter for poppy-growing and steps taken by individual governors to stop poppy cultivation, the yield for 2008 is likely to be lower,” the specialist said.

“If you look at the poppy fields, the bulbs [from which the opium resin is extracted] were the size of Brussels sprouts this year. Last year they were as big as tennis balls,” the specialist said.

The stored opium from last year’s above-average cultivation would be heavily protected, officials said. “The one thing the Taleban and the war lords controlling the opium will not be afraid of is arrest by the police, so they will just sit on the opium which can be kept for two years,” one counter-narcotics official said. The Taleban are known to take about one tenth of the opium harvested from the poppies.

Mr Costa also said that the insurgents made extra money from protecting the opium laboratories and providing armed escorts for the lorries carrying the opium over the Afghan border into Pakistan.

One counter-narcotics official in Kabul said that poppy-planting in Helmand province, where the British troops are based, and also in neighbouring Kandahar, had been slightly down this year. But in other areas, especially in the north and east, there had been dramatic falls in poppy-planting. “Thirteen out of the 32 provinces in Afghanistan now don’t grow poppies,” the official said.

However, although the opium yield is expected to be lower this year than last year, officials said it was more realistic to compare the 2008 crop with 2006 because the 2007 production was exceptionally high.

Nato today welcomed the announcement from Berlin that 1,000 more German soldiers are to be sent to northern Afghanistan, boosting their troop numbers to about 4,500.

Franz Josef Jung, the German Defence Minister, said the extra troops would be involved in reconstruction efforts. He said he would be asking parliament to extend the mandate for the deployment in Afghanistan to December next year. The German troops are mostly stationed in Kunduz in the north.

The possibility of sending another 1,000 troops has been under discussion for some time. “Nato welcomes the decision,” a spokesman for the alliance said.
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AFGHANISTAN: Juvenile justice system lacks resources
KABUL, 25 June 2008 (IRIN) - Shahla (not her real name), aged 14, fears the future: Her father has threatened to kill her when she is released from a juvenile centre in Herat Province, western Afghanistan.

"She was sentenced to one year in a reformatory because she escaped from home three months ago," Hangama Anwary, a commissioner for children's rights at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), said on 25 June.

Shahla did not like the fiancée chosen for her by her father and had no option but to leave home, according to the AIHRC.

"Child law does not consider escaping from home a crime, but in reality many girls and women, including children, are penalised," Anwary told dozens of judges and prosecutors in Kabul at the launch of a report on the plight of children in juvenile centres.

The report entitled Justice for Children: The situation of children in conflict with the law in Afghanistan was produced by the AIHRC in cooperation with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and sheds light on a series of problems and shortcomings in the country's juvenile justice system [http://www.aihrc.org.af/Juvenile_Detention_eng.pdf].

"Forty-eight percent of children reported being beaten during detention and 36 percent said they were ill-treated in police custody," the report said.

"Fifty-eight percent of children reported falling ill during their detention," it said.

"The situation of girls is usually much worse than boys, and in many provinces there are no separate detention centres for girls; they are mostly locked up with adult female prisoners," the report said.

Juvenile centres lack funds

There are 501 children - 448 boys and 53 girls - in 30 juvenile centres across Afghanistan, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.

"Most of them are accused of murder, theft, escaping from home, smuggling narcotics, sexual crimes and forgery," said Deputy Justice Minister Abdul Qadir Adalatkhowa.

Almost all children in juvenile centres do not have access to proper education, vocational training, entertainment or other facilities which might promote their rehabilitation, the joint AIHRC/UNICEF report said.

Also, the food given to children in juvenile centres was very poor; recent food prices rises had further worsened their diet, commissioner Anwary said.

According to the Justice Ministry, which administers the juvenile centres, the government has earmarked only US$1 per day to cover the cost of keeping each child in a juvenile centre - including its food, education and health.

"Owing to the rise in food prices we have demanded that the per diem be increased from 50 Afghanis [US$1] to 70 Afghanis [$1.40]," Adalatkhowa said.

Dozens of children who are not accused of any wrongdoing also live in precarious conditions in Pul-e Charkhi jail, in Kabul, with their imprisoned mothers [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=74491].

Afghanistan has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and in 2005 enacted a national juvenile code, which is deemed to be compliant with international conventions.

However, the country needs more resources, improved capacity and technical assistance to implement its legal commitments, experts say.
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